The role of women

The patriarchal family structure in Athens

Sophocles’ play Antigone explores the role of women as it relates to the patriarchal family structure in Ancient Greece. Historically, women (as well as slaves) in Ancient Greece around the 5th century BC (interestingly, with the emergence and development of democracy) were not allowed to participate in the political activities of the state. Their rights varied depending on their location and social position. In Athens, the largest Greek city-state, women’s lives largely revolved around the home, while men led mainly a society-oriented, public life.

The wealthier Athenian women oversaw the household, in which the slaves did the work. In the poorer families, they had to lend a hand themselves. What all women in Athens in Sophocles’ time had in common, however, was that they were granted a special area of the house on the upper floor, the so-called gynaikon. The countrywomen outside the city did not have this privilege. They had to carry out physically demanding work in the fields and farmlands daily.

In Athens, women could not inherit or own money and were usually married off at a young age, usually between thirteen and sixteen, to men who in some cases were much older. They were promised to them at an early age by their own fathers. This circumstance resulted from the household organization applicable to Greece at that time. The oikoi, which refers to the number of buildings, the people living in them, and the land they owned, had to be guaranteed their continued existence and the offspring had to be taken care of accordingly.

However, these oikoi were not allowed to expand at will because of the insufficiency of resources of the Greek lands. To control this, the head of the household regulated the “human goods”. He was in charge of women in particular, as well as of deciding whether a child should be recognized as legitimate or abandoned. The patriarchal structures characterize the cultural life of the ancient Greeks in Sophocles’ time.

Antigone’s rebellion

In Sophocles’ play Antigone, we find a typical distribution of gender roles ...

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