In classical Athenian society, anxiety about gender roles abounded, as women were regarded dichotomously as pillars of purity as well as receptacles and originators of filth, both moral and physical. Many ancient sources, often funerary monuments or epitaphs, praise individual women for their virtue, chastity, and obedience, but beneath these affectionate words lurks a darker perception of women. In addition to ideals of what a good woman and wife should aspire to be, ancient literature offers a laundry list of traits and habits that betray women's inferiorities and inherent dangers. The strict control that men maintained over their wives and daughters was only secondarily aimed at representing their legal interests; more importantly, men wanted to ensure that women could not break out of their boundaries and destroy the existing social structure: it did always seem a terribly dangerous possibility to the Greeks that their women might get out of hand and become a threat, endangering male order, life, and sanity. Athenian drama often addressed these topics of female nature and female boundaries in both tragic and comedic forms
[...] (l.184-88) It may seem that she is lamenting Medea's misfortune, but in a society where gender is so visible and so separating, this comment may actually be her fear that Medea will be the cause of hellish and ruined family. Without any boundaries holding her in, Medea has full license to commit her terrible crime. In her most well-known monologue, Medea leaves her home, enters the public space, and speaks out in her own defense, defying both the tradition of women staying in the home and the expectation that women be silent. [...]
[...] Inscriptions on tombs beginning before classical Athens and extending all the way through the Roman Empire extolled women who exhibited traits that showed their obedience: “worker in wool, pious, chaste, thrifty, faithful, a stayer-at-home is how one Roman woman was described. Although this tomb is Roman, the ideals it expresses stretch back to classical Greece, when women were actually even more restricted in their behaviors and movements outside of the home. In these inscriptions and in philosophical texts, women were portrayed as having inferior intelligence, and fulfilled their duties by obeying their husbands completely. [...]
[...] Because these men are either too old to go to war or are civil servants who are needed at home, they don't represent the most exalted males, as Jason was meant to represent, but they still stand for Athenian men who are overthrown and outwitted by a pack of women. The Magistrate blames the trouble on unbridled licentiousness of the female sex displaying itself and says that men are at fault for allowing women to have their way at home: “Look at the way we pander to women's vices, we positively teach them to be wicked (156- As philosophical texts show, women are incredibly susceptible to evils and temptations. [...]
[...] As Classical Athenian drama demonstrates, citizens were legitimately worried that Medeas might appear in their midst and devastate life as they knew it, and even when watching comedy, they could not escape their anxieties and phobias that women might somehow emerge from their homes and reduce superior Athenian society to chaos. Works Cited 1. Aristophanes. Lysistrata and Other Plays. Translator Alan H. Sommerstein. London: Penguin Books Euripides. Medea. Translator John Harrison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Maureen B. [...]
[...] Medea would have looked very possible to an Athenian audience, probably mostly, if not all male, and as such could have inspired deep anxieties in the audiences' minds. The idea of catharsis, vital to Greek tragedy, said that the audience was supposed to feel pity for the characters onstage and fear that similar events could befall them. With this play, that catharsis could have been especially potent, since the apprehension about women's powers of pollution and destruction were already so prevalent. [...]
using our reader.