So, I was bad and skipped Sunday’s Book of the Week entry… shame on me! But, Wednesday is here – time for a new post!
We’ve been reading the Homeric epics, Iliad and Odyssey, in my Myth class. It’s been quite fun! One class brought about an interesting discussion on the position of women in these two tales. Most voted that women were merely objects to be moved around by the male characters, but I have a slightly different take.
I looked at four of the main men in these stories – Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus – and how they treat the women in their lives and noted an interesting pattern.
- Agamemnon is the big-shot politician type. Really rich and powerful, he’s used to getting his own way. He steals Achilles’ woman in the beginning, and when he finds he can’t keep her, gives her back and takes Cassandra (the ignored Trojan prophetess) to be his captive/concubine. When he takes her home to his wife, his wife (and her lover) kill him.
- Achilles is the jock. He’s big, strong, handsome – a powerful man in his own right who is also used to getting his way. While his relationships are predominantly with men, when Agamemnon takes his concubine, he gets really mad – not because there’s much affection there, but because his status has been threatened. Once Agamemnon returns her, she isn’t really mentioned again. Some time later, Achilles is killed at Troy.
- Hector is an honorable man and son of the king of Troy, so, once again, powerful in his own right. He can be classified as the dutiful son and soldier. He has a loving relationship with his wife and obviously cares about her and values her, but he dismisses her opinions and advice. He is killed by Achilles.
- Odysseus is the smart one and the crafty soldier. He loves his wife and seems to value her as a companion and as a wise woman in her own right. While fighting to get back home, he does sleep with other women, but always under duress, showing that his relationship with his wife is of great importance to him. He makes it home alive.
So, to summarize: the three men who undervalue and dismiss the women in their lives die violently, while the one man (always heralded as the Wise and Wiley one, equal to Athena herself in mental faculties) who values his wife lives. Bottom line – be nice to your women, or you die.
Obviously, I have no way of knowing whether or not the ancient Greeks meant anything by this pattern of living and dying, but I see it as a subtle way of hinting that women are not merely pawns to be moved about, and that they have power in their own right.
Anyways, my thoughts on Iliad and Odyssey. Given the chance, I may write a paper on this one – it would be fun to explore more extensively.