Role of Women in Homeric Greek Society

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Including both Homer’s works, the Odyssey and Iliad, he echoes his cultures conception of women as being either helpers of men or hindrances or restraints to them, however essentially insubstantial in their own right. Yet the only exceptions to this rule are immortals such as Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, who function by a different set of guidelines because they are goddesses. For instance, they are allowed to have more independence then flesh- and-blood women because they are already symbols of some random abstract virtue or perhaps a principle, or beauty, and therefore they instantly have their own role to fill. As we know Iliad and Odyssey are poems relating adventures surrounding the Trojan War where both poems women are common and important in Greek culture. In fact women are included in a plethora of roles however it seems to be a testament to the importance of women in the Greek culture of that time.

Moreover, real women have much more constrained and limited role to play at the time of Homeric Greece. Women were anticipated to be loyal to their husbands, expected to be subservient as well to their husbands. Yet women were not expected to be intelligent, feisty, humorous, flirtatious, artistic, independent, or any of the characteristics mentioned above, and this helps define women of today. They were expected to be lovely, dutiful wives, mothers, and beloveds, but always to function in a role that depended on the existence of man in their lives.

To illustrate, we can see this in the personality portrayed by Helen of Troy. She functions in the epic as a pawn of Aphrodite, or as the beloved of Paris, or as the wife of Menelaos. Aside from being merely beautiful, Helen really has very little role of her own. Thus, there...

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... husband. By giving her such a subtle proof of his identity, Odysseus indicated that he respects Penelope’s intelligence, and thus validates her. They spend the rest of the night talking as remarkably equal partners, considering her status in the rest of the book.

In conclusion, it is clearly obvious Penelope’s culture that is binding to her, and not any other bonds she has wrapped around herself. Therefore, for her to step out of that culture, to string a bow and strike down the suitors herself, for example, or pick up and search for Odysseus herself, would have been an unthinkable as Andromache taking up arms to fight Achilles in her husband’s stead. Women in the Odyssey are granted a little more substance and a lot more independence of thought than women are in the Iliad, but their adequate and effective role in society has not been enlarged in any other way.
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