The Iliad : A Moral Lesson Essay

The Iliad : A Moral Lesson Essay

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In the Iliad we saw women as items of exchange and as markers of status for the men who possessed them (Chryseis and Briseis, whom Agamemnon and Achilles argue over in Book I). We saw them in their normal social roles as mothers and wives (Hecuba, Andromache in Book VI). We saw stereotypical characterizations of them as fickle (Helen in Book VI), seductive, and deceitful (Hera in Book XIV). We see them as an obstacle that the male hero has to overcome or resist to fulfill his heroic destiny (Andromache 's entreaties to Hector in Book VI).
In all, the few times women show up in what is basically a story told in the male sphere, the story is nothing that subverts or calls into question the structure of the society that is being portrayed... or is there? To the extent that the Iliad has a moral lesson to impart to its readers, part of it would have to be that the behavior of Agamemnon and Achilles in the first book (and beyond) is excessive. Both men are so fixated on their own images as heroic warriors that they end up bringing woe upon themselves and the rest of the Greeks. Part of that behavior is the way they treat the women not as human beings but as emblems of their own status and martial prowess. Look carefully at what Agamemnon says to the prophet who declared that he had to give back Chryseis (Page 62): Now once more you make divination to the Dana ans, argue forth your reason why he who strikes from afar afflicts them, because I for the sake of the girl Chryseis would not take the shining ransom; and indeed I wish greatly to have her in my own house; since I like her better than Klytaimestra my own wife, for in truth she is no way inferior.
To those who already knew the stories of the Trojan War heroes (which all of the or...


... middle of paper ...


...orrows each.
So, one could make an argument that the poet of the Iliad does portray women as objects which men use to jockey for position with one another. He portrays them in stereotypical roles and with stereotypical characteristics. He portrays them as totally impotent outside the protection of their ma le guardians. But he does all this in a way that doesn 't seek to support or justify that system. Instead, he presents it with such honesty and clarity that it makes the injustices of the society clear. This does not make him a revolutionary, a reformer or a proto-feminist. There is no reason to think that he wanted to, or thought that he could, change society in any way. From his point of view he may have simply been telling it like it is. But it does show a capacity in a Greek male writer to look upon the situation of women with some sensitivity and compassion.

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