The Impact of Women in the Iliad
Women have always been recognized for their strong influence on the actions of men. Because of his love for Delia, Samson told his secret of his power and ended up losing it. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth urged Macbeth to commit murder. More recently, Eleanor Roosevelt strongly influenced the decisions that Franklin D. Roosevelt made. Women of Homer’s epic, The Iliad, were considered primary instigators of the Trojan war. The characteristics attributed to women in ancient Greek mythology may have been key to the outbreak of the war. But many ask why Homer would choose to reflect so deeply on the feminine roles of this war fought by men.
Although the beginning of the war was not spoken of in The Iliad, the origin of the war is traced back to jealous goddesses. The gods and goddesses were feasting together to celebrate
the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Eris, the goddess of discord, had not been invited. She came, however, and threw among the guests a golden apple, on which was inscribed “For the fairest.” Three goddesses claimed the apple. They were Hera, wife of Zeus and the queen of heaven; Athena, the goddess of wisdom; and Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The gods called upon Paris to award the prize of beauty. Hera promised him power and riches if he decided in her favor. Athena offered him wisdom and glory in war. Then Aphrodite said she would give him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris gave Aphrodite the apple, and Hera and Athena became bitter enemies of the Trojans.
Helen, the fairest woman on earth, was already married. Her husband, Menealus, was the king of Sparta. Paris, under Aphrodite’s protection, sailed to Sparta, won Helen’s love, and carried her off to Troy. Menelaus had to go to battle against Troy to defend his honor and retake Helen as his wife. Thus a combination of Eris’s temper; Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite’s jealousy; and Helen’s beauty caused the war.
Typically, Greek mythology, including Homer’s epics, note particular “characteristics” of femininity. Although there is very little said about the attractiveness of gods and heroic men, beauty seems to be noted among most myths pertaining to goddesses, women, and other feminine creatures. The Gorgons were noted for being outcasts because of their ugliness. Intelligence is another trait associated with women. Many goddesses devised schemes to help which ever mortal they favored. By handing Achilles the spear, Achilles knows that he is to kill Hector. Magical powers also seem to attributed to femininity in Greek myths. Circe and the Sirens were known for their magic found in The Odyssey were known for their magic.
It can be inferred that this female superiority over men in The Iliad could have been a reflection of Homer’s thoughts. Since Homer was so appreciative of the female gender in his epics, perhaps he was a woman or a feminist. According to Robert Graves, author of The Greek Myths, today’s Greece began as a completely matriarchal society. This also could have had some sort of an influence on Homer’s thoughts.
Men fought for beauty. Helen became the symbol of what really exists at the core of a man’s heart. Love came before power, riches, wisdom, or glory against the enemy. Whether or not Helen was the actual cause of the Trojan War will probably never be known.However, The Iliad and other mythical literature left by the Greeks shows the roles women played in everyday life.