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In most Greek mythology, women are either vilified or ignored. We can assume this is because most of these poets were a product of their times and therefore, sexist. In these myths, women are seen as inferior and are below men in the social order. They are docile and subservient, staying home to take care of children, but they are also described as temptresses and liars. In contrast, the men in these myths are heroes and strong warriors. The separation between the sexes is clear.
This is also the case in Hesiod’s work; Works and Days. While reading Works and Days, it is not hard to see some clear-cut gender roles that are prevalent in even today’s culture.
The Greek society at the time of Hesiod’s life was a patriarchal society. Works and Days take place in the Iron Race, and when the earlier ages are mentioned it is stated that the Silver Race, a matriarchal society was childish and with no good male role models, which lead to their destruction.
In patriarchal societies, men are in places of power and have control over property, social privilege, and moral authority. This can be seen mirrored in the Greek Pantheon and also in the lives of everyday people. In the gods’ hierarchy, the word of Zeus is final, and it is the law. Zeus rules over them, and the mortal men, and he is the single judge.
When it comes to the lives of everyday people and their culture, Works and Days makes it pretty clear that working is the men’s job, and that men should be the ones that control their houses and should always find work to do.
According to Hesiod, it seems that men who do not work are not loved even by the gods. Men are also the only recipient of their fathers’ wealth and legacies after their deaths. It is seen as fortunate for there to be only one son born into a household, as it will mean that there will be no fight for inheritance between sons. But also, those daughters are not left with their fathers’ fortune. Even if a household did not have a son, the possession of everything would be left to the daughter’s husband, meaning the family legacy would not continue.
The view of women in Works and Days is not a favorable one. Hesiod mentions multiple times that women aren’t trustworthy and that they are, in their very nature, always clashing with men, which will be expanded upon in another paragraph. To start with, Zeus sends Pandora, a woman that he orders other gods to create and make beautiful but conniving, as a punishment towards Prometheus’ actions. Hesiod also states that before Pandora, mankind had peaceful and easy lives, free of illnesses. Therefore, we can assume that women were seen as the source of the rife in men’s lives and that they are a necessary evil from the line “(A woe) which they will cherish in their hearts, although it lays them low”. We can see more evidence of this later on, where it is explicitly mentioned that men shouldn’t trust women.
Women, it says, are there to deceive men with their sexuality while stealing from them, and that trusting a woman is equal to trusting a thief.
When it comes to marriage, Hesiod says that men should wait until they are in their 30s to get married and only marry young “ripe” women, so that they can be taught better. Works and Days also mention that wives are what make men happy, but only if they are “good”.
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