The role of women in ancient Greek life was insignificant compared to that of Greek men. A woman's job was to take care of the children and to cook and clean unless she had servants or slaves that would do it for her. Yet, in Greek mythology, women were often written as major characters. Well-known Greek plays contain many well-written, complex, female characters. Female individuals in Greek mythology were often seen as very powerful and fierce and were depicted by “her wits, her beauty, or her bad deeds. To start off we have Helen of Troy, a mortal woman, thought to be one of the most beautiful in her time. She left her husband Menelaus of Sparta for Paris of Troy and because of that and her beauty a 10 year war surged between Sparta and Troy; “…she left behind the din of clashing shields and spears, as the war fleets armed. Taking with her a dowry of destruction, she strode swiftly through that city’s gates, daring what must not be dared” (Agamemnon 4003-408).
Thousands of men died while she sat in her castle. It goes to show how powerful a woman’s beauty can be. We then have Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon and queen of Argos. Clytemnestra was described as “a woman with a man’s heart” (Agamemnon 11); she was depicted as a very brutal and treacherous woman but she was also very intelligent. Clytemnestra knew how intelligent she was and even proved it to the Argive elders, in line 351 of the play Agamemnon the y tell her “[she speaks] wisely like a man of discretion. She becomes fixated on obtaining justice for her daughter’s wrongful murder, “…my mind never sleeps, and with the help of the gods I will set things right” (Agamemnon 912-913). Agamemnon had scarified their daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis to stop the storm he was in when he was on his way to Troy. So Clytemnestra murdered her husband to avenge her daughter's death, her “labor of love”. Clytemnestra felt that her act was justified and states in detail how she killed her husband without any shame or remorse. I struck him twice and he screamed twice, his limbs buckled and his body came crashing down, and as he lay there I struck him again, a third blow for Underworld Zeus, the savior of the dead…. I don’t care if you praise me of blame me, it makes no difference to me” (Agamemnon 1384-1403). Another woman who also became strong and fierce with her vengeance was Medea, “her glare [was] as fierce as a bull’s… [and she was] wild like a lion [who’d] just given birth... ” Medea was a powerful witch and when she was wronged by her husband she used her powers for revenge.
Medea’s husband, Jason, left her for another woman; he left her for a princess. And to that she stated “Most of the time, I know, a woman is filled with fear. She’s worthless in a battle and flinches at the sight of steel. But when she’s faced with an injustice in the bedroom, there is no other mind more murderous” (Medea 267-271). After lots of grieving for her husband’s treachery she decides to pretend to be on good terms with him and sends his new with gifts; an embodied robe and a golden crown.
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She sent these gifts to her with her children however, using her powers she poisoned them so that the gifts would kill the new wife. Jason’s new wife “took the intricate robe and wrapped it around her body, and set the golden crown upon her curls…what happened next was terrible to see. Her skin changed color, and her legs were shaking…white foam at her mouth, her eyes popping up, the blood drained from her face…the gold gripped tight, and every movement of her hair caused the fire to blaze out twice as much…” (Medea 1176-1214).
Medea’s hate for Jason was so strong that it wasn’t enough to just leave him wifeless, she wanted to give him a punishment far worse, that powerful hate for her ex-husband gave her the strength to kill her own children. Medea goes on by telling Jason that their children’s death is his fault and takes their bodies with her without letting Jason touch them or granting him permission to bury them as his ultimate punishment for betraying her (Medea 1345-1463). Although the women in these stories are responsible for terrible things they demonstrate how much power a mortal woman had and the impact this power had on men.
It shows how fierce a woman’s wrath could be and what they were capable of doing. These stories give us an insight on how women were viewed during this time.
- Aeschylus, Peter Meineck, and Helene P. Foley. Oresteia. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. , 1998.
- Print. Euripides, and Robin Mitchell-Boyask. Medea. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008.
- Print. "The Role of Women in Greek Mythology. " Contributor Network. N. p. , n. d. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <http://voices. yahoo. com/the-role-women-greek-mythology-5220705. html? cat=37>.
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