Gender Roles in in the Iliad by Homer
Controversy infects our world like germs. It can be contained and controlled for a time but it will never truly be gone. In order to regulate the issues, they must first be addressed. However, when this occurs, more problems surface in its stead. A major topic of disagreement throughout history includes the roles of both men and women. In the past, females have been demoted to a lower level beneath men, where they are called to submit and obey. The problem is not in the submission but that they are being suppressed and treated like possessions or cattle solely because of their gender. Men, on the other hand, are given a level of superiority above all because of their masculinity. They receive special treatment and are allowed to do with women as they please, which they have abused this power tremendously. The Iliad provides prime examples for the roles of each gender three thousand years ago. Over time, the positions of men and women have changed but the examples from the poem are still true in societies today.
In The Iliad, Homer focuses on each individual and the roles they played during this time. The poem centers on the brutality and gruesome aspect of war by depicting the deaths of thousands of men. It is difficult to visualize any room for the tenderness of women when it comes to battle. However, they play a crucial role behind the scenes of the fighting. Women play a large part in the outcome of wars because they stand behind the warriors, supporting and giving advice. Contrary to this reputation, the role of females in The Iliad is rather a demoting and inferior position to men. In order to understand the job of women in the poem, one must first look back in time and gain knowledge of the treatment they received and how they acted. To begin, females were rarely considered their own individual but always an extension of their husband, father, or brother. This is crucial because it reveals the truth that women were not given a say in the matters because they were suppressed and underneath men. Women were thought to be a burden and only useful for cleaning, maintaining households, and bearing children. They lived separate from the men because they would get in the way of the work occurring and cause a distraction. Special events were a treat for women because they could only attend if they were being accompanied by a man. There was a sense of superiority for the male gender. Women were taught to accept the rules of men in authority above them because they lacked the same rights as males. The treatment of women in Homer’s time included being a spoil of war or known only by association with the male presence in their life. All of the women discussed in the poem are referred to as objects and never as a person.
One of the more complex female roles is Helen. Her beauty not only exceeds everyone around her, but she is well-rounded and intelligent. Every man desired her because of her beauty, therefore she was seen as a prize to be won and this issue caused an entire war to erupt. The role that Helen played in the war was not only being hated by her people because she was seen as the reason for all the countless deaths, but also the Trojans despised and forced her to live with a family that abhorred her very presence. She is the first example displayed in The Iliad of women being treated like slaves and property rather than human beings. “In fact, in each case she (Helen) is lumped together with the possessions that came from Sparta to Troy”. Men thought that they could do with women as they pleased, therefore they stole and traded them like items at an auction. Briseis was also a war prize that Achilles took for himself. When Agamemnon was forced to return the women that he had stolen as his trophy, he wanted to disrespect Achilles and took Briseis for himself. He only saw her as a concubine and property meant solely for his pleasure. Agamemnon takes her because he wants to prove to Achilles that he is best. Throughout the entire argument, Briseis is a pawn being used and traded between men with no regards for her feelings. “This shows the most incredibly brutal and callous disregard for Briseis as a human being”.
Women’s identities were placed upon their value they held for each man. When Agamemnon was attempting to bribe Achilles in order for him to rejoin the war, he used women and concubines as treasures and gifts. He also includes that he had abstained from touching Briseis. This information shows that her worth was put into the physical relations she had with men. She was of more worth to Achilles because Agamemnon claimed to have physically refrained himself from having any relations with her. The idea behind the treatment of women is sickening because, even though it was worse during this time period, it still occurs today in the sex trafficking industry. Since women’s lives were controlled by the men, they looked to them for protection because the men were all they had. War was a harsh reality for most of the females because their source of security was sent off to battle and most often killed. This left the women behind all alone with no one to provide. Andromaches portrays this image when she begs Hector to stay back and not enter the fight because their son needed him to survive, “it would be better for her to die if she lost him”. Without Hector, Andromaches had no one in her life, showing the insecurities that women faced when their entire identity was based on men. Men were depicted quite differently from the women.
In Homer’s time, men supported the families and protected them because their role was more dominant. They were higher up on the social ladder and in charge due to their masculinity. Patriarchy was the adopted system where men controlled the women and their identity was based upon the amount of property they owned. Each of them had to grow up at a young age because war was constantly waging and they were forced to enlist early on. Men were given the power and they chose to abuse it. While some were loving and correctly protected the women in the cities, most men saw themselves as superior and took advantage of the dominance they had. They are portrayed as aggressive and strong in order to gain honor.
The most important characteristic of a man during this time is his honor and nobility. Men were forced to live in the mindset that if they were not able to defeat another army or man, they held no power and were nothing. Fighting was a way to earn respect and prove themselves worthy enough. Women were the prize and causes of war because by gaining possession of them, men gained more dignity. For example, Agamemnon took Briseis not because he desired her, but solely to prove that he was a greater warrior than Achilles. Lust for a woman did not provoke him to steal her, rather lust for power and control. Men were driven by greed and a hunger for more, which inevitably caused problems. They all had their eyes set on the same goal causing conflicts that turned into full blown wars. The noblest act that they performed was dying in battle for their country or a great cause. It proved that they were sold out for a purpose and a real man in society’s eyes. Soft characteristics in a man was seen as weakness and immediately altered to maintain the tough, strong appearance.
Definition for the roles of each gender has been a touchy subject throughout history. Society has gradually progressed away from the system of patriarchy where men controlled women and abused the power they possessed. However, the mistreatment of women still occurs today through sex trafficking and other means. The role of women has pulled away from a demoting identity beneath men, but in some cases they are treated differently because of their gender. Men continue to prove themselves to society but in a different manner than the one described in the poem. Society holds different standards for both genders today than the model required during Homer’s time.
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