How Do Women make their way into this cycle?
Interestingly enough, we see much of this trickery used by the female gods-BUT FOR SOME REASON, WHEN THE FEMALE USES THIS TRICKERY OR DECEPTION- SHE IS SLIGHTED or SHE IS MAINLY USED AS SOME KIND OF A STEPPING STONE. AS WE SEE WITH PENELOPE , FOR EXAMPLE, SHE WEAVES. WHAT DOES SHE WEAVE FOR? SHE WEAVES TO PRESERVE HER HUSBAND, ODYSSEUS’ KINGDOM. SHE WEAVES TO PRESERVE HER FAMILY. Horkheimer and Adorno make sure to point this out as they mention all of the female characters throughout the story: “This lives on in the caricature of feminine wisdom. In the end, the prophecies of the disempowered sorceress reagarding the Sirens, Scylla, and Charybdis merely serve the purpose of make self-preservation. The very thought of this is so interesting because without woman, man would be unable to reproduce- the very source of the continuation of his blood, of his life would be nothing if woman did not exist. What is even more interesting is that not only does man live on through woman, but also a large aspect of how he even preserves his social order, is through institutions that involve women- such as marriage. Marriage is one of the most prominent ideas within many forms of religion. Man seems to have a constant struggle with the very entity that gives him birth. It’s so interesting that in ancient times, with marriage came a dowry, or money; Horheimer and Adorno specifically address this. “…women remains powerless in that her power is mediated to her only through her husband…With the arrival of Odysseus on Aeaea, the double meaning of the relationship of man to woman, of yearning to command, already takes on the form of an exchange underpinned by contracts” (H&A, 56). A contract, again, a social construct.
The Iliad is largely a poem involving the conflict between men. Yet in the background are a myriad of women who are used as pawns by these men in order to assert power. These women are devoid of substantial personalities or purpose. They are seen as the objects of both lust and domesticity, yet they are also used to excuse war, cause conflict, and display the power of men.
The rage of Achilles is central to the plot of The Iliad, yet it is very easy to forget that the disagreement between Agamemnon and Achilles begins over a woman. When Agamemnon is forced to return Chryseis, his war prize, to sate Apollo, he asserts his power over Achilles by taking Briseis from him. The very notion of a woman as a war prize is degrading to a modern audience. Yet it is obvious from the language that all women, whether they be wives or slaves, were considered objects by men. Agamemnon, mourning the loss of Chryseis, indicates that, “Indeed, I prefer her [Chryseis] by far, the girl herself,/ I want her mine in my own house! I rank her higher than Clytemnestra, my wedded wife—she’s nothing less/ in build or breeding, in mind or works of hand” (Book 1, 131-134). The notion of bringing a mistress into his home does not seem unusual to Agamemnon. He indicates that he can easily replace his wife Clytemnestra with this girl who is nothing more to him than a symbol of his victory. He has no real affection towards his wife and publicly declares that as long as Chryseis is equal in “build or breeding,” that she is more than suitable to be ranked higher than Clytemnestra. The emphasis that he places on these qualities suggests that, while women were valued according to their social position in society, as a whole the female gender was far below men. Agamemnon speaks of Chryseis as though she were an animal to be judged, rather than a human being.
Left without his war prize, Agamemnon insists on taking Achilles’ woman in order to assert his power. He tells Achilles, “But I, I will be there in person at your tents/ to take Briseis in all her beauty, your own prize--/ so you can learn just how much greater I am than you…” (Book 1, 217-219). He immediately labels Briseis as “your own prize,” objectifying her as a possession to be stolen. The formulaic manner in which Briseis is followed by “in all her beauty” comprises the extent of any description of Briseis. Her only attribute worth mentioning is her beauty, a fact which makes her desirable to men. Neither Achilles nor Agamemnon even cares for Briseis; she is simply a tool that Homer uses to incite conflict between the two men.
Agamemnon taking Briseis from an angry Achilles
This use of women as a justification for conflict reaches its pinnacle with Helen and the Trojan War. She is considered the Spartan whore who deserted her husband and ran off with a beautiful Trojan prince. While a modern audience may perceive her situation as pitiable and romantic, the actual text and language of Homer suggests a very different perspective. Helen is given very little dialogue throughout the poem, and the majority of her speaking is done when she gives details about the champions of Sparta to the Trojans. She blatantly betrays her friends and family from Sparta because of her lust for a handsome prince. This does not make her a very likeable character and Homer writes her as very one-dimensional, seeking to satisfy her own desires with little regard for those around her.
