Much is known of men in ancient civilizations, from the famous philosophers and mathematicians of Greece to the patriarchs and subsequent kings of the nation of Israel. It would seem, however, that history has forgotten the women of these times. What of the famous female thinkers of Ancient Greece, the distinguished stateswomen of Rome? What power did they hold? What was their position in societies of the distant past? A glimpse into the roles and influence of women in antiquity can be discovered in such ancient masterpieces as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Hebrew Bible.
In the Iliad, women are barely mentioned, and then only as spoils of war or treacherous creatures not worthy of a man's trust. The two main Argive heroes, Achilles and Agamemnon, the brightest and best of the Greeks, enslave captured women to keep as personal prostitutes, passing them around and dividing them among each other as if the women were no different from the rest of the booty they have won in battle. Agamemnon says of Chryseis, the girl he has claimed for himself, "[. . .] The girl-I won't give up the girl. Long before that, / old age will overtake her in my house, in Argos, / far from her fatherland, slaving back and forth / at the loom, forced to share my bed!"(Homer , book 2, 33-36). Indeed, these two paragons of Greek virtue talk and act as if these women are not truly people; Achilles may have a fit when Agamemnon tries to lay claim to his prize, Briseis, but more from a sense of being cheated out of his share in the loot that any real compassion for the girl or her situation.
Helen, a prominent figure in the fable of the Trojan War, has barely a cameo in this version of the Iliad, and he...
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... sons and to be obedient, but occasionally, some women were not content with this one purpose in life. Throughout history, we have a few examples of extraordinary women who held power and influence, such as Hetshepsut, the first female pharaoh of Egypt, and Cleopatra, who managed to snag two notable Roman generals. A sense of women's resorting to indirect means to obtain power can be seen in these works of the ancient world, of women's exerting influence perhaps through the men they marry or the positions they hold, if not outwardly of power, then at least with some chance of gaining it.
Homer. Iliad. Mack 1: 98-208.
-----. Odyssey. Mack 1: 208-540.
The Inspirational Study Bible. Ed. Max Lucado. Dallas: World Publishing, 1995.
Mack, Maynard, et al. eds. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. 6th ed. 2 Vols. New York: Norton, 1992.
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