Woman In The Illiad And The Odyssey
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The Iliad and the Odyssey are both famous works of Homer. Both stories depict events that transpired during the Trojan War. The Iliad describes the period toward the end of the war. The Odyssey, on the other hand, describes the period when Odysseus returns home, ten years after the war. Although both stories depict men in the acts of great adversity, the women also play significant parts in the men’s adventures. Like the men, the women in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, also faced struggles because of the effects of war.
In the Iliad, the women are involved in the lives of the ancient Greeks as they are represented prominently with military affairs. In the Odyssey, the women display various roles in the lives of men, from a goddess caretaker to a monster.
Based on legend, the Greek gods and goddesses were accountable for the onset of the Trojan War. The mortal, Peleus, and the goddess of the sea, Thetis, got married. Thus, the gods and goddesses were invited to the wedding except for Eris. Eris wanted to get revenge over the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. On the wedding day itself, Eris barged into the wedding and threw a golden apple labeled, “For the Fairest.” The goddess of romance and beauty, Aphrodite, the goddess of wisdom, war, and arts, Athena, and the goddess of love and marriage, Hera, all craved for the apple. Consequently, Zeus declared that Paris, the Prince of Troy should decide the winner among the competing goddesses. Aphrodite bribed Paris by promising him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world; Athena proposed to give Paris wealth; and Hera offered him power. Paris chose Aphrodite because he was promised the love of Helen of Sparta, who was the most beautiful mortal woman. As such, the goddesses ignited the upheaval to the Trojan War.
Apart from the goddesses, mortal women in the Iliad and the Odyssey also played significant roles in the events. In the Iliad, Prince Paris abducted Helen, the daughter of the Greek god Zeus and Leda. Helen chose to stay with Paris although she was wife to Menelaus. In book 3, L.218, Helen spoke to Agamemnon, “he used to by my kinsman, whore that I am! There was a world…or was it all a dream?” Thus, Troy and Sparta went to war after she left with Paris.
Another mortal woman, Briseis, played a crucial role in the Trojan War. She was a “war prize” to Achilles, taking her as a slave and a paramour. In book 9, L.810, “And deep in his well-built lodge Achilles slept with the woman he brought from Lesbos, Phorbas’ daughter.” Achilles had to give up Briseis when Agamemnon decided to return a slave girl, Chryseis. As Achilles refused to go to war, the Greeks went on slaughtering people. The princess of Troy, Cassandra, was also offered as a gift to Agamemnon. When Cassandra returned to Sparta, Clytemnestra, who was the original wife of Agamemnon, murdered her.
Penelope was the significant mortal woman in the Odyssey. She was the wife of Odysseus. Many of her suitors believed that Odysseus would no longer return, thus, they pursued her. Upon Odysseus’ knowledge of Penelope’s suitors, he killed many of them.
In general, the women in both the Iliad and the Odyssey made these stories interesting; however, they represented nothing but trouble. They became catalysts to various conflicts in the stories.
Lawall, Sarah N. The Norton Anthology of World Literature 2nd Ed. Volume A: Beginning to A.D. 100. New York: WW Norton & Co., Inc, 2003. p. 120-225
Homer. The Iliad: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, Translated by Fagles, R. New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.