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Women In The Iliad and The Odyssey

Women in the Iliad and the Odyssey

Despite the fact that scholars continue to disagree over whether the poetic works attributed to the Ionian poet Homer are the products of a single author or the culmination of hundreds of years of Greek redaction and revision, the Iliad and the Odyssey continue to be regarded as seminal pieces of Western literature. Regardless of their originator, these two epic poems not only offer timeless, universal insights into themes such as personal responsibility, heroism, and the nature of warfare, they also encapsulate many aspects of Greek culture and society that might otherwise be lost to modern readers.

One important element of the Iliad and the Odyssey is the portrayal of female characters within both poems. Although with the exception of several major goddesses, the female characters in the texts are not typically regarded as pivotal to the unfolding action, thematic development, or the plot, careful scrutiny of the female characters' roles in the narrative provides a valuable glimpse into the Greek perception of women. In a women in the Iliad and the Odyssey term paper, the writer should examine Homer's treatment of mortal and divine women, and the roles, behaviors, and narrative functions of both minor and major female characters in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

In the Iliad, the events that take place in the days leading up to the conclusion of the Trojan war, when a public insult spurs warrior Achilleus to withdrawal from the battle. The majority of the poem outlines the ramifications of this quarrel between Achilleus and Agamemnon, and the ultimately cataclysmic results of this decision.

The major image in the Iliad is one of militarism, while the Odyssey's major theme is more pastoral. Despite these overarching themes, one of the key connections that each has to the other (and why we suspect that they were both composed by the same individual) is that the major theme of one is present as a minor theme in the other. Most of the Iliad is concerned with the military maneuverings of the Greeks as their siege of Troy comes to the end. Yet occasional flashes of images that relate to hearth and home reach the surface.
In Book 22 of the Iliad, Achilles runs towards the walls of Ilium. Priam sees Achilles, and approaches his son Hector, who stands at the gates awaiting Achilles. Priam tries to persuade Hector from fighting Achilles:

Have compassion also on me, the helpless one, who can still feel, ill-fated; whom the father, Kronos' son, will bring to naught by a grievous doom in the path of old age, having seen full many ills, his sons perishing and his daughters carried away captive, and his chambers laid waste and infant children hurled to the ground in terrible war.

What follows during the description of their footrace brings to mind more of the pastoral, images directly related to images of daily Bronze Age life:

They past the watch-place and wind-waved wild fig tree sped ever, away from under the wall, along the wagon track, and came to the two fair-flowing springs, where tow fountains riseand there beside the springs are broad washing-troughs hard by, fair troughs of stone, where wives and fair daughters of the men of Troy were wont to wash bright raiment, in the old times of peace, before the sons of the Achaians came.

This race, in which the ultimate end is the life of one of the combatants (ultimately Hector), is an example of single combat; the greatest warriors from both sides symbolically decide the entire outcome of the war. But the description of this is more pastoral:

But after Hector sped fleet Achilles chasing him vehemently. And as when on the mountains a hound hunteth the fawn of a deer, having started it from its covert, through glens and glades, and if it crouch to baffle him under a bush, yet scenting it out the hound runneth constantly until he find it; so Hector baffled not Peleus' fleet-footed son.

Homer is using imagery with which his audience would be familiar. Living several centuries after the events he describes his audience would be able to picture several things from the above passages.

  1. First, the horrors of war; Priam's description is vivid enough to frighten anyone.
  2. Second, the understanding that Troy was like any other city in the Greek world, a place where the domestic chores of everyday life were carried out until these extraordinary circumstances.
  3. Third, the race between Hector and Achilles is likened to an understandable, domestic event that most would be familiar: hunting, using a hound to chase out a deer (think of the modern "sport" of fox hunting).

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