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The Classical Period of Athens (500-336 BCE) was an era of sociocultural growth and stability for the ancient Greeks, renowned for its development of tragic theatre. While Classical Athens nurtured the public sociocultural success of male citizens, women adopted a submissive role, confined to their marital responsibilities. Women were forbidden from directly taking part in politics, philosophy, and above all, the theatrical scene of Athens. Due to these societal perceptions of traditional gender roles, the literature of the Classical Period was heavily influenced by a male bias. This study investigates the connections between women’s role in Classical Athenian society and the portrayal of female literary characters in tragic theatre by male playwrights. The use of stage costumes, characterization, and narrative of female characters in Euripides’ Classical tragic play Medea was analyzed to determine if male societal perceptions of women in Greek society influenced the structure of female characters. Through these analyses, it was determined that male bias and traditional gender roles of women in Athenian society established four prominent stereotypes in female dramatic characters: the femme fatale, the conspirator, the victim, and the villain. Tragic theatre was a vital pillar of ancient Greek history, so contemporary understanding of the reality of roles of women in Classical society are undeniably influenced by a male bias.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)

Gender Studies, Anthropology


Greek Literature, Classical Period, Women's roles, Ancient Athens, Classical Athens, Marital Roles, Greece


Ancient History, Greek and Roman through Late Antiquity | Ancient Philosophy | Classical Literature and Philology | Women's Studies

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Mary Boyes


© The Author(s)

Women's Marital Roles in Classical Athens: Male Understanding and Portrayal in Aeschylus' Agamemnon and Euripides' Medea