Femininity in Homer’s Iliad

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Femininity in Homer’s Iliad

In Homer’s Iliad, predominant feminine presence inspires the events of the poem and the destinies of the men involved. This feminine presence is not a product of the actions and decisions of the women in the poem, but rather a conceptual, creative feminine force without which the poem and even human life would not exist. Homer personifies this presence in nature and maintains it through the voice of the Muse, his inspiration. There is a deeper essence of a feminine presence in the poem, however, which lies in the characteristics of life itself. It is the woman who gives birth to the heroes and therefore she is the first to bring her child to life and to put him on the road to death. This biological phenomenon might seem superficially irrelevant to the fears and concerns of the masculine heroes who are most concerned with death, destiny and honor, the principle themes of the Iliad. These are of great importance to these heroes because these aspects of life will determine whether or not the world will remember them. Furthermore, as fame is their only path to immortality, the desire for fame after death motivates them to live honorably. It is the feminine role in nature that introduces the men to the life of the hero which instills this longing to be remembered after death, and it is, therefore, the feminine role in nature that gives purpose to human life. Homer acknowledges this effect and uses poetic devices to maintain a powerful presence of femininity throughout the poem.

The feminine presence in the Iliad carries the poem like a pregnant woman carries a fetus in its final stages in the womb. Homer hints at this phenomenon through the many details of his poem that involve units of nine. As th...

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...en will grow while another / dies” (6.146-149). Glaukos, the “shining son of Hippolochos,” (6. 145) makes this declaration in Book Six. The fact that Homer describes him as “the shining son of Hippolochos” indicates that his ancestors were virtuous and fortunate to have an honorable descendent to tell their stories to respectful listeners. Without a decent parentage and honorable descendents, a man’s fame will not survive his death. Men do not have the power to ensure that they will have children and grandchildren to continue their lineage; it is the woman who carries the child in her womb. A man can never be sure if his child is legitimately from his or another man’s blood line. This knowledge is a power that nature gave the woman, a power that no man can ever control.

Work Cited

Homer, Iliad, trans. Richard Lattimore New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1965.

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