HIST 100

Text Analysis I

Gender Roles as defined by Homer’s The Iliad

The Iliad is a classic example of a patriarchal society where women lack agency. The story depicts how women and men were expected to conduct themselves in ancient Greece. The story showcases the last years of the alleged Trojan War, shedding light on gender roles in this society. In Homer’s poem, men were depicted to be higher up in the social ladder and in charge as compared to women. Women were viewed to be manipulative, purposed to ruining a man’s purpose, or as objects. Through the conflicts between men and the stories of the supporting female characters, this paper purposes to give a glimpse of the gender roles, such as protection, position of women in the society, and decision-making roles that men and women were expected to fill in the Greek society.

The Iliad upholds men’s patriarchal structure as leaders in their families who fight for their country and strive to protect their families. In the story, Hector’s wife begged him to stay home but he insisted that he wanted to gain honor fighting for his family and country. He also talks to his son, asking that when he grew older, he may be stronger. “Do not mourn too much for me, my beloved Andromache, no man shall send me to the house of Hades, before my allotted hour, and nobody lives who can live longer than that date which heaven assigned him, be he base or brave. Go then, and occupy yourself with the housework, the woman’s sphere; practice the distaff, spin and weave, and order your servants their work” (Homer, 478-497). From this brief description, it is clear that Hector made sacrifices for his fellow Trojans as well, showing how men played a protective role towards each other as they fought the Trojan War.

The story also depicts how mortal women had no agency and were perceived rather as possessions and awards of men. Chryseis, Briseis, and Helen are some of the women who greatly impacted the Trojan War through the roles they played but were only seen as awards who boosted the pride and ego of their male counterparts. Women in this context have been objectified as persons who lack the strength and power to impact or influence their lives or the lives of others in a manner that does not embrace sex or contribute to the ego and pride of the men. Helen had no power or control over the choices made that affected her life, or the lives of those soldiers who were believed to have died for her. The Judgement of Paris, which was believed to have occurred before the events of the war unfolded, impacted Helen’s ability to have power and control over her life. Helen was perceived to be the most attractive woman given to Paris as a gift for insinuating that Aphrodite was the “fairest” of all women. The notion that Helen could be objectified as a prize was offensive; she was given as an object to Paris, an award. She was appreciated and valued, not because of her humanity, but because of her beauty.

In the story, women had no power over the decisions made involving their being, Helen lacked the power to make her own decisions regarding what she wanted for herself in the war. She was angered by the fact that men were dying because of her yet she did not have a say in what happened, adding on to the fact that she could not air out her opinion on whether she was willing to flee Sparta with Paris. She was viewed as an object instead of a human being, totally stripping her of mortality. Paris took Helen to Troy and claimed her as a “prized possession” a factor that angered King Menelaus, her husband, inciting one of history’s assumed prolific wars. Evidently, Helen missed her old life in Sparta: “The goddess filled her heart with the yearning warm and deep for her husband long ago, her city and her parents. Quickly cloaking herself in shimmering linen, out of her rooms she rushed, live tears welling, and not alone” (Homer, 168-172). Even in her subsequent tears for her old life and ex-husband, a sign showing discontent with the new chosen for her in Troy, having been forcibly removed from her friends and family. Despite her discomfort, leeriness, and confusion, she does not have the ability to make the pivotal decision to decide the path of her life. Her situation forced her into discontent and isolation, as she watched soldiers lose their lives for a lover’s quarrel. Hector’s wife also did not have a say in Hector’s choice to go fight the war. She was instructed to obey what Hector had requested, despite her begging him to stay. These examples show how women lacked the position to air out their opinions in the Greek society.

Women within the context of the story were seen to be aggravators of conflict between men. Helen is believed to be the woman who initiated the Trojan War while Agamemnon and Achilles conflicted over the return of Bryseis and Achilles sought revenge that led to the momentary extermination of the Acheans. The Trojan War could be described as a war over women as possessions. The presumed conflict that ensued between Agamemnon and Achilles was believed to be as a result of a clash over the women they each claimed to own. Bryseis and Chryseis were two damsels taken as prized possessions after the defeat of a Trojan-allied town. Achilles attempted to claim Bryseis while Agamemnon attempted to claim Chryseis. However, Agamemnon failed in his quest as he was required to return Chryseis to her father after Apollo raided the Achaen camps. In his unenthusiastic mission, he told Achilles in dispute: “Not so quickly, brave as you are godlike Achilles- trying to cheat me. Oh no, you won’t get past me, take me in that way! What do you want? To cling to your own prize while I sit calmly by—empty-handed here? Is that why you order me to give her back? No—if our generous Argives will give me a prize, a match for my desires, equal to what I’ve lost, well and good. But if they give me nothing I will take a prize myself—your own” (Homer, 153-161). This statement further dehumanized women and depicted the apparent value of owning women who were visually appealing. In this context, women were not viewed as equals to their male counterparts but rather were objects commodified to be shared freely between individuals and have no free will whatsoever, and even non-participative contributors of conflict.

From the Iliad, there were some values that Greek schoolchildren learned from the characters, based on the different roles they played and their significant character traits. For instance, from Hector, he depicted a man of honor whose main duty was to his homeland. Even after his wife pleaded him to stay, he emulated self-sacrifice and devotion to his nation. He also emulated good traits of fatherhood through the advice he gave to his son before going into war. He emulated the role men played in marriage and fatherhood, offering protection and making important decisions that affect them.

His wife, Andromache portrayed the nurturing nature of love and devotion, showed through her concern over her husband’s decision to take part in the Trojan War. “Yet Hector—oh my husband! I in you I find parents, brothers, and all that I have lost. Come! Have compassion on us. Do not go to battle, but guard this tower, unless you make a widow of me and an orphan of your young boy” (Homer, 427-451). The devotion equally showed the roles women played in marriage, being submissive and listening to her husband. She also emulated good motherhood traits through how she cared for their son and took care of their home.

King Priam was an exemplary leader, showing the importance of humility, family sacrifice, honor, and respect for authority. He watched as his sons were killed through the Trojan War and did not blame Helen for their deaths. He also had honor in his leadership, despite all he lost. From Achilles, his character emulated the flaws that led to the downfall of a great hero, filled with vengeance and pride, especially through his conflict with Agamemnon. His character flaw led him to lack nobility and integrity, especially since he could not control his pride. However, his ability to sacrifice himself was a noble trait, one that made him a hero despite all his flaws.

The Iliad depicts how the Greek society was assumedly in the late sixteenth century, with women objectified as awards and having no power or control over what happens to them. Men in this context had the power to claim women and overrule their decisions without fear because women were not expected to refuse or fight back. Men were been perceived as brave protectors, a factor shown by Hector, who was willing to go and fight even with the uncertainty of whether he will return to his family. Women were viewed to be instigators of conflict, with Helen assumedly starting the Trojan War, and Bryseis and Chryseis starting conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles. The story expounds on the inequalities that women were subjected to and how society perceived them; powerless objects with no decision-making authority.

Homer, D. M., & Monro, D. B. (2008). The Iliad. Wildside Press LLC. Retrieved from http://gpnp.net/Library.gpnp.net/historical/political%20historical%20docs/egypt%20and%20greece/The%20Iliad%20-%20Homer.pdf

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