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Iliad is an epic poem depicting various events during the ten year siege of Trojan war, the quarrel between the King Agamemnon and Warrior Achilles, heroes who fight in the war, etc. It also depicts the compromises and struggle the heroes go through in order to manage their public life and the private realms. Odyssey also attributed to Homer, considered being a sequel to Iliad.
This essay focuses on role of women in Iliad. Whether role is a Goddess, prize of war or any other roles, they are very essential to bring out the meaning of the plots in the story. Also, men in this poem will be nothing, if no women exist. There will not be any continuation of blood or reproducing, no lust or love in the night time and nothing to fight and that is what the whole story is all about.
We can say many instances for quoting the importance of women and part of the plot. Also, without women, nothing will be possible in this story and many things would not have happened or many things would not be possible.
Things such as lust between two people, conflicts in the story and child being born are not possible without women. This makes us to understand that there will be growing of population is not possible if women is not there in the story.
Role of Women in Iliad
The role of women described in this poem is very peripheral at one level but it is very crucial to the plot of the poem. It is considered peripheral, because there are only few appearances of women in the poem through insignificant actions. It is men who really rule the world of Homer and the women who appear to be able to be categorized into different groups. Homer has represented different types of women in his poem such as strong-willed, shrewd women, vengeful women and women who have caused the downfall of the hero.
There is a group of women who served to fulfill some purposes for the male heroes like Iphigenia who was sacrificed for the Gods by her own father and uncle to win the war or Chrysies who was taken as a ‘prize’ by Agamemnon and Nausicaa in Odyssey who convinces her parents to help Odysseus to continue his journey. There are also women characters, which made love and lust with men, gave birth to children and were being part of major decisions.
Penelope falls into a different category of women who epitomize their feminine virtue being paradigm of perfect wife and mother.
She shows her loyalty by waiting for her husband to return for twenty long years while figuring out clever ways to keep her suitors at bay in order to finally reunite with him. Till this point of time, she did not have affair with any other men. This shows her love interest on her husband and her loyalty towards her relationship.
Clytemnestra falls into another category of women considered to be evil who murders Agamemnon upon his return from Greece. This shows Clytemnestra’s vengeance towards Agamemnon.
Penelope’s name has always been associated with marital faithfulness by Romans and Greeks even though some of the recent feminist readers have ambiguous views on this.
Penelope is the wife of Odysseus, the queen of Ithaca, the daughter of Icarius and Periboea and the mother of Telemachus born to her and Odysseus. She is also an object of desire for every nobleman in Ithaca. The poem depicts her faithfulness by showing her tricky ways to turn down many remarriage proposals while her husband was away. This shows her interest towards her relationship and loyalty for the men whom she has married and loved.
One of her tricky ways to delay the suitors was to pretend to weave a burial shroud for her husband’s father and to tell the suitors that she will consider their proposal once the weaving was done. She undo every night what she had done during the day, to keep the delay longer.
Even though she is considered an epitome of fidelity throughout the poem, there are times when she starts to feel restless as she begins to feel urge to showcase herself to these suitors to make them feel for her more. Her decision not to remarry not only shows her fidelity, but also her faith in her husband, determination and fortitude.
When Odysseus returns in disguise, she announces whoever can shoot and arrow with Odysseus’s rigid bow can have her, which can be seen as another of her delaying tactic as she knows Odysseus is the only man who can shoot with his bow. It can also be debated that Penelope recognized her husband even in disguise.
Even when Odysseus declares himself, Penelope accepts him as her husband only after doing some tests of her own for confirmation.
She does this as it was hard for her to believe that her husband has truly returned after twenty long years. She asks her servant to remove the bed from her chamber at which time Odysseus declares that he made the bed by himself and one of the leg is made of Olive tree after which Penelope finally accepts her husband.