While Homer makes sure to show the struggle of power between men, he uses Helen as a means to justify the whole Trojan War. The reader can see the struggle of power between the generals, but the perception of the soldiers is that they are fighting this war simply because of Helen. Homer makes this clear when Agamemnon looks upon the battlefield and declares, “So now let no man hurry to sail for home, not yet…/ not till he beds down with a faithful Trojan wife,/ payment in full for the groans and shocks of war/ we have all borne for Helen” (Book 2, 420-423). This is a very brutal speech from Agamemnon, and uses violence against women to denote victory over an enemy. The raping of Trojan women is used as a form of motivation for these men, and an emphasis on hatred for Helen is another driving force to spur them to victory. The clear distinction of bedding “down with a faithful Trojan wife” puts the unwillingness of the woman at the forefront of this fantasy. Group violence is also encouraged and directed against Helen, who is painted as the cause for the strife of war. Women have little to no political influence during this time, and the text suggests that a woman was valued based upon her birth and beauty. Helen is a prime example of how a woman abuses such power, and her behavior reflects poorly upon her gender in the context of the time. The desire for revenge against the “groans and shocks of war we have all borne for Helen” incites a community of Greeks against one woman who did not conform to the connubial standards of the time.
Helen, who was considered a goddess on earth, with Aphrodite
While the lust of men for women fuel conflict in this war, the maternal relationship between mother and son is also seen. Before Achilles goes to Troy he goes to see his mother, the goddess Thetis. He requests that she go to Zeus and beg him to lend support to the Trojans. He recalls stories that she had told him of how she had once rescued Zeus from the Olympians. Achilles tells her to go to Zeus and “Remind him of that,/ now, go and sit beside him, grasp his knees…/ persuade him, somehow, to help the Trojan cause…” (Book 1, 484-486). Thetis is presented as a strong female character in that she once saved Zeus, the king of the Gods. Yet she is now being commanded by her son to supplicate herself to the male figure Zeus. She must physically place herself in the demeaning position of a woman grasping a man’s knee in order to garner a favor for her son. It is interesting that Achilles needs to talk through a female character in order to have his will imposed upon Zeus. He needs her, and yet he asks her to demean herself to save him. Her role is necessary, and yet she is used by her son as a puppet. She will do anything for Achilles because she is the embodiment of unconditional maternal love, the supposed female norm. Achilles suggestion that Thetis “persuade him [Zeus], somehow…” seems to suggest that Achilles wants his mother to help him no matter the cost or sacrifice to herself. This puts her completely in the power of Zeus and puts her in a pathetic position. It makes sense for Homer to include this because he does not write women as characters in and of themselves. These female characters and, it is to be assumed, women of the time, were pawns used by men to define themselves.
Hector is written as an almost flawless hero in The Iliad. He is a loving son, doting husband, considerate father, concerned brother, and good soldier. He has all the qualities that the Greeks valued, so it is important that his masculinity be further stressed by his domineering attitude towards his wife. Before his duel with Ajax, his wife Andromache becomes distressed as he leaves to do battle, fearing that she may be seeing him for the last time. He tells her that fate is “born with us the day that we are born./ So please go home and tend to your own tasks,/ the distaff and the loom, and keep the women working hard as well. As for fighting,/ men will see to that, all who were born in Troy/ but I most of all” (Book 6, 594-598). Andromache’s fate was to be born a woman and, therefore, inferior to her husband. Her role in the home is clearly defined through the words of Hector. While the men fight for ten years outside the walls of Troy, the women are left to continue their domestic lives at home. It is important to Hector that, even before his great battle, his wife return to her household duties. She is not meant to interfere with issues such as war, and the distinct separation between the two of them further emphasizes Hector’s role as man and protector. Andromache exists within the text only to assert Hector’s own masculinity.
The female characters who seemingly escape this objectification are the Goddesses of Mt. Olympus. Athena is able to outwit Ares and Hera, Queen of the Gods, is able to exert her influence upon Zeus. On the other hand, the manner in which Hera manipulates Zeus places a negative connotation on female power. From the very start of the The Iliad, Zeus is upset by Hera’s nagging. He tells Thetis that they must be weary of Hera’s presence because if she sees them it will result in “Disaster. You will drive me into war with Hera./She will provoke me, she with her shrill abuse./ Even now in the face of all the immortal gods/ she harries me perpetually, Hera charges me that I always go to battle for the Trojans” (Book 1, 619-623). He promises Thetis that he will support the Trojans even it means upsetting Hera. It is a silent reminder of his superior position to his wife. Even though she is a powerful Goddess, she needs a man in order to exert her influence on the Trojan War. This is a prime example of how even these deities are written as little better than their mortal female counterparts. What further debases women is the fact that Hera uses sex in order to outflank Zeus. This paints powerful women as sexually manipulative creatures. “What could she do?--/ Queen Hera wondered, her eyes glowing wide…/ how could she outmaneuver Zeus the mastermind, this Zeus with his battle-shield of storm and thunder?/ At last one strategy struck her mind as best:/ she would dress in all her glory and go to Ida--/ perhaps the old desire would overwhelm the king/ to lie by her naked body and make immortal love/ and she might drift an oblivious, soft warm sleep/ across his eyes and numb that seething brain” (Book 14, 194-203). Hera uses Aphrodite to make Zeus desire her so that he will sleep through the battle. Her opinion is not important to Zeus because she is only a wife and woman. It is through sex and physically pleasing Zeus that she has power, a position which demeans women and does not give credit to their role as individuals. Only by physically pleasing a male figure, is Hera able to define herself as an important figure within the text.