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Gender Inequality in Greek/Roman Myths

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Maribel Vitagliani

on 6 December 2014

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Transcript of Gender Inequality in Greek/Roman Myths

Where It All Began...
Hesiod's Pandora myth explains the creation of the first mortal woman, Pandora. Her creation is suggestive of a theme that will become prevalent in later Greco-Roman mythology: women's role as the subordinates of men. Because Pandora was fashioned for the purpose of punishing mortal men, her actions delegated women to being the "undoing" of mankind as well as being foolish and deceitful.
Homer's Portrayal of Women.
Cassandra and
Goddesses: Hera
While it's true that all gods, whether on Mt. Olympus or not, are powerful, gender inequality can be found even amongst the most respected gods. Hera, wife of Zeus and queen of the gods is an excellent example. Hera is often the victim of Zeus' wrath and immense power. At times, she has tricked or fought against Zeus, but often had to seduce him in order to show her power over him. In Homer's Illiad, during the Trojan War, Hera decides to deceive Zeus by first seducing him then, while he sleeps, by calling Poseidon to tell him that he is free to steer the Achaeans to victory. While it is true that Hera displayed great power over Zeus, she could only do so by deceiving him with her feminine seductive behavior that is normally looked down upon by the Greeks.
In Homer's major epic, The Odyssey, women are portrayed as figures of temptation and trickery. The goddesses Calpyso and Circe are the primary examples of women as seducers and sources of distress to the male characters. Even though these women appear to exert power over the male characters in the epic, they're still powerless under the control of Zeus.

Both Clytemnestra and Cassandra are presented as powerful figures in Aesychlus's tragedy Agamemnon. Cassandra is "gifted" with the power of prophecy from Apollo, and Clytemnestra is presented as a fierce woman who takes over her city in place of her husband Agamemnon. Cassandra, however, is cursed by Apollo in that no one will listen to her prophecies. This can be said to be a representation of how women were not a source of authority in ancient society, even on minor occasions such as voicing opinions. Even the loud-spoken Clytemnestra isn't believed when she tells of Troy's fall. The chorus of old men chose not to fully believe her, even though she provided proof of her knowledge.
During Odysseus' journey after the Trojan War, he finds himself trapped on an island by the nymph Calypso. The goddess' sex appeal kept Odysseus occupied and temporarily kept him from returning home. When Hermes comes to release Odysseus, Calypso argues that male gods can have affairs without it being a problem, but goddesses cannot do the same. The idea that men can have affairs but women can't show inequality between the gender, with mortals and immortals.
Also, Calypso, though a goddess
and stronger than Oddyseus, her
strength isn't show physically,
but rather through her
seductive nature.
Penelope: The Ideal Woman
Odysseus's wife Penelope is the epitome of faithfulness. She not only waits for Odysseus's return, she scorns all advances from other men and tries to keep Ithaca in tact. Though she has good intentions, Penelope's actions can be seen as "deceitful." She continually lies to her suitors about her position on marriage by tricking them. While she isn't necessarily bringing harm to these men, it can be said that the capacity for craftiness is in her nature as a woman, as suggested by Hesiod's Pandora myth.
"For the Greeks, Medea represented one of the most frightening monsters of all: a powerful woman." -
Medea's power stems from her great intelligence and magical prowess, establishing her as a dangerous character. She continually refuses to conform to the ideal "loyal" woman norm in the ancient culture by choosing her own husband (as opposed to a marriage arranged by her father as was the common practice), betraying her father, and by murdering several of her male family members. This stark defiance of everything a woman should be yokes her with the role of the destroyer, the monster, and the playwrights who portray her never let us forget it.
Gender Inequality in Greek/Roman Myths
Maribel Vitagliani and Alexa Camilleri
Helen is the foremost example of women as symbols of trouble for men, as it is her affair with Paris that sparks the bloody Trojan War. This connects back to the Pandora myth, where the very inception of "woman" literally caused trouble and suffering for men. In addition, Helen is portrayed as a prize for either Menelaus or Paris to win, reducing her to nothing more than an object. This represents a common theme in mythology: women as subjected to the will of men, regardless of their appearing strong.
Birth of Hephaestus and Typhon
After the birth of Athena, Hera is extremely angry at Zeus. According to Hesiod, Hera wanted to prove to Zeus that she can do anything he can do, so she gave birth to Hephaestus. However, Hephaestus came out lame, Hera threw him out of the heavens in disgust. Hephaestus' lameness can be portrayed as Hera's inferiority to Zeus. In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Hera gives birth to Typhaon, but he was violent and cruel. Hera, out of rage, swore that she would devise an evil creature that would punish Zeus, and she did. The battle between the two gods were brutal and Typhon almost won, but Zeus came out victorious. Both the birth of Hephaestus and Typhaon proves Hera's deceitful and cunning nature that ends up making her inferior to Zeus. Not only were Zeus' children healthy and respected gods, he overcame the monstrous creature Hera tried to destroy him with.
Calypso and Circe
Circe was yet another tricky female that Odysseus encountered on his way home. Circe tricks Odysseus' men by drugging their beer, turning them into swine and make them forget about going home. When her trick doesn't work on Odysseus, Circe lures him into bed, and yet again man gives in temptation to woman. Since her cunning nature did not work against Odysseus because of Hermes, the trickster god, it can be said that Hermes out witted Circe, making her less powerful than him, and her only option left was to seduce Odysseus with her beauty. By seducing and tricking the men, Circe is able to keep them all for a year.

"Women in the Odyssey." According to Greek Mythology. University of Michigan, n.d. Web. 05 December. 2014.
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Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Tarrytown, NY; Marshall Cavendish Reference, 2012. Print.
Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1960. Print.
Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
Heroes and Heroines of Greece and Rome.
N.p.: Cavendish Square, 2011. Print.
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