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Essay on Women in Iliad, Odyssey, and the Bible

Role of Women in Iliad, Odyssey, and the Bible

Much is known of men in ancient civilizations, from the famous philosophers and mathematicians of Greece to the patriarchs and subsequent kings of the nation of Israel. It would seem, however, that history has forgotten the women of these times. What of the famous female thinkers of Ancient Greece, the distinguished stateswomen of Rome? What power did they hold? What was their position in societies of the distant past? A glimpse into the roles and influence of women in antiquity can be discovered in such ancient masterpieces as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Hebrew Bible.

In the Iliad, women are barely mentioned, and then only as spoils of war or treacherous creatures not worthy of a man’s trust. The two main Argive heroes, Achilles and Agamemnon, the brightest and best of the Greeks, enslave captured women to keep as personal prostitutes, passing them around and dividing them among each other as if the women were no different from the rest of the booty they have won in battle. Agamemnon says of Chryseis, the girl he has claimed for himself, “[. . .] The girl-I won’t give up the girl. Long before that, / old age will overtake her in my house, in Argos, / far from her fatherland, slaving back and forth / at the loom, forced to share my bed!”(Homer , book 2, 33-36). Indeed, these two paragons of Greek virtue talk and act as if these women are not truly people; Achilles may have a fit when Agamemnon tries to lay claim to his prize, Briseis, but more from a sense of being cheated out of his share in the loot that any real compassion for the girl or her situation.

Helen, a prominent figure in the fable of the Trojan War, has barely a cameo in this version of the Iliad, and he…

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… sons and to be obedient, but occasionally, some women were not content with this one purpose in life. Throughout history, we have a few examples of extraordinary women who held power and influence, such as Hetshepsut, the first female pharaoh of Egypt, and Cleopatra, who managed to snag two notable Roman generals. A sense of women’s resorting to indirect means to obtain power can be seen in these works of the ancient world, of women’s exerting influence perhaps through the men they marry or the positions they hold, if not outwardly of power, then at least with some chance of gaining it.

Works Cited

Homer. Iliad. Mack 1: 98-208.

—–. Odyssey. Mack 1: 208-540.

The Inspirational Study Bible. Ed. Max Lucado. Dallas: World Publishing, 1995.

Mack, Maynard, et al. eds. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. 6th ed. 2 Vols. New York: Norton, 1992.

The Impact of Ancient Religion on Homer’s Odyssey

The Impact of Ancient Religion on Homer’s Odyssey

There has long been a fashion among critics and historians, including Sir James Frazier and Graham Hancock, to insist upon taking the account of Odysseus’ voyage to Hades in Book XI of the Odyssey at near face-value as a description of people and places familiar to a Greek audience of Homer’s day. Both linguistics and comparative history have been employed to discover exactly how accurately this originally oral epic conveys this gritty realism. Something, however, is not right with this purely empiric approach. What is missing is an examination through the lens of ancient religious practices. Surely a literary work so teeming with deities-wise Athena, spiteful Poseidon, impish Hermes, omnipotent Zeus-deserves such study.

In protohistoric times, the worshipers of the gods sought out mystic union with their deities by means of bodily mortification and ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs. These practices are spelled out both in the Rig Veda of India and the Chinese Book of Songs. In the Veda, Indra is worshiped in a ritual that includes large doses of soma. The Book of Songs, compiled by Confucius from the many texts of poetry and myth at his disposal, contains repeated accounts of trance and religious ekstasis. In the twenty-second chapter of St. John’s Revelation, the Koine Greek term translated as sorcerers in the King James Bible is pharmakeusin Literally, this word denotes those who use drugs to achieve arcane effects. Since plants were the mainstay of medical science in those distant days, a secondary meaning might be applied: herbalists. Robin Fox, in his book Pagans and Christians, argues that the role of such figures as the Sybil of Cumae and the Delphic prophetess …

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…se value to the Odyssey as a voice from an antique time aimed at future generations. During the Roman Empire, both the Odyssey and its companion, the Iliad, were considered as foundational texts in education. Small wonder; history, poetry, parable, hymn-such a literary work is its own small cosmos. It deserves to be approached and interacted with as a living entity that still matters in Western civilization. That is possible only if we view such works in the context of the societies that produced them. Religion was a huge component of such a society. Although we now possess technological marvels that might give a Greek deity apoplexy from shame, the ancient Greeks are still Us. Men and women will always feel the need to see the world through fresher eyes than their own.

Works Cited:

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1962.

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