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The Role of Women in Homer’s Iliad Essay

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The Role of Women in Homer’s Iliad


Homer’s Iliad is undoubtedly focused on its male characters: Achilles, primarily, but also Hector and Agamemnon. Nevertheless, it seems that the most crucial characters in the epic are female. Homer uses the characters of Thetis, Andromache, and Helen as a basis for comparison to the male characters. Homer wants his audience to see and understand the folly of his male characters in choosing war over peace, aggression over kindness, and honor over family. While the behavior of these characters clearly speaks for itself, the contrasting attitudes and behaviors of the female characters proffer an alternative; in comparison, the reader can hardly fail to concur with Homer’s message that war, aggression, and honor are misplaced and self-defeating values.

The men of the Iliad are very emotional individuals; however, the emotions they express are consistently rage, pride, and jealousy. Achilles and Agamemnon jealously bicker over Briseis, a war prize that neither man particularly values. Agamemnon eventually returns her to Achilles with the admission that he never actually coupled with her; Achilles is less-than-enthused to have her back. Not only is Briseis, as a woman, regarded less as a human being as she is chattel, but the real issue dividing Agamemnon and Achilles is petty jealousy and pride. This is symptomatic of a general attitude among men that "might makes right," and the only priority is to exert a dominance over others whenever possible and at any cost. Achilles is willing to risk the lives of his compatriots and eventually forfeits his own life in pursuit of glory. Hector also loses his life and fails his family and country for glory despite having weighed the alternatives and con...


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... remembered for their great glory. Kindness, to them, is a weakness; yet ironically, it is their kindness for which they are remembered and mourned by those who loved them best. One role of the women of ancient Greece was mourning for the dead; the lamentations of the women in the Iliad are a role well fulfilled.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Calame, Claude. Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece : Their Morphology, Religious Role, and Social Fucntion. Trans. by Derek Collins and Jane Orion. 1997.

Sissa, Giulia. 1990. Greek Virginity. Trans. by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Orig. pub. as Le corps virginal. 1987. 000: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin.

Steiner, George, and Fagles, Robert, eds. Homer: A Collection of Critical Essays. Twentieth Century Views, ed. Maynard Mack. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1962.



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