Gender Relations in Iliad and Odyssey
“In classic Greek literature, the underlying characteristics of gender relations and view of women at the time are uncovered. In works done by Homer, such as the Odyssey and the Iliad, interactions between the characters display women in a subservient, objective manner used for war bounty and perfect home-keeping common at the time. Particularly, this representation of gender relations is one of inferiority because of the use of language or force towards the goddesses and women and their deceptive plots in the myths. Although attributes of a perfect, societal woman are shown through Penelope in the Odyssey, Odysseus’s interactions with Circe show the manipulative tendencies thought of to be female. Hera’s encounters with Zeus in the Iliad also display this inferior role common in ancient Greek life.
In the Odyssey, Circe displays the deceptive view on women by turning Odysseus’s men into pigs and attempting to drug him as well. This, however, does not succeed due to the work of Hermes and Odysseus’s will of his physical force. Circe’s use of trickery and power, even as a goddess, was stopped by two men, showing the limits of a woman’s will. She then uses her sexual desire to acquaint herself with the Great Odysseus. Similarly, Hera in the Iliad uses lust and desire to trick Zeus during the Trojan War, infuriating him: “I will remind you of all this, so you will give up your deceptions, see if your lovemaking in bed will help you, that way you lay with me apart from the gods, and deceived me” (Iliad.15.31-33). This can correlate to the way women were treated at the time. They would have no say in matters and are known as sexual objects. This lust of women is seen as a deception and weakness for men. Sex could be used as a tool of manipulation for women to get what they want. Also, since both Circe and Hera used their desire to either trick or reward a man, sex is seen as one of women’s most important attributes. At the time, women are seen as possessions of men with no voice in their lives. Their ability to keep a perfect home and bear offspring, including maintaining their sexual charisma, are the ideals of a perfect Grecian woman. Circe’s reaction to Odysseus also shows the willingness of women to have sex. Since it was common for women to be war bounty or given away to men, this openness, or acceptance, to sex was a common occurrence in ancient life. These women have no say in their placement or choice of men, proving their inferiority.
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This scene also demonstrates a man’s ability to use his force and power to execute his will over women. This theme is also present throughout the Iliad. For example, Hera is threatened by Zeus in order to obey him: “Yet thus you can accomplish nothing surely, but be more distant from my heart than ever, and it will be worse for you…But go then, sit down in silence, and do as I tell you, for fear all the gods, as many are on Olympos, can do nothing if I come close and lay my unconquerable hands upon you” (Iliad.1.562-567). In response to questioning about helping in the Trojan War, Zeus quiets his wife by threatening violence against her. He also threatens Hera, after she deceives him with sex, with brutal torture. Inferiority of women comes from both the physical and societal dominance of men. By showing or threatening their force, men are able to control their wives and other women. In ancient Greek life, a women’s will and power were limited under men who saw them as fair objects used for sex, housekeeping, and reward in the sake of war honor. The act of controlling wives with force was common at Homer’s time. Wives were supposed to behave and do what they were told. If not, the dominance and force of a man would make her obey. On another note, although goddesses have gifts and power, both Circe and Hera are subject to men’s will. Circe’s deception is stopped by the work of two men while Hera is dominated by Zeus. In both cases, a woman’s power is overcome by that of men. This can show the extent of the will of women in ancient times.
In both the Iliad and the Odyssey, key themes of gender relations relate to the same inferiority of women seen in ancient times. Odysseus’s interactions with Circe demonstrate the deceptive, manipulative side women were supposed to have. Hera not only showed this deceptiveness through sexual desire, she was also put down by the physical force of Zeus. The combination of language or force against women and sexual promiscuity are key themes throughout the works of Homer that show the gender relations at the time. Together, these scenes show a glimpse into the past of the inferior view on women relevant to ancient Greek texts. In present day, some of the same male superiority seen in ancient times is still present. Here in America, women are now fighting the male dominance and sexism regarding rape cases. As time progresses, I believe women’s rights will grow and achieve great things.”