Essay: Women in Greek Tragedies

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[. . .] She is not willing to passively do nothing while Jason marries his new wife. Instead, she murders their children just to spite him, poisons both Creon and his daughter Glauce (the latter of whom Jason was planning to marry), and leaves Jason cursing his lot in the wake of her destruction. Moreover, Medea causes all of this trouble after she has specifically gained the aegis of the king of Athens, who would have sheltered her during her time of need. In fact, when Jason learns of her treacherous deeds, he calls her “a bride of hate to me and death, Tigress, not woman, beast of wilder breath that Skylla shrieking o’er the Tuscan sea” (Euripides). Again, the diction in this quotation illustrates the fact that Jason thinks of Medea as the worse kind of troublemaker. He sees her as some perverse wife who is married just as much to hatred and death as she was to him. He does not even fully see her as a human anymore, preferring instead to compare her to animals and a female tiger. He insults her thus because of all the devastation she wrought in his life. She murdered his fiancé, his fiancé’s father, and her very own children all to exact revenge on him. Indeed, he perceives her as the worse kind of troublemaker, one that is not even fully human but which is nonetheless female.

Jacosta, Oedipus’s mother, queen, and wife, is perhaps the least troublesome of all the major female characters depicted in the three plays explored in this paper. Still, she is perceived as a troublemaker—and not without proper cause. When Oedipus was first born she knew of the prophecy that he would lie with her and murder his father, and her reaction was to attempt to destroy him by giving him to a servant who she told to kill the infant. Furthermore, when Oedipus begins to suspect the truth, she is the one who attempts to console him by telling him he has nothing to worry about regarding the prophecy. Additionally, near the end of Oedipus Rex when she believes that the prophecy is true and that Oedipus has fulfilled it, she does not attempt to tell him. Instead, she tries to conceal that fact from him by telling him not to find out anything more about the prophecy. In fact, she tells him all along that prophecies are meaningless—in an attempt to deter him from finding out about the truth. She specifically tells him prophecy does not work and that instead, “It’s all chance, chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark. Better to live at random, best we can” (Sophocles). This quotation not only reveals Jacosta’s philosophy about prophecy but also her role as a troublemaker. She is attempting to mislead Oedipus and convince him there is nothing for him to worry about. She is effectively steering him away from the truth. Moreover, she was the one who tried to kill her own child in order to prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled. If she really believed that prophecy did not work she would not have told her servant to murder her baby (regardless if he did it or not). By keeping Oedipus from the truth, and by attempting to kill him as a child, it is apparent that she is causing trouble. Consequently she hands herself, which is practically an admission of her guilt as a troublemaker—especially since Antigone, another troublemaker, suffered the same fate.

In summary, the women in these three plays were all perceived as troublemakers. Antigone defied the law, Medea murdered the law by killing the king, and Jacosta tried to lead her husband, Oedipus, away from the truth. The conception of women as troublemakers was fairly common in Antigone, starting with the tale of Adam and Eve.

Works Cited

Euripides. Medea. https://archive.org/ 1910. Web. https://archive.org/stream/medeaeuripides00murrgoog/medeaeuripides00murrgoog_djvu.txt

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. https://archive.org/ 1946. Web. https://archive.org/stream/Oedipus.Rex.Sophocles.trans.Watling/Oedipus.Rex_Sophocles%5btrans.Watling%5d_djvu.txt

Sophocles. Antigone. http://classics.mit.edu/ 442 B.C. Web. http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/antigone.html [END OF PREVIEW]

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