Women Behaving Like Men in Antigone, Electra, and Medea
Throughout Antigone, Electra, and Medea, many double standards between men and women surface. These become obvious when one selects a hero from these plays, for upon choosing, then one must rationalize his or her choice. The question then arises as to what characteristics make up the hero. How does the character win fame? What exactly is excellent about that character? These questions must be answered in order to choose a hero in these Greek tragedies.
In historic Greece, the characteristics of a hero were for the most part left only for men to achieve. Heroes were viewed as those who were kind to friends, vicious to enemies. They were also men who risked their lives regularly everyday, fighting for not only their country, but also treasures such as women, gold, and armor, among other things. Women, however, rarely accomplished such things, for what made a good woman was her obedience to her husband, her loyalty to her family, and, for the most part, other functions that a housewife is usually considered to perform. In order to win renown, however, a woman was forced to commit actions normally left to men. Antigone, Electra, and Medea, do not attempt to be what was considered a “good” women in ancient Greece; rather, their actions become masculine, instead. This is why they were known in the ancient world.
For example, the character Antigone attempts several times to bury the body of her beloved brother, Polyneices, despite the mandate of her uncle, King Creon, that anyone who does so would immediately be put to death. Through this action, her fame, or kleos, was achieved. Her rebellious nature to the king put her at risk of death, and she was, in fact, destroyed by the end of the play. The excellence, or arete of Antigone, lay in her bravery and her unceasing loyalty to her family and the gods. Creon’s first law as king, that of refusing burial to Polyneices, was directly contradictory of the unwritten rights of the dead. Antigone, however, realized that the laws of the gods and the piety to her brother eclipsed those laws of Creon, her rationale being that “it was not Zeus who published this decree, nor have the Powers who rule among the dead imposed such laws as this upon mankind” (Antigone 16). Admirably, and heroically, she was willing to give her life to fulfill her obligations to the gods and her brother.
However, Electra’s kleos was achieved differently then that of her Theban...