Fitful and Changing: Femininity in Virgil's Aeneid

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As a child, I was fascinated by Greek mythology and history, and I made it my business in elementary school to read as much as possible about the subject, including the outstanding stories and the pantheon of gods presented. I thought of them as fantastic, supernatural tales with fitful gods and brave heroes, and I never stopped to consider that the mythologies could be representative of the cultural views and habits of the Greeks, specifically regarding gender roles. One such representaton is Virgil's epic Aeneid, which contains depictions of women in positions of power, and also characterizes these women as irrational, emotional to the point of hysteria, and consequently, unfit rulers.
Historically, much information about the role of women came out of Athens, where women were expected to center their life around oikos, or the 'home', where a woman would cook, manage servents, raise childen, and complete other household tasks (Frost 1997). The first woman to irrationally transgress this role in the Aeneid is Helen, who is the object of Aeneas' rage in Book II. Aeneas first characterizes Helen as “terrified of... her abandoned husband” and he feels a burning desire to “...Avenge my fallen town and punish Helen's whorishness”. He assigns blame for the fall of Troy to Helen, and the only reason Aeneas does not harm Helen is at the insistence of his mother, Venus, who reminds him that it is the “the harsh will of the gods.” (Damrosch and Pike, 2009)
Another woman who was also affected negtively by the will of the gods was the lovely Dido, queen and founder of Carthage. Upon the arrival of Aeneas and the beginning of their love affair, she is consumed by a love brought on by Cupid that was “...inward fire eating her away” and sh...

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...1997), or creatures that are “...Forever fitful and forever changing” (Darmrosch and Pike, 2009). Women are not without strength, as Virgil demonstrates in the Aeneid, as they are rulers of cities and goddesses, as well as objects of passion and the subject of war, in Helen's case. We can learn much about the nature of the balance and tensions between ancient peoples from their literature, and see how they have been characterized in the past, and how we can evaluate these characterizations from the perspective of a society that is progressively evolving in our definintions of gender and how we approach the stereotypes and idealizations of gender.

Works Cited
Damrosch, David and David Lawrence Pike. The Longman Anthology Of World Literature.
2nd ed. Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. Print.
Frost, Frank J. Greek Society. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
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