The Role of the Women in Greek Mythology Essay
In the text Mythology by Edith Hamilton, women are portrayed as being property and objects. During this time women were seen to be not as “good” as men. They saw perfection in relationships between men and young male adults as the best relationships to have. However, homosexuality was frowned upon. Men were considered knowledgeable and educated, but women were seen as a burden placed on man by the Gods. When it came to women nothing was valuable about them but their beauty. When a woman was beautiful she was wanted by many men: a man would do almost anything to have the possession of a beautiful woman and have her as his property.
It was as if a woman’s role was to only be a man’s beautiful possession and to procreate the lineage of a male or if he had a daughter, the means to secure power through marriage. Atalanta a character from the text Mythology, was a beautiful maiden who was the daughter of the king. When her father saw that he had been given a girl instead of a boy he was very bitter and disappointed, she was then left on a mountain side. From this, one can assume that men did not feel girls were worthy of being raised and taken care of in place of having boys.
Instead of dying, she was taken care of by a she-bear, and she grew up to be a very fast, daring girl. Atalanta vowed to stay a virgin and would never get married. She was not interested in men except for as companions in hunting. However, many men found her to be beautiful and then became interested in marrying her. Because of this attention Atalanta then came up with a plan. Thus, Atalanta decided she would have all the suitors race her, and whoever won the race would be her husband. If the suitors in the race were lapped by Atalanta or they lost, then they would be killed.
Even on such hard conditions many men took the chance of risking their lives just to marry her and have her as their wife. Although she out ran many men, men would still attempt this race for her hand in marriage. In other words men did not see women as being worth anything unless they were she beautiful, therefore making her a man’s prize possession. Furthermore, among the rest of the suitors was a man named Hippomenes who was favored by Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Aphrodite wanted to help Hippomenes and gave him three golden apples.
He used these apples to make Atalanta stop running to see what he had dropped. By dropping these apples he had then gained the chance to catch up to her. After dropping all the apples, Hippomenes had won the race, and the two were married. The suitor went through so much to marry Atalanta that he did not even stop to think that he would not have been able to win this race if it was not for the help of a god or goddess. Therefore, after all he had done and risked to win this race, in the end, they both were turned into lions for an apparent affront to Zeus or Aphrodite (p. 251).
In addition to the men dying to have possession of Atalanta, many men also fought and died for a woman named Helen. Helen was considered the most beautiful woman in all of Greece. Due to her beauty, Helen was then married to the King of Sparta. She served as the King’s beautiful prize and possession. Helen’s beauty was so overwhelming that Theseus and Paris kidnapped her from her husband Menelaus, and took her to Troy. Upset that his possession had been taken, the king then sent hundreds of his Greek soldiers into battle with Paris; Helen being the main reason for the war known as the “Trojan War”.
These men put their lives on the line and the lives of many others just to have this one woman because of her beauty. This was not the case for just Helen, this had happened to another woman as well. There had also been a quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, while debating who would have possession of a woman named Chryseis. Chryseis was the daughter of Apollo’s priest; the Greek took her and gave her to Agamemnon. Because of this her father went to him to beg for his daughter back but Agamemnon did not want to let her go, the god Agamemnon remarks, “but if I lose her who was my prize of honor…I will have another in her stead” (p.261).
Many men felt as though they had to have the most beautiful women in Greece as their trophies. As a result, a large battle had been created between the Trojans and the Spartans all because of a woman they wanted. Helen sat in her castle while thousands of men fought and died for her, and no one felt that Helen was the to blame for what was happening. Greek men believed this is what men must fight for, “men must fight for such as she… for her face was like to that of an immortal spirit”(p. 263),referring to her not as a person but as a prize or object.
Because of Helen’s adored beauty there were deaths of many heroes, including the Achaeans, Achilles and Ajax, and the Trojans, Hector and Paris. They fought for Helen as if she was an object in which they had to have as their property. This also shows what role a woman’s beauty can have in a Greek man’s life. Just as Helen had captured the eyes of many men, resulting in them fighting over her pure beauty, another character named Hera takes advantage of what she could do with her looks. Hera was the wife and one of the three sisters of the god Zeus; she was the goddess of women and marriage.
Hera uses her beauty to try and change the result of the war in her favor, “She went to her chamber and used every art she knew to make herself beautiful beyond compare”(p. 268),knowing that Zeus would not resist her lovely looks. Hera’s plan was to distract Zeus from watching the Trojans defeat the Spartans in the war. By distracting Zeus, the battle would then be under the Greeks control. From this, it is apparent that a woman could always catch a man with her beauty, no matter how intense or focused he would have been.
It is evident that during this time the main role and terms that characterized a woman were her beauty, which made her a prize possession to any man, and the fact that she could bear children for her male counterpart. Anything that alluded to a female being smart or having talent and not being beautiful was negative in a Greek man’s mind. Atalanta’s father made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with taking care of a female; it was stated in the text “she was not worthy of being brought up”(p. 246), in place of him having a son born to him. Hippomenes showed that he would do just about anything to win Atalanta as his wife and trophy.
Menelaus started a war because his most valuable possession, his beautiful wife, who had been taken away from him by another man who desired her just as much as he did. Also, Hera used her beauty to her advantage to distract her husband Zeus from helping the Trojans in the war. Through these examples one can argue that a women’s role in Greek mythology was simple and controlled by being beautiful and a man’s prize or possession. Because they found men to be superior over women, women were considered to be only good for their beauty and procreation for the male offspring.
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