2nd Class Citizens in Greek Society

Throughout human history the roles of women and men have been defined in part by physiology and in part
by the attitudes conveyed by those who hold power and influence. In ancient history, societies were
centered around women and the worshipping of goddesses. These roles changed quickly as hunting and
warfare became increasingly more important and women's less powerful physique placed them in a weaker
position. Just prior to the Hellenistic Age, three men wrote of their times, and of their perceptions,
attitudes and ideas regarding men, women, and civilization. In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles we get a
glimpse inside the life and tragic misfortunes of a royal family. Thucydides wrote a history of the
Peloponnesian war, and in his recounting of Pericles' Funeral Oration the duties and benefits of Athenians
were revealed. Plato's The Republic, was a philosophical dialogue covering the times as they were and
how he felt they possibly could be better. In each of these works t!
he roles of women are revealed not only through their position within the community but also through the
relation of the benefits and rights men enjoyed which women were denied.
During the time of Sophocles, the Greek population led a simplistic life enjoying a dynamic life of
festivals, light work loads and the attendance of compulsory dramas paid for by the state for human
enhancement. The Greek population consisted of free men, free women and slaves. Men were at the top
of the hierarchy enjoying all the benefits provided by their civilization; involvement in politics, ownership
of property, influence, and the freedom to chose their actions. Women on the other hand were primarily
delegated to keeping up and nurturing the appearances of society; care of the home and children, upkeep of
possessions, and more importantly upkeep of their husbands reputations and honor.
Throughout Sophocles' Oedipus Rex the values that make a good citizen (that being a free male) are
introduced. These include being humble before the gods, being responsible for your actions while having
respect for humans and for the instructions of the gods. The expectations and roles of women are also
shown through the actions of Jocasta the queen in
comparison with the actions of her husband Oedipus. Jocasta is not entitled to as much public power as her
husband, her role is in the background, helping direct him privately and always caring to keep up his
reputation. She says during one of Oedipus's public outbursts, "Into the palace now. And Creon, you go
home. Why make such a furor over nothing?"1, while at

another time she submissively says, "...But do let's go inside. I'd never displease you, least of

all in this."2 This weak and dependent perception of women is evidenced even more when

hearing Oedipus talk of his children to Creon, "... my daughters, my poor helpless girls,

clustering at our table, never without me hovering over them ... take care of them, I beg you."3

He continues saying to his children;

"How I weep for you ...just thinking of all your days to come, the bitterness, the life that rough mankind
will thrust upon you. Where are the public gatherings you can join, the banquets of the clans? ...And when
you reach perfection, ripe for marriage, who will he be, my dear ones? ... Who will marry you then? Not a
man on earth. Your doom is clear: you'll wither away to nothing, single, without a child."4

When Jocasta and Oedipus finally hear that their fate has indeed come to pass, the actions of each are very
different, but also very indicative of their perspective roles. Oedipus takes a powerful stance by inflicting
a life-long punishment on himself. Jocasta takes the meeker route, by hanging herself she saves herself
from the dishonor of having to live with the knowledge of her fateful actions, and from the terribly rough
life she would have being stigmatized and being forced to live without a proper husband and provider.

By the time of the Peloponnesian War, the status of women had not changed much. Although
women were allowed to own some amount of property, the daily management of that property was the
responsibility of her husband. A women's role was still in the home, her main duty being to have and raise
children. The men of Athens were expected to be active in political life, to serve the state, and