Ashley Nichols Classical Mythology Tim Stover Word count: 1,528 Women around the world and along the timeline each fulfill a specific and unique role amongst society. The same goes for the diverse women found in Greco-Roman mythology. From the dawn of age to the current era, itâ€™s clear that women have created a place for themselves in the world; women have always been suppressed to a degree by men and have been seen as inferior objects, not really holding much value or use other than looking pretty, and this fact holds ever true even in myths. Greco-Roman mythologies tend to portray women of that time as being suppressed by men in ways of speaking their minds, doing what they desire, and even obeying higher powers; from myth to myth each woman responds to this unethicality in a different way. Lucianâ€™s myth about the judgment of Paris, in Dialogues of the Gods, tends to portray women, or the goddesses, in a particularly objectified and subordinate manner. This myth begins with Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, and her upset at not being invited to the regal celebration and wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis; to essentially do what she was meant for, Eris struck up emotional chaos amongst the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. She addressed a golden apple to the most beautiful, very well knowing that these three goddesses would argue about whom it belonged to. The myth presents the three goddesses as inferior beauties that were only judged on their society-approved looks. To settle this argument, the problem is passed off to Zeus who then decides that Paris, a plain mortal man, must decide the most beautiful. The fact that men, both Zeus and Paris, were consulted first just shows that
Lucian, or possibly his era, believed men were the only ones that could effectively deal with problems. At first Paris recognizes his inadequacy against even the female deities by responding to Hermes request of his judgment, “how am I to become the judge of this marvelous spectacle…?” (Morford & Lenardon, 473). Paris’ conversation with Hermes divulges his original respect and awestruck at the goddesses’ supremacy and pulchritude, but as the myth continues on, so it would also seem does Paris’ respect and inferior feeling. Paris is given the privilege of judging these three beautiful goddesses, something I’m sure most mortal men would wage a war over, and he degrades them, whether consciously or not. Having the opportunity to even see them in person should be gift enough, but instead he’d “like to see them naked” (M & L, 474). Each goddess offers Paris a gift in order to bribe him. Hera proposed to him royal power, Athena offered him victory in war, and Aphrodite enticed him with Helen. After little to no hesitation Paris chose Aphrodite and both concurrently got what they wanted. The three goddesses play the role of entertainment to Eris who is seemingly bored and angry. This childlike banter amongst the goddesses fits the traditional mold of women and their catty ways. Not only do the men in the myth view women as inferior, only admiring them for their beauty, but the women also recognize their place in the man-dominated society and willingly accept their expected roles. The message, if any, is that women are under constant scrutiny, suppression and reliability on men, whether or not they listen to or use that is under their own discretion. Sophocles’ Antigone displays the same suppressive and women-inferiority characteristics that Lucian’s myth on the judgment of Paris did, but with some key differences. The women in the myth about Antigone all had very different ways of dealing with the suppressive nature of the men around them. It was decreed in Thebes, by King Creon, that Polynices, Antigone’s brother, was not to be buried, because he was seen as a traitor to that land. It was “the religious duty of
the relatives of the dead to give them a pious burial,” and Antigone wasn’t about to let anything, including her uncle’s decree, get in the way of her unjustly breaking the law of higher powers (M & L, 429). Antigone plays the role of loyal subject to the higher powers and to her brother by giving him respect and rest through a proper burial. Ismene, their sister, was too weak and simply conformed to whatever Creon declared; she didn’t want to cause a riot like her sister Antigone, even if it was for all the right reasons. Creon’s decree didn’t just suppress the women, but also the men in this myth, but it’s the way the women reacted to his authority that suggests the value of them in Thebes. Antigone stood up for justice and she was sentenced to be buried alive; Creon obviously didn’t like being defied and it was clear that Antigone, being able to stand up for herself, had lost her fear of him. Ismene, on the other hand, seemed very cowardly; she would rather disobey Zeus and higher powers that weren’t directly in front of her than disobey Creon and his law defiling decree. Ismene fits perfectly into the mold that the women of this time were expected to fit; she was yielding, fearful and conformed to anything. Instead of taking her punishment quietly, Antigone decided that suicide was the better option, and so she died a martyr. Haimon, her betrothed, realized he couldn’t and didn’t want to live without her and followed suit in the suicide. Haimon’s mother, Eurydice, was a loyal and caring mother and, like her son, realized she couldn’t bear to live without her loved one and also committed suicide; she was reliant on Haimon and literally couldn’t live without him, whether that be because she loved him so much or because he was her only provider. Creon was left with the guilt and remorse as a lifelong punishment. Antigone is the only character in this myth that stands up against the typical stereotypes of women; she wasn’t afraid to follow what she knew was right, even though Ismene and other women took the easy way out. The women in this myth are clearly suppressed both verbally and physically. They are restrained from breaking Creon’s law and are encouraged to
not speak their minds. The men in this story are evidently superior to women in every aspect, even if they do love and care for them, like Haimon. Lucian’s moral message, if any, is for women to stand strong in their convictions against men, even if they do have to step on a couple of toes on the way. The myth about Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, is probably the most heart wrenching and honorable story about any woman in Greco-Roman mythology. Agamemnon was having some unfavorable winds due to a previous offense against the goddess Artemis and the only way to appease her was through the sacrificial death of Iphigenia. Of course Agamemnon was grief-stricken over what he had to do, but never once did he hesitate or try to find an alternative to killing his daughter. Agamemnon proceeded to lie to both his wife and daughter, telling them Iphigenia was to be married to Achilles, an exciting celebration indeed. Iphigenia was taken from her home in Mycenae and then sacrificed on an altar just like an animal. She didn’t bleat like a lamb or kick like a bull; the only communication she used was the innocent pleading with her eyes. In another version, Artemis saves Iphigenia and makes her a priestess in the island of Tauri. Agamemnon, while I’m sure he sincerely loved her, saw Iphigenia as something obviously disposable and replaceable, after all she was just a girl. I think that, although Iphigenia was emotionally hurt by her father’s betrayal, she understood what had to be done and loyally, not that she really had a choice, followed through with the sacrifice. I suppose it’s most impressive the way Iphigenia diplomatically holds herself together and the fact that she’s so young makes one wonder how she was able to be so mature. Iphigenia was just a little girl probably around 16 and the fact that she was able to act like a woman while no one appeared to be on her side is both impressive and admirable. Agamemnon most certainly did love his daughter, but he didn’t love her enough to protect her or deem who worthy of preserving. In
this myth, women are seen as chess pieces, needed for advancing in a strategic game against the gods, “such are the monstrous evils…” (M & L, 489). Greco-Roman mythology is scattered with a wide range of women, all possessing individuality and either the ability to fit into the male stereotype of them or to break free and create a new mold for themselves. The goddesses in the Judgment of Paris only seemed concerned with typical womanly problems and vain attitudes while Antigone and Iphigenia were fighting for their lives and standing up for themselves, each done in completely opposite ways, but nonetheless breaking free of the female suppression from men. Women in Greco-Roman mythology are commonly suppressed by the medieval values of ‘superior’ men and throughout mythology each woman responds differently to this oppression.
1. Morford, M.P.O. and R.J. Lenardon. 2007. Classical Mythology (8th Edition). Oxford.