The Iliad tells the remarkable story of the Trojan war. Further, the characters Homer has immortalized in his great epic transcend the violence and seriousness of war and thus creates a timeless appeal. This appeal does not ring more than in the case of the women of this narrative. The most important women in this narrative are Helen of Troy, Briseis, Athena, Aphrodite and Hera. These women whether mortal or divine, play a vital role in the male protagonists decisions. Homers heroines from Trojan princess and Achaean queens to Olympian goddesses create alliances in order to gain power and importance in a society which sees them as nothing but property.
By comparing and contrasting the roles of women, mortal or divine, in the Iliad we will try to find what their rightful role is within the grater narrative and more importantly how they impact the decision of the patriarch.
This study will be divided into three major parts. The first section will revolve around an examination of the role women had at the time Homer was retelling the famous myth of Helen of Troy.
The main source used in this section is Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic times by Thomas R. Martin and some small comments on women made by Aristotle in his famous work Politics. The main interest is to gain a greater understanding of womens place in society during the 8th century B.C. and how the treatment of mortal women may be reflected in Olympus.
In the second part will examine the representation of the goddesses within the narrative and how they fit into the role divine ladies had in Greek myth as mentioned in the previous section. Here, there will also be touched on the notion of the Great Goddess or at least the fragments left of her. Additionally, there will be attempted a look at the goddesses through the eyes of a feminist. Thus, the discussion will focus on how they are in contrast to the patriarch and how they try to find their place in a male dominated world. There will be argued if each goddess fits best into the box of daughter, mother or wife which are the main roles women can play in the Iliad. One also sees their attempts to break out of said roles. Finally, in this section one will encounter the legend behind the protagonist Helen and how the famous Trojan war was fought because of her.
The final chapter will explore the roles the goddess had in the fate of the alluring Helen. By the same token it wishes to investigate the duplicity of her complex character and whether or not she is to be labelled the puppet or the puppeteer. This chapter draws on the source of the Iliad, Apollodorus Epidome 3.5 and Sapphos fragment 16 to build a compelling argument for and against her being a major player in her own abduction.
Ancient Greece and their Women
To understand the role of the women in the Iliad, one must first understand the role of Greek women in Homer’s time. Women in ancient Greece did not have many rights in comparison to their male equivalents. Unable to vote, own land or even inherit, a womans concern was that of the domestic sphere this means her aim was to have and take great care of her offspring. This is to say a generalisation and thus does not regard information about specific city-states into account. This is due to the fact that most authors of the time were men but also that when describing women of ancient Greece is Athenian women, their status and role in society is in great detail. All women were expected to marry since there was not a place for unmarried females in ancient Greek society. And, according to Aristotle marriage should provide a mutual help and comfort, though the male should rule: females [are] incomplete males [But] human communities could be successful and happy only if they included the contributions of both women and men. Further, he also argues that females are inferior to males and thus are meant to be ruled by males like animals by humans:
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
As previously mentioned, women in ancient Greece did not have many rights although we have discovered that the women of Sparta were treated differently to Athenian women since they were allowed to do physical training like men, obtain and own land and even drink. Mortal women may have a limit role in actual society.
On the contrary, there is a strong cast of female characters in Greek mythology, from Athena the goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens, to the jealous Hera and Aphrodite who used her beauty and charm to make men lose their wits. Besides this, Greek myth transforms the Great Goddess un her death-wielding aspects into an old hag, such as the Gorgeon, or a witch such as Hecate. Further, the maiden and motherly aspects of the feminine is coming back to life in the forms of Athena, Aphrodite and Hera. As in mortal society the divine women are also seen as the submissive although some stand-up to patriarchy. First, we have Hera who is always well-aware that she is inferior to Zeus in terms of power she never submits entirely and comfortably to him. Rather the contrary, she opposes him more often than not, this may be a reflection of her own powerful origin as a powerful pre-Olympic deity. In short, a representation of the Great Goddess. Secondly, there is Athena who is the incarnation of wisdom of the Great Goddess since she was born from Zeus head this makes the great combination of the male archetype with the softness of the female. Finally, Aphrodite who is the embodiment of sexual attraction and deep affection originally this was the powerful force of creation. In the patriarchal framework of Greek myth, she is reduced to nothing more than a flirt or a mistress. Despite her youthful appearance, Aphrodite is an ancient mighty deity who is associated with the waters of life due to her birth from sea foam. Yet, more interesting is her union with Ares which show the intriguing dynamics of love and war.