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The Female Function In Homer’s Iliad

In the story of Homer’s Iliad, the roles of women are clearly drawn. The function, from mortal to immortal is to influence male characters. The main female roles also have the functions of mother, daughter, wives, goddesses, and prizes.

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Through out this poetic recount of war, telling of battles on the field, and in heaven, of all the varying roles of the female characters, each one can be pared down to influencer of a male, whether god, or mortal. One of the main figures of the Iliad is Helen of Troy. Her function is that of a prize.

She is to be won, taken, and the group that has her is the one who wins. There are other instances in which females are used for the sole purpose of prizes, to be bargained or fought for. Towards the beginning of the Iliad, King Agamemnon is so upset that he has to give Chryseis back to her father, Chryses, in order to make Apollo stop attacking his country, that he takes Achillies’ “prize”, Briseis. Later on in the story, when trying to make this up to Achillies to try and get him to save Agamemnon and the rest of the Danaans ships, the role of the woman is again to be used as a prize.

King Agamemnon states’ “I have three daughters… let him take the one of his choice, freely and without gifts of wooing,” (Book 9). Even daughters are used as bargaining tools, or prizes by their own fathers. Daughters have different roles in the story, depending on if the daughter is mortal, or immortal. The daughters that are mortal have very little to say about who they are going to marry, or what will happen to them if their city gets “sacked” and they are to be divided among the fighters as loot.

The daughters of the immortals, however, have a much more functioning role, as they are influencer to men and god alike. Minerva, in particular, has a way of getting what she wants from her father Jove. She influences his decisions, so that she can get her own way. Minerva also does as she’s told to, and sends influential messages down to the men in battle more then once, being the good daughter that she is. Minerva is just one of the goddesses listed in the Iliad, and the functions of the goddesses vary, although, the roles are all influential to a male character in some way.

Some of the roles of the goddesses are to be a messenger, like Minerva. Jove’s wife, Juno, functions in much the same way as a mortal wife though, when the situation comes to Juno trying to argue a point with her husband, he ends up putting his foot down, and telling her to go sit down and be quiet. This is when they’re discussion whether or not the city of Ilius is going to lose in battle. Even as the goddess with the most power over the other goddesses, she still sits down and does what she has been told.

After finding out that Juno and Minerva were on their way down to earth to get into the battle, Jove makes the remark, “I am less surprised and angry with Juno, for whatever I say she always contradicts me,” (Book 8) Though, Homer does point out that just because Juno has done what Jove told to do, does not mean that she is happy about sitting down and being quiet about not wanting the city destroyed. Juno’s character also serves in the role of the mother. In this role, she remains very protective over the men that she cares about, and influences them not to fight against each other.

This role is shown from the very beginning of the work when she sends Minerva down to earth to stop Achillies and Agamemnon from fighting and killing each other, “because she cares for both of them so,” (Book 1). Immortal mothers are very protective of their mortal sons, but there is an example of a mortal mother not being so protective. During the battle, Hector runs to find his wife, who is looking down at the battle from the top of a wall, with her nursemaid carrying the baby.

She pleads with him not to go back to the fight, stating that if he dies, she would have nothing left to live for. Book 8) This would read that she would kill herself, because of his death, and therefore would not be there to raise her own child. Another female role in this epic is of sister. Juno is not only Jove’s wife, but also his sister. The fact that they are related is brought up a few times in the story, when she is called Daughter of Saturn, and Jove being the Son of Saturn. Juno also plays the role of the trickster, as she gets Venus to help her, and Sleep to help her so that she can get Jove to fall asleep. This is detailed about the middle of Book 14.

Juno gets Jove to want to have sex with her, and then he falls asleep while holding her. Juno uses her beauty and influence to get Jove to go to sleep. Another sisterly role is played by Althea, Meleager’s mother, as the tale tells of her, “grieving for the death of her brother, prayed the gods,” (Book 9). Of all the influential roles that women play in the Iliad, the most influential would be that of messenger. Iris is depicted in the role of messenger when she is sent down by Jove to deliver the message to Minerva and Juno that he forbids them to join in the battle.

Another major influential messenger is Minerva herself. She is sent down more then once to deliver messages from Jove, and others immortals from heaven. Throughout the story, the functions of the female roles are varied, and are contemporary to their time, during which a man worshiped a female goddess, only to take a young girl from a far away land in order to have more wealth. Most of all, every role can be seen to show that females’ influence over society at the time of Homer was great in some respects, yet even goddesses were subservient to the mighty male Jove.

The role of the females concerning war was to influence the soldiers, and to be good wives, taking care of the children. And if the city in which the female lived gets “sacked”, it then becomes the females role to strictly be property. Though the male character that took her may or may not have feelings for her, she is still at best, loot. Daughters played very influential rules, especially the daughters of Jove, whether trying to get their way, or making Jove mad or happy, the role of his daughters was to influence him, and to have him decide what would come of the great battle.