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Repression Of Women In Euripides' The Bacchae

1226 words - 5 pages

Repression of Women in Euripides' The Bacchae

   Many different interpretations can be derived from themes in Euripides's The Bacchae, most of which assume that, in order to punish the women of Thebes for their impudence, the god Dionysus drove them mad. However, there is evidence to believe that another factor played into this confrontation. Because of the trend of male dominance in Greek society, women suffered in oppression and bore a social stigma which led to their own vulnerability in becoming Dionysus's target. In essence, the Thebian women practically fostered Dionysian insanity through their longing to rebel against social norms. Their debilitating conditions as women prompted them to search for a way to transfigure themselves with male qualities in order to abandon their social subordination.


According to research, the role of women in classical Greece was extremely limited. Men and women were segregated all over in the Greek society, even in the home (Source 9). Women were secluded in their homes to the point of not being able to leave their own quarters except on special religious occasions or as necessity dictated (Source 10). All women were tightly controlled and confined to the home to insure that their husbands were provided legitimate male heirs. Beyond this, women had no true value (Source 6). Clearly, male domination in Greek society was like enslavement to women. A marriage contract dated 92 B.C. can be located in Women's Life in Greece & Rome by Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant which defines unacceptable behavior within the union of marriage. The document requires that both husband and wife be chaste within the context of the household, but although nothing prevents the husband from having relations with other women or men outside the home, the wife cannot leave the house for longer than a few hours without the husband's permission (Source 4 ). In addition, further proof of women's inferiority is found in The Bacchae when King Pentheus considers it shameful to disguise himself in women's clothing. "Do I have to be demoted to a woman?...A woman's costume? No, I won't; I can't"(Bacchae 50-51). Pentheus's attitude in this situation attests to the negativity women in Greece were faced with daily.


Under these acute circumstances, it is quite logical to infer that Thebian women were tremendously dissatisfied with their position in the community. Those confined or isolated undoubtedly yearned for an escape and found the stigma they bore too much to endure without entertaining a hope for freedom. Perhaps this is why women were considered more prone to madness, emotional outbursts, and general lack of control over themselves in Greek society (Source 10). Their hope to emerge from the the shackles of sexism made the women vulnerable to these manifestations. Dionysus, angry at the women for their demeaning gossip that challenged his own existence as a god, took...

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