Helen, daughter of Zeus and Leda, is considered to be the cause of Trojan War, when she was abducted by Paris but she is also seen as a victim in this poem. She was married to Menelaus, but had to leave him when Paris, brother of Hector abducted her. She is considered as the most beautiful woman in the world, which happened to become the cause of a war.
Hector, on the other hand, blames Paris for the cause of war, by serving his private interests at the expense of Troy, when his public duty should have prevented him from doing so. She was portrayed in the poem with mixed feelings, seeing the result of the war with so many sufferings and feeling in some ways being responsible for that.
Helen does not have actually any claim of affection from Hector, but she enjoys a very kind and gentle relationship with her brother-in-law, Hector, especially considering his relationship with his brother, her husband Paris.
The poem gives a contrast between the two marriages, that of Helen and Paris and that of Hector and Andromache. This contrast shows how Helen has to demonstrate to her husband by taking glory in what she does in her domestic realm, what he ought to have achieved in his public realm.
Helen gains glory while engaging herself to the duties that fulfill her like weaving, which is unlike her husband Paris who fails to get these glories in his public life.
Helen upholds her duties as a wife and queen when she dutifully fulfills her domestic duties. She remains at home, composed, doing her work dutifully while ignoring her husband’s presence. She ignores his presence, because she knows that he should have been out there in the battle front and this behavior of hers shows the ‘queen’ in her. She even gains ‘respect’ from Hector by performing her duties in domestic realm in a glorified manner.
While Helen can be seen as a physical manifestation of time or honor, while Paris remains undeserving of her. Hector’s behavior towards Paris also changes with Helen’s presence and their conversations. Even when Hector implies that gods have a hand in Helen’s abduction, he knows that his brother Paris is the source of the conflict. Also, he is of the opinion that his brother used his physical beauty to entice women including Helen. Even when he sees that his brother is to be blamed for the war, he does not use it to shame him at home. He also knows that he cannot humiliate his brother in public with Helen’s presence.
Helen wants her husband to go out in the battle, while Andromache even when supporting her husband Hector gives advice for defending the city walls.
At the moment when Hector feels respect towards Helen when she conforms to the expected duties of women in their private realm, hard at work, while ignoring Paris’s idle presence at home, Hector questions her judgment in marrying his brother.
Helen perfectly understands both private and public duties of woman and that of her husband, better than him. Helen can understand her brother-in-law’s motivation to fight even better than her own husband.
By portraying Helen and Andromache differently where Andromache begs to her husband Hector to adopt a defensive strategy, Helen begs to Paris to be opposite. Thus the poet shows the difference in the brothers as well as where Paris admits that Helen is his motivator to be in the battle.
Helen and Paris pretend to be in a happy marriage so that the principle for which Hector fights is not degraded. This complexity highlights how the public and private lives mould and interact with each other.
Without any other family to turn to, in order to protect her, Helen must seduce her husband to fight in the battle. This depicts that when a hero does not fight his battle to serve his public realm, his private realm suffers.
Hecuba, the queen of Troy, the wife of King Priam during Trojan War is the mother of Hector and Paris. After Hector enters Troy, he first meets Hecuba, his mother and converses with her. His conversations with Hecuba are much terser than his conversations with Helen and Andromache, which happens later.
It reveals his character as her son and also Hecuba’s public function as Priam’s queen much like Hector’s as its Prince. It also reveals, being his mother, her powerful position over him even when she does not give him orders.
The poem depicts the nurturing relationship between a mother and a child with the conversations of Hecuba with her son Hector. Hecuba thinks unlike Hector that there are times when private needs overcome public duties.
The poem describes Hecuba as a powerful woman within her private realm, nurturing and guiding her sons and daughters. Hecuba questions her son Hector for leaving the battle for any purpose when she asks, “Child, why on earth have you left behind the bold battle and come here?” (Arthur VI.254).
Through this, she retains her authority over her son by implying her right to question her son’s decisions. When she accepts his public duty, she is also accepting his duty to protect her and the world she represents.
