That a millennium-long struggle between patriarchal and matriarchal mindsets took place in the Bronze Age is easily apparent whether one turns to Greek drama, mythology, or mythography. In every category numerous examples of this can be found – a nearly, if not actually, overwhelming number. It begins as early as with the ancient tale of Hercules, one of Zeus’s many sons and a later iconic figure representing strength, courage, and sexual prowess. Hercules was jealously hated by Zeus’s wife, Hera, and for that reason she took every opportunity available to cause him pain and attempt to kill him.
Even before his birth, out of jealous rage Hera attempted to prevent his birth. Throughout his life she tormented him, still punishing him for her husband’s infidelity. Hera exhibits what were considered at the time “feminine” traits: she allowed herself to be consumed by jealousy over her husband’s dalliances with other women, and lashed out against these women and their offspring. She was “conniving” and devoted herself to tormenting the lovers and illegitimate offspring of her husband.
Hercules, on the other hand, was the embodiment of masculinity: he was physically strong, courageous, successful sexually, able to depend on his wit when his strength was insufficient for a task, mentally capable of withstanding multiple transgressions into insanity (all induced by Hera), emotionally strong enough to handle murdering his own children, and his end was brought about by a woman (his second-to-last wife, unwittingly and easily manipulated with jealousy into killing her husband).
The same can’t quite be said for the myth of Jason and Medea. Hera, instead of tormenting the male out of jealousy, instead assists him out of a depression by indirectly making Medea fall in love with him and help him in his tasks. After he finishes all his tasks, he sets sail, taking Medea with him, and she has to distract her father by murdering her brother, effectively cutting all ties with her life as a maiden.
After an eventual exile, Jason not only betrays Medea by getting engaged with another woman, he adds insult to injury by dismissing her pleas and assertions that she had helped him with the fact that he had no loyalty to her, but only to Aphrodite, who was the reason Medea had fallen in love with him at all. Medea takes her revenge by presenting the bride with a cursed dress, protects her two sons by murdering them, and flees.
Jason, the male, depends on Medea, the female with magical talents, to assist him, and at an early opportunity, leaves her behind, despite what he owes her, to pursue a marriage that would make him more politically attractive. Medea is jealous and uses her capabilities to inflict harm before leaving immediately. The myth of Oedipus weaves a tale not similar in content, but in portrayal of feminine and masculine roles and traits. Oedipus, aware of the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother, attempts valiantly to avoid this by simply leaving what he believes to be his homeland, unaware of having been adopted.
Along the way, he kills a man who he doesn’t know to be both the king of Thebes and his biological father. He also solves the riddle of the Sphinx, freeing the city from its terror. Upon his arrival to the city, he pledges to eradicate the plague, swearing to find the murderer of the city’s king. He marries the queen, Jocasta, and his own mother, and has children by her. Oedipus is told by a blind prophet that he should abandon his search for the killer, and the story unravels: he is told that he is the killer, and disbelieves because he still thinks he’s the son of his adopted father.
Jocasta realizes Oedipus is her son, and out of shame and horror takes her own life. Oedipus too realizes eventually that he was adopted, and that he unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy he was trying to avoid. He immediately searches for Jocasta and finds her dead by her own hand in the palace. In despair, he gouges his own eyes out, which is an uncommon form of self-punishment considering suicide is more likely in Greek tragedy than self-crippling. He goes on to become revered rather than reviled; a wise, old blind man. Oedipus, because of his efforts to avoid a horrific situation, escapes harsh judgment.
Jocasta, on the other hand, immediately falls into prescribed gender roles: a newly widowed queen, she naturally marries the strong savior of the city. After realizing who her second husband truly is, she tries to prevent him from figuring out his own identity and takes on the burden herself, taking her own life. Perseus, even before the hero’s conception, is a myth riddled with adherence to gender traditions. His mother is shut away and kept from becoming pregnant, her father having been told that he would be killed by his daughter’s son. Despite this, Zeus easily visits her and impregnates her, resulting in the birth of Perseus.
Cast away from his homeland, he was raised by his mother and a fisherman. Invited to a banquet to which he was expected to bring a horse, Perseus promised another gift instead, and was immediately commanded to bring the head of Medusa as a prize. With the help of the gods, he did so – proving his masculinity and manhood by withstanding the trial. On his return journey, he happened upon a situation in which a woman needed rescuing; he became the valiant hero, again proving his masculinity and manhood by appropriately responding to a feminine crisis, and she became his wife, naturally responding appropriately to Perseus’s masculinity.
Theseus’s story, as a founder-figure, is a much longer tale than the previous hero’s. He also began early, recovering his father’s arms to prove his hero-hood and lineage. On his way to Athens to claim his birthright, Theseus faces peril after peril after peril, and task after task, overcoming each obstacle, and in the process proving each time his courage, manhood, masculinity, bravery, and strength. In each circumstance he not only proved himself, but became a savior figure as well, as each obstacle he overcame was a problem for multiple people.
Upon his arrival at Athens, Medea recognized him as the rightful heir to the throne, and decided to have him killed so her own son would be guaranteed the spot. Unsuccessful the first time, she tried a second time, the king only realizing in the nick of time who Theseus was, and saving his life. He was chosen as the hero to rescue Athenians from the Minotaur, to which they were forced to pay tribute each year with their own population. Again with assistance from a woman, he was successful in the endeavor and took her with him to marry.
However, exhibiting the treatment of women as passive pawns, a god appeared to him in a dream, claiming her as his own bride and demanding he leave her on an island for him. Theseus, unwilling to anger the gods, did so. Theseus exhibits all of the ideal masculine traits of the period: strength, courage, valiantness, independence, and doesn’t fall to the feminine traits of the woman who conspires against his attempt to seize his rightful place.
Ariadne exhibits the ascribed feminine traits of the woman who falls for the valiant hero and ultimate example of masculinity, helpfulness and willingness to bend to his will. All of these heroes and their myths, including the women who helped or harmed them in their endeavors to prove their manhood, masculinity, courage, and strength, only emphasize the point that the struggle between matriarchal and patriarchal interests was always fierce. References (1855).
Bulfinch index. Retrieved July 9, 2009, from Bulfinch’s mythology the age of fable or stories of gods and heros Web site: http://www. sacred-texts. com/cla/bulf/ Ovid, (1 A. C. E. ). The internet classics archive. Retrieved July 9, 2009, from Metamorphoses Web site: http://classics. mit. edu/Ovid/metam. html Sophocles (n. d. ). Oedipus the king. Retrieved July 9, 2009, from The internet classics archive Web site: http://classics. mit. edu/Sophocles/oedipus. html
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