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Female Power in Male-Dominated Greek Myths Essay

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Updated: Mar 30th, 2022

Throughout Greek mythology, the question of whether women should have power in a patriarchal society or not is a story that never ends. The Greeks are ambivalent towards female power. In some cases, the female is allowed to have a say but not as much as their male counterparts. Absolute female authority and freedom is most often thought to cause havoc or corruption. In other words, a lot of mythical stories state that, in order to stop the corruption that might come about if females have freedom, it is necessary that the society reinforces some ideal behaviors and proper conduct. However, at the same time, the powerful and prominent presence of women in the myths illustrates their importance. Even in a patriarchy the female character is not undermined. Most myths seek to establish a perfect balance between male and female dominance by virtues of courtesy and respect.

The constant quarrels between Hera and Zeus is a perfect example of male dominance. As a result of her constant anger and displeasure with Zeus’s decisions, Hera often contests and confronts his husband, even though she fears him. Although she is aware of his superiority, she is oftentimes contentious and opposes him, and by no means will she submit comfortably to his direction. Then again, she declares that, “I am likewise a god, and my race is what yours is, and I am the first daughter of the devious-devising Kronos…” and then she continues, “lets us both give way to each other…” (Homer 58-59). This shows that Hera Fears Zeus but at the same time respects him, and does many of the things she does out of courtesy because she still has some power over him, as long as it does not interfere with Zeus’s wishes.

Consequently the idea of respect and submitting to patriarchy is even seen in the human level. To prove this, there are some ground rules that a woman is supposed to follow, which dictate how a wife should behave. Penelope and Clytemnestra are two extreme and contradictory examples of a Greek woman. One is a good and faith wife, and the other is the total opposite. Penelope, the faithful one, is illustrated as the ideal woman. In the absence of Odysseys, she remains loyal while suitors beg to be with her. She devises tricks and schemes but always holds back even after twenty years of absence. She is the infallible wife because she still grieves and weeps for her beloved Odysseus, and when interacting with the suitors, she holds “her shining veil in front of her face, to shield it…” (Aeschylus 330). In contrast however, Clytemnestra rejects the role of a proper wife and murders Agamemnon. Not only does she Murder her husband, she also engages in an affair and sends her son away. “There is no trusting in women…” (Ovid 556) which is what Agamemnon said to Odysseus and what the Greeks thought to be true at the time.

Sequentially, the myth of the Bacchae indulges this Greek ideology more. The theme of this myth is man’s ultimate fear of female laissez-faire. The Bacchaes were women of Thebes who left “home to frisk in mock ecstasies” (Homer 91), and who have wandered off leaving their family to drink wine and dance. Ill-fated Avage is a symbol of what is to come if a woman leaves the family and wanders off. If a son or daughter no longer recognizes the mother but he/she recognizes the father, the society will fall into chaos and barbarism. This is a parable for women to behave and obey the rules of the patriarchal society (Euripides 87).

This is a pattern that is seen thought out the Greek mythology. Women have prominent roles in the Greek mythological stories, but they are to submit to the conventional male-dominated society. The domination of men in the society is, however, dependent on the structure of the society. These stories showed the epitome of societal issues in ancient Greece. The characters enforce a certain behavior such as the perfect way to mourn or how people, especially women, should conduct themselves. As seen in the Theogony, women are capable of good and evil. They are a blessing and at the same time, they are a curse. It would be interesting to see how much of these instructions were fulfilled.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. Oresteia. Trans. Peter Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998. Print.

Euripides. The Bacchae. Trans. William Arrowsmith. University Of Chicago Press, 1969. Print.

Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Trans. Richard Lattimore. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1961. 215. Print.

Homer. The Odyssey of Homer. Trans. Richard Lattimore. New York: Harper Collins, 1975. Print.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Charles Martin. W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. Print.

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