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Oresteia and the Oedipus Cycle Term Paper

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Updated: Oct 15th, 2021

Different factors predetermine the role of a woman in any society, but in all the times, women were considered the ones who are not bold and strong enough to fight. The characters of three women portrayed in ancient Greek plays, namely Clytemnestra, Antigone, and Jocasta, prove that women who tried to prove that they have equal rights with men always existed.

Clytemnestra’s personality is the first to be discussed as her character is absolutely opposite to what a character of a Greek woman was supposed to be. Clytemnestra was a strong-willed woman with a desire to fight. She seems to be a woman who does not care about the laws and what is allowed or prohibited is of no importance to her, the only thing which has any meaning for her is to prove namely to herself that she is a worthy woman able to take revenge: “You did wrong, killing; now suffer wrong and die!” (Aeschylus, Alan Shapiro, Peter Burian, p. 16). At this, the woman was still preoccupied with justice: “I swear by Justice, completed for my child…” (Aeschylus, Alan Shapiro, Peter Burian, p. 31). She is represented as a vindictive and courageous woman who is not even trying to hide her contempt. She has set a clear purpose for herself, and she does not mind the obstacles on her way to this purpose.

Similar to Clytemnestra’s is the character of Antigone. She wanted to bury her brother, who was killed in war in a respectful way and saw no obstacles in doing this. She is represented as a woman committed to her goal and firm on her purpose. Just like Clytemnestra, Antigone is ready to do everything possible to reach her aim: “Nay, be what thou wilt; but I will bury him: well for me to die in doing that” (Sophocles, George Young, p. 3). Antigone did succeed in what she was up to, and in order to avoid the punishment, she killed herself. This proves how devoted she was to her goal and how strong her will was. She achieved what she planned to, and this makes her a woman who knows what she wants and who, again, is capable of giving her own life for the sake of something which is important for her.

Jocasta is the last character whose personality is worth discussing and mentioning in general. She seems to be a devoted wife who is loyal to her husband and who does everything to please him: “Well, he shall come, but may not I too claim/ To share the burden of thy heart, my king?” (Sophocles, George Young, p. 64) as she respects him and is to some extent afraid of him: “I quail; but ask and I will answer all” (Sophocles, George Young, p. 64). Jocasta seems to be less determined and not so strong as other heroines similar to her. Throughout the play a wife and a mother are fighting inside of her but still the maternal instincts prevail and she decides that her son is more important for her than her husband. Anyway, her purposefulness and her ability to sacrifice her life for something that is important to her can also be traced in her story.

The three characters, Clytemnestra, Antigone, and Jocasta, seem to be quite opposite to Greeks’ idea of women. In the ancient Greece, the role of a woman was insignificant. In fact, the public role for a woman was something unthinkable and what was especially denied is the woman’s speaking in public. There is no doubt that the role played by a woman in the ancient Greece was subordinate to the role men used to play. Nevertheless, Greek men did not deny that their women could be strong, heroic, and purposeful, that they could be loyal and that they could be real fighters if they only were allowed to. This other side of women’s personality is reflected in the characters of Clytemnestra, Antigone, and Jocasta, who acted against all the existing rules but still had their own way. This is what unites them and makes them alike – the ability to reach their aim no matter what it may take them. In all the cases, it took their lives, but they were ready to pay this price for something they considered important.

The most obvious try of a woman to defy the norms of the society may be observed in Clytemnestra’s story. As it was mentioned above, women were not allowed to orate, unless it was somehow connected with religion. Nevertheless, throughout the play, one can observe Clytemnestra’s speeches: “Clytemnestra takes this to an extreme. Not only does she dominate the stage as the play’s main and most impressive speaker, but also deception, persuasion, guile – the manipulation of language – is the route to her domination” (Simon Goldhill, p. 35). This proves that apart from having martial spirit which differentiated her from women of those times, Clytemnestra stood up even against such laws as prohibition of women’s public speeches. Other heroines also tried to fight with existing norms of society which developed into paying a certain price for this. Being proud and goal-oriented, they paid their own lives for trying to be different.

The roles of these women in the plays are hard to overestimate. First of all, they show what happens if certain rules of society are violated. Secondly, and this is the most important, they show that women can be strong and can fight for their rights. It is worth saying that Clytemnestra, Antigone, and Jocasta could easily live in a modern society and fight for women’s rights as their desire to prove that women are also able to fight seems so immense that they could definitely succeed in this fighting and could become glorious and world-famous people. The twenty first century is the place where these women belong to though in their times, they also managed to prove to people that a woman can be not only a keeper of the hearthstone but a warrior ready to give her life for something that is, to her mind, worth it. The stories of Clytemnestra, Antigone, and Jocasta show that already in ancient times, the ideas of feminism were present in the society. They did not have such a mass expression as in the modern society, but still, even then, women were trying to reach equality with men.

As far as men are concerned, regarding these three stories, their main role was that they caused conflict as such and pushed women into the fighting they would never get involved in otherwise. It is Agamemnon in case with Clytemnestra, Creon in case with Antigone, Oedipus in case with Jocasta who made the women forget about their essence and become fighters.

In conclusion, Aeschylus and Sophocles” heroines are perfect examples of purposeful women ready to fight if they were made to. They showed the qualities which women of their times were even not supposed to have. There is no doubt that if three of them lived in the modern society, the fight for women’s independence would have started much earlier.

Works Cited

  1. Aeschylus, Alan Shapiro, Peter Burian. The Oresteia: Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. Oxford University Press US, 2004.
  2. Simon Goldhill. Aeschylus, the Oresteia: The Oresteia. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  3. Sophocles, George Young. The Dramas of Sophocles. Forgotten Books, 1888.
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