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Essay/Term paper: Three female characters in greek tragedies

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Greek Mythology

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Three Female Characters in Greek Tragedies


Jim Creus
Mrs. Baldi
English IV
2/18/97

In the times of the ancient Greeks, women had an unpretentious role.
They were expected to do take on the accepted role of a woman. In most cases, a
woman's role is restricted to bearing young, raising children, and housework.
In Sophocles' Oedipus the King, Antigone, and Medea, the dominant female
characters impacted upon men with authority and political power. It is an
inescapable fate that one of these characters will fall, and that the Gods have
control over everyone's fate. Each dominant female character portrays her
willpower and commitment to their beliefs. This is what leads to the inevitable
tragedy.
In Oedipus the King, Jocasta, is Oedipus' wife and the sister of Creon.
She became a part of doomed Theban dynasty when she married Laius, the King of
Thebes. As a result, the marriage had brought together two branches of the
family of Cadmus and seemed to guarantee political strength. She became
disappointed because she was unable to produce an heir to the throne. Seeking a
solution, Lauis went to the oracle at Delphi and asked how the proble might be
overcome. Instead, the oracle proclaimed that the son born to Jocasta would be
his murderer. Upon hearing the prophecy, Lauis rejected all women. This
infuriated Jocasta and she had gotten Lauis drunk, and slept with him. This
proves that Jocasta refuses to be outdone, even by her husband. When Jocasta
had given birth to a baby boy (Oedipus), Lauis had it sent away by a messenger
to die of exposure high in the mountains. A shepherd discovered the boy and
gave it to his master King Polybus.
As years passed, Thebes was plagued by a Sphinx that sought the answer
to a riddle. It asked for the answer and killed everyone who had guessed
incorrectly. This had riddled Thebes' commerce and left its people disgruntled.
To make matters worse, news reached the city that Lauis had been killed by
unknown assailants. Desperate and in need of help, Creon (now the regent of
Thebes) had offered up the throne and Jocasta to anyone who could solve the
Sphinx's riddle.
In the meantime, Oedipus came across the Sphinx and solved the riddle.
He ended up in Thebes because he went to the oracle at Delphi just like his
father Lauis. Now Oedipus is King of Thebes and another problem arises, a
plague. He searches far and wide for the solution to save his people. Prophets
and wisemen were brought in to help Oedipus with the plague. It is discovered
that the plague will be lifted when Lauis' death is revenged. Tiresias, an old
prophet reveals that Oedipus is the murderer. Creon too, accuses Oedipus of the
murder. Jocasta stands by Oedipus' side.

A prophet? . . . free yourself of every charge! Listen to me and learn some
peace I mind: no skill in the world, nothing human can penetrate the future. . .
.my son wasn't three days old and the boy's father fastened his ankles, had a
henchman fling him away on a barren, trackless mountain. Apollo brought neither
thing to pass. My baby no more murdered his father that Lauis suffered- (201)

Here Jocasta questions the Gods and comforts Oedipus, her dear husband. They do
not notice how blind they are because the Gods are always correct.
"Stange, hearing you just now . . . my mind wandered, my thought racing
back and forth." (201) Oedipus finally begins to realize that his trip to
Delphi begins to coincide with Jocasta's explanation of Lauis' murder. He
begins to questions Jocasta frantically. Jocasta explains that a witness of the
murder had been sent into hiding immediately after Oedipus's crowning. Oedipus
demands his presence, but Jocasta begs him to stop his investigation.
"Impossible. Trust me, he could never make the murder or Lauis truly fit the
prophecy." (208) Oedipus starts to realize he had put a curse upon himself when
he had condemned the man who had slain Lauis. The witness verifies the truth to
Oedipus and their stories match. Jocasta prays to Apollo that Oedipus won't be
so worrisome. "What should a man fear? . . . Better to live at random, Live as
if there's no tomorrow!" (215) She wants him to be calm, for she believes he
did not do it.
Both Jocasta and Oedipus are excited to hear the news of Polybus'
passing. This meant that Oedipus did not kill his father. The messenger also
verifies that Oedipus' father was not Polybus' but Lauis. "Oh no, I beg you,
don't do this . . .No, please, I want the best for you." (222-3) Oedipus'
thirst for the truth is too strong and he discovers the truth. His mother is
Jocasta and his father is Lauis.
As a result, Jocasta, horrified, runs to her chambers and hangs herself.
Oedipus then follows after and gauges his eyes. He suffers from his own curse
and banishes himself faraway.
In Antigone, a war if fought and the invading armies of Argos have been
driven from Thebes. Creon, who is now king, orders that all the dead invaders
are to be left unburied for the birds and beasts. Antigone, Oedipus' daughter,
demands for her brother's proper burial, despite the Creon's orders. Antigone's
sister, Ismene, on the other hand, is a typical subservient woman. " He has no
right to keep me from my own." (61) Despite the disagreement between the two
sisters, Ismene and Antigone, Antigone will follow through with some burial
rites for her brother. Ismene agrees to keep Antigone's intentions a secret,
but that is all. Anigone replies, "Dear god, shout it from the roof tops. I'll
hate you all the more for silence-tell the world!" (64)
The sentry guards report to Creon that someone has lightly dusted the
body with dirt. Creon is furiated and has Antigone captured and buried alive.
Antigone is brave and accepts her punishment. "I chose to die . . . I gave
myself to death," (88) The prophet Tireseas predicts more tragedy as a result
of Creon's defiance of the Gods. By not giving a proper burial to the dead
bodies, he is robbing the Gods of the underworld. Creon shakes off his warnings.

Haemon, Creon's son, pleads for Antigone's life because he is in love
with her. Creon thinks of women in only one way,

Never lose your sense of judgment over a woman. The warmth, the rush of
pleasure, it all goes cold in your arms, I warn you . . .a worthless woman in
your house, a misery in you bed. Spit her out like a mortal enemy-let the girl
go. (93)

Antigone, in her tomb, faces her fate with grace. "Very well: if this if the
pleasures of the gods, once I suffer I will know that I was wrong." (106)

Haemon discovers Antigone who had strangled herself. He in turn thrusts himself
upon his own sword. Creon had realized what the Gods demanded and attempted to
dig Antigone out himself but was too late.
In Medea, Medea seeks revenge when her husband Jason falls for Creon's
daughter and marries her. Medea devoted herself to Jason and he lusts for
another woman. "When you were sent to the fire-breathing bulls, I saved your
life; I willingly deceived my father and left my home with you." (31) Medea
feels that she must exact revenge instead of forgiving and forgetting. "Trials
are yet to come for this new-wedded pair;" (28) Creon fears that Medea will
harm his daughter so he banishes her. She has all of one day to find a home
elsewhere. Medea faces her exile with dignity, "Nothing would induce me to have
dealings with your friends, nor to take any gift of yours." (35) Aegeus, King
of Athens, offers her a home in his kingdom for an exchange for a cure for his
sterility. Before leaving, Medea poisons a crown and a dress, presented by her
two children to the Jason's new wife. She bursts into flames and dies. For
Medeas ultimate revenge, she kills her two children. Adding insult to injury,
she does not let him bury the children, "I will convey them to the temple of
Hera, I will bury them with my own hand." (60)
Jocasta, with her ignorance to the prophecies, and her devotion to
Oedipus, act as her spotlight as she breaks the mold of typical women.
Antigone's willpower and loyalty to the Gods burial demands and her brother
portray her as a strong person. Medea's drive and determination, although not
with good intent, characterizes her as a strong woman. All three have shown
their acceptance of their fate at one time. They stand out in a crowd of
subservient women.

 

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