The role of women in society has been a matter of much debate and while the gender equal world of our time stresses upon equality for men and women, this was not the case in earlier ages. From Classical Antiquity to the early years of the 20th century, women were marginalized and treated as inferior to men, and their life was regulated by laws and norms and conventions stipulated by men. The works of Classical Greek philosophers and dramatists is testimony to the subjugation of women in those periods too, but it is also worth noting that women were integral to the action in Greek drama and thought, although they did not occupy as relevant a position in real society.
The role of women, as conceived by Homer and articulated in his epic poem Iliad, and the position of women as perceived by Sophocles in the play Oedipus Rex reveals that in spite of the inferior position ascribed to women, they held sway in several matters due to the influence which a women could exert on a man in her position as wife, mother and daughter. Women, as goddesses were also very powerful in that they could influence mortals, especially warriors to behave in a manner which they believed was right. Women, even as they were subservient to men, played an important even if marginal role in Greek literary texts, for they provided the much needed impetus for certain actions such as battle.
Like most ancient societies, Classical Greece too was patriarchal in nature and in spite of the great philosophical debaters and thinkers of the period; the position of women was subservient to men. But it is interesting to note that women exerted influence on all spheres of life because of the influence they could exert on the men, and the tales of Ancie...
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...een in the intervention of Thetis, on behalf of her son Achilles to ensure that no injustice is done to him.
The role of women, relative to Greek drama and epic poetry and the importance given to them can be understood most clearly as literary devices. The women in the play serve to take the action forward and by showing them as weak willed and subservient, men are automatically rendered the stronger gender. These women may be powerless, but they have an invisible control over men, in terms of being coveted by them and also as partners on whom men rely on for support and counsel.
Lawall, Sarah and Maynard Mack, eds. Norton Anthology of World Literature. New York: WW Norton and Co., 2002.
Homer. “Iliad.” Book I.” Trans. Robert Fagles. Lawall and Mack pgs.,120-136
Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. Lawall and Mack pgs.,617-658
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