English 2423 World Lit 1
28 November 2014
A woman’s role in society and the issue of equality is not by any means a new concept. The balance between matriarchal and patriarchal dominance has been a power struggle since the beginning of known time. Many a writer and philosopher share different views on just how history wants women’s role to be remembered. One of the world’s most legendary and highest esteemed story tellers of ancient feminine woes would be Homer. Homer’s poems have lasted over three thousand years in part because of the unusual tendency he has of lacing his repeated lines with the honor of both men and women alike. Unlike the later writings of some of his peers, such as Socrates and Plato - Homer’s women are portrayed as devoted mothers, loving wives, as well as demure heroines. The primary obligation of women in ancient Greece is to marry (most favorably in their mid teens) and to produce legitimate male children so that their husband’s lineage might continue on for eternity. Motherhood in Greek society is not only considered an honor and a privilege but also a responsibility of all women. A divorce could be possible but was very rarely recorded, unlike childbirth which very often could prove fatal to mothers. The exception to that rule would be Spartan women, of whom females were allowed to marry at a later age (although still arranged), allowed education, as well as trained in athletics. Homer illustrates the concept of motherhood in the last heart wrenching words cried out by Hecuba to her doomed son,
Hector, my child if ever I’ve soothed you with this breast, remember it now ,son, and have pity on me (xxii, 88-90).
Hecuba finds her happiness in her children and the prospect of a glorious death is not one that comforts her – at this moment she couldn’t care less about honor - she loves her son and simply wants him to survive this war. Another important duty of a Grecian woman in Homer’s time is to be an ever gracious and doting wife. Beauty (as it is in our very own society) is held in much higher regard than intelligence. Women are expected to work, but within their husband’s home. A typical day is filled with chores like spinning thread and weaving while also managing the servants and providing daily meals for the household; as illustrated by Hector when he tells his wife Andromache to, ’Go back to the house now and take care of your work, the loom and shuttle. Tell the servants to get on with their jobs’, (VI, 14-160). Homer describes Andromache as a ‘beautiful wife’ and ‘gracious woman’ with nothing but affection and tenderness towards her beloved husband as can be gleaned from this passage,
‘When I lose you Hector, there will be nothing left, no one to turn to...you are my father, my mother, my brother, and my blossoming husband.’(VI, 431-451)
Homer not only describes the love Andromache has for her husband, but also entertains the approval and adoration her husband has for her