Her duties in public life stem from her role as a queen of Priam and she is involved in her domestic duties as a mother as well. Her conversations with Hector also show her contradictions over a proper division of public and private character and values like Hector. It shows her own inner conflict in this matter and also makes Hector to feel his doubts in this matter more realistic by entertaining her son’s uncertainties.
She also raises her concerns and understanding of Hector’s need for rest having been overworked as a warrior, but offers an official explanation for his return as ”You have arrived to hold up your hands to Zeus from the citadel of the city (Arthur VI.257). Even when she gives her son a heroic duty to carry out, the one which explains his departure from battle, she also reveals that she does not believe the reason for her son’s departure as purely public or private.
She believes that just as it is a mixed feeling in her mind, it is the same in her son’s mind as well. With this assumption formed with her powerful position in public and private lives she also believes in her understanding of both private and public concerns of her children as well. Even when Hector is on official business, Hecuba still claims as a mother‘s right to direct Hector’s actions by proposing to bring wine to appease gods for a successful mission.
Just like Hecuba and Hector has both public and private lives, Wine is also considered a mix of both as it is considered as a common beverage of the epic and also used for religious ceremonies.
Even when Hecuba asserts that this beverage can be used for public function, through “then if you should drink it you yourself would be benefitted(Arthur VI.260), she also says that it can help Hector directly. She goes on further to say when wine benefits Hector personally; it can also benefit him better in public realm when he is able to fulfill his public role better.
Andromache is the wife of Hector and the daughter of Eetion. Hector is able to convey his darkest fears to only his wife, Andromache. Andromache remains highest in his thoughts and is the prime reason for his fight, even though he never mentions that in his public realm. He is able to feel the depth of his emotion only to his wife. Andromache carefully explains to him why Hector must stay alive and she advises a defensive strategy to conserve manpower.
Even though it looks like she is asking her husband to abandon fighting through the lines “but come now, pity me and remain here on the battlement” (Arthur VI 431), she asks him to continue the battle leading the army closer to the walls of the city which becomes evident in the lines “station your people beside the fig tree”(Arthur VI.433).
Though Andromache recognizes the importance of the battle and the need for her husband to fight, therefore, she envisages a different strategy where safety is the highest priority for herself, her husband and the whole city.
When Hector returns from war, Andromache receives him at the city walls and pleads with him not to return fearing for the safety of herself, her family and the whole city.
Andromache is denied of any authority in giving her husband any military advice when Hector replies to his wife’s suggestions as “Truly, wife, all these things are my concern”(Arthur VI.441).
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Andromache also tries to indicate to her husband that she does not have any other family other than him, clearly not making any indication of her in-laws or her own son, but as the mother of her son, Astyanax, she is along with her son, to Troy’s future, which also depended on Hector.
The interaction of Hector with Andromache depicts the conflict, Hector encounters to live a heroic life while not compromising the duties that he has in his private life. Andromache’s relationship with Hector and with Astyanax also complicates the division between the public and private realms.
Even though, many of us agree that men play a crucial role in Iliad, women also have an essentially huge role. There will not be any plot in the story, if there are no women present. In order to outcome the drama, the women characters are the most important ones.
Women in this poem contribute to the characterization of the men and sometimes adding to the heroic image they portray in the public life, but still many times in this poem they are treated as ‘prizes’ or ‘possessions’ these men acquire. These women are portrayed as little or no control over their own destiny. Their destiny merely depended upon the man in their lives but they determine the course of different events in the poem. Sometimes these women have been used in the poem to portray the vulnerable or more human side of the heroes of the poem.
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This is evident when Hector, the otherwise powerful hero, is able to share his darkest fears to his partner Andromache or when Paris succumbs to his love for Helen and choses to abduct her from Troy. Lastly, even though deeds of men dominate the poem, women in many times help to humanize these heroic men.