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The Iliad tells the remarkable tale of the Trojan war. Similarly, the characters Homer immortalised in his great epic transcend the brutality, seriousness and devastation of war. The manner in which Homer depicts warfare is the reason why many returns to his magnum opus. Together with his depiction of war, his commentary of women also makes it more intriguing. The women who drive this narrative are Helen of Troy, Briseis, the intelligent Athena, the charming Aphrodite and the cunning Hera. These women whether mortal or divine paly a central role in the male protagonists’ decisions.
Besides this, Homer’s heroines from Trojan princesses and Achaean Queens to Olympian goddesses create alliances in order to gain authority and influence in a society which sees them as nothing more than property.
The aim of this research is to examine the purpose of women in Ancient Greece and hoe they are represented within the Iliad. First and foremost, one needs to understand the role women had myth and how these roles where to be mirrored in Greek society.
The first chapter focuses on Ancient Greece and her ladies, which shortly states the four roles women could play in Greek society. These roles are the virgin, the temptress, the mother and the wife, and these take the form of the goddess. It also touches on the role females had within a marriage and here Aristotle may lend a hand to explain the power dynamics. The second chapter deals with how the goddesses are represented within the immense narrative of the Iliad.
Besides this, it also considers their evolution throughout myth, some scholars argue that Hera, Athena and Aphrodite can traced their lineage back to a time where the matriarch had a greater importance than the patriarch. Though this may be true, one will see these strong women in relation to the patriarch though the change from a matriarchal to patriarchal society will not be reviewed at all due to the limited number of pages. The last chapter wishes to take an in-depth look at the role the goddesses played in Helen’s destiny. This means that we will take our point of departure in the fight for the golden apple which leads to Helen being given to Paris. Here, we will also put forth two different arguments, one in which scholars argue that she was a hostage and the other which states that she went willingly. To support these arguments, the Iliad depiction of the kidnapping will be used but also Sappho’s fragment 16 which tells that she went willingly. In continuation of this, one may also examine Helen’s own role in her abduction.
The divine women of myth were a strong collective despite the presence of a patriarch. This may be true, but the goddess of classical Greece was defined by one specific feature namely that of the virgin as personified by Athena, a temptress like Aphrodite and the mother in the form of Hera. These roles were mirrored in the word of the mortals at well. The fact that the divine ladies fall into one of the four categories of virgin, temptress, mother and wife is quite significant. All the roles a divine lady should play tells of a sexual maturity and thus of someone beyond childhood. Therefore, one can say that goddesses’ characteristics are both gender-specific and tells of a certain maturity. This gendered identity excludes male aspects such as strategic knowhow and a ‘fascination’ with war. As a result, many a goddess may have an inner conflict when it comes to their past. The greatest examples of this is Athena and Aphrodite. Not to mention, the only female occupation at the time was that of a housewife and mother. When it comes to the notion of marriages Aristotle states as follows:
“· for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are preserved. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled”
Thus, in marriage women should also be inferior to their men or in short, they should allow themselves to be ruled. He also goes as far as to argue it is better this way. Yet he tells that ‘human communities could be successful and happy only if they included the contributions of both women and men.’ Women may be inferior to men, but marriage should still provide safety, security and comfort for both parties. One of his contemporaries even go as far as to argue that women were no more than a ‘benefit’ or someone whose sole purpose were to satisfy her man. Thus, one can easily claim that females were taught to be submissive towards their husbands and was only commissioned to bring up offspring. Despite this, she was still important because in many ways’ men were still depended on women.
Before jumping head first into an analysis of the goddess’ role in the narrative and how they can be related to the notion of the Great Mother Goddess. One will attempt to explain the theory of the Great Goddess. With the rise of feminism came a renewed interest in goddesses within already established religions. Many argue that the theory of the Great Goddess attempts to find an alternative to a patriarchal society. There are three main path one can take in order to understand this theory. The first is looking at how certain goddesses were worshipped in prehistoric times. Here, one’s hypothesis is often based on archaeological findings which is often discovered in the Near East, modern day Iraq and so forth. Believers of the ‘Great Goddess’ school of thought claim that humans of a time long past devoted their time to a big-breasted, corpulent female goddess who represented fertility. Moreover, they use the findings of such figurines to support their argument. The second take an in-depth look at female deities and based on the findings they reinterpreted traditions and sacred texts so the focal point can be these strong females. Finally, there is the goddess revival which basically states that religion as one knows it is too male centric and thus women most abandon it. So long as women are fully and exclusively devoted to a female deity, she can become an equal participant in not only religion but also society as a whole. The research presented in this paper will be based primarily on the second school of thought.
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