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David Liu

Discussion H
Greek poems of ancient times sometimes give us insight into the beliefs of the people

during that time period. One common theme explored in such poems is the family dynamics of

the characters of these myths. The succession myth in particular was the idea that a fathers son

would become more powerful than he was and eventually overthrow him. These stories reveal

that while Greek mythology was centered on a patriarchal leadership, many events which occur

are driven by the actions of the women in these stories. In my essay, I will first discuss how the

heroics of men are depicted, how mortal men differed from male gods in mythology and how

this suggests a patriarchal rule. Then I will discuss how the depiction of women in mythology

further supports this idea.

In most poems of Greek mythology, the rulers are typically male, and when one thinks of

the prototypical male figure in Greek mythology, there is no better example than Zeus, king of

the gods. As stated by Hesiod in the Theogony, the Muses bestow upon him the gift of song,

Then they sing of Zeus, father of gods and men - they begin and end their song with him and

tell of how he surpasses the other gods in rank and might (Th. 57-60, pg 1). Zeus is the leader of

the Olympians and was able to achieve this position by defeating both the Titans and the monster

Typhoeus with his might, and then by overcoming the succession myth with his wit. In the

Theogony, Additionally, it also mentions kings are from the line of Zeus (Th. 111 pg. 2) which

shows how important of a figure he is. Because of how iconic he is as a male figure in Greek

mythology, most other men of Greek mythology share common characteristics with Zeus. For

example, in the Hymn to Apollo, Apollo is shown to slay Python, demonstrating strength akin to

Zeus. The Iliad centered around Achilles who was the greatest warrior for the Achaeans, and

whose fighting ability is akin to the gods. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is shown to be capable

through his great physical prowess as well possessing a sharp wit which he uses to navigate his
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way through a variety of situations. Many other men of Greek myths share these similar

attributes and these attributes can all be traced back to Zeus.

Although Zeus is the male archetype in Greek mythology, there are distinct differences

between male gods and male mortals. Because they did not have to worry about their deaths, the

main concern of Zeus and all the male gods who ruled before him were mainly over maintaining

their rule. However, in the Theogony, both Ouranos and Kronos fell for the prophecies that they

would be overtaken by their sons as Ouranos was overtaken by Kronos and Kronos by Zeus.

Zeus however escaped the prophecy that his firstborn son would overpower him with guidance

from Ouranos and Gaia. He outwitted Metis, the embodiment of wisdom, swallowing her and

taking upon himself that attribute and also preventing her from having a son. Then, by

befriending the other gods and assigning them roles to fulfill, he avoided conflict with them and

ended up being the ruler of all the gods. In comparison, mortal men had to worry about their

honor and legacy, or more specifically, their kleos. While many mortal men have great might or

sharp wits, their kleos must still be earned through their feats and achievements. For example,

The Iliad discusses Achilles and his kleos. In Book 1, after arguing with Agamemnon he asks his


Remind Zeus of this, sit holding his knees, See if he is willing to help the Trojans Hem the Greeks in

between the fleet and the sea. Once they start being killed, the Greeks may Appreciate Agamemnon for what he is,

And the wide-ruling son of Atreus will see What a fool hes been because he did not honor The best of all the

fighting Achaeans. (Il. Book 1, 424-431, pg 13)

Although Achilles fought for the Greeks, he wanted Zeus to help the Trojans so that when the

Greeks started to struggle in battle, Agamemnon would have no choice but to beseech Achilles,
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their greatest fighter, to fight again, thus magnifying the glory and kleos he would receive. Of

course, to seek kleos is a mortal endeavor, and gods do not need to seek their own glory.

Because they seek their own kleos, unless their own sons are obstacles in doing so,

mortal men are not concerned of their sons becoming more powerful than themselves. Thus there

is little conflict between mortal fathers and sons. Also, the sons of mortal men likewise must

seek their own kleos when they become of age. Examples for this would be Telemachus, son of

Odysseus, and Orestes, son of Agamemnon, found in The Odyssey and Libation Bearers

respectively. Their fathers both sought their kleos in the Trojan War. In the Oresteia, Orestes

must avenge his fathers death and in the first few books of the Odyssey, Telemachus must

search for the whereabouts of the missing Odysseus. Telemachus is told by Athena,

Youve got to stop Acting like a child. Youve outgrown that now. Havent you heard how Orestes won

glory Throughout the world when he killed Aegisthus, The shrewd traitor who murdered his father? You have to be

aggressive, stronglook at how big And well-built you areso you will leave a good name. Well, Im off to my

ship and my men, Who are no doubt wondering whats taking me so long. Youve got a job to do. Remember what I

said. (Od. Book 1, 318-322 pg 10)

This quote shows that although Telemachus is a good host for his guest, he is criticized for being

passive in finding his missing father. Athena instructs him to take action to find his missing

father and eventually remove the suitors who are idling uninvitingly in his abode. As a mortal, it

is in Telemachuss best interest to listen to the words of the gods and respect the chain of

authority which exists. Thus he has no interest in overthrowing his father.

Although the males were the figureheads of power, the women in Greek mythology were

responsible for many events which occurred. For example, the succession myth is in large part

driven by the actions of Gaia and Rhea. When Ouranos tried to keep the cyclops and hundred
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handers within Tartaros, Gaia said to her children Yours is a reckless father; obey me, if you

will, that we may all punish your fathers outrageous deed, for he was first to plot shameful

actions (Th. 190-193 pg 3). Additionally when Kronos learned he would be overpowered, the

following occurred,

But majestic Kronos kept on swallowing each child as it moved from the holy womb toward the knees; his

purpose was to prevent any other child of the Sky Dwellers from holding the kingly office among immortals. He had

learned from Gaia and starry Ouranos that he, despite his power, was fated to be subdued by his own son, a victim of

his own schemes. Therefore, he kept no blind watch, but ever wary he gulped down his own children to Rheas

endless grief (Th. 450-455 pg 6).

In the cases of both Ouranos and Kronos, it was the actions of the mother of their children, Gaia

and Rhea, who facilitated the fall of the fathers. Although it was the males who were the rulers,

the women had the influence to cause them to lose their positions of power.

Additionally, the different myths show that the women are driven by a desire to protect

their offspring. Gaia and Rheas choices to overthrow their husbands were not purely of malice,

but a response to how Kronos and Ouranos treated their children. This theme can also be found

throughout many different poems. Demeter unleashed her wrath because Persephone was taken

from her. Achilles mother, Thetis, was quick to action when he requested her help in asking for

a favor from Zeus. Even in the poem Agamemnon, Clytemnestra justified the killing of

Agamemnon saying,

No shame, I think, in the death given this man And did he not first of all in this house wreak death by treachery?

The flower of this man's love and mine, Iphlgenela of the tears he dealt with even as he has suffered. Let us speech

in death's house be not loud. With the sword he struck, With the sword he paid for his own act (Ag. 1521- 1529 pg.

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Clytemnestra here claims that Agamemnon was to be punished for the killing of their daughter

Iphlgenela, despite the fact that it was Artemis who requested him to do so. Her grief over her

husbands actions most likely affected her later decision to murder him. Another example of how

women were protective of their children can be found in how Aphrodite was protective of her

son Aeneas during battle. In a scene where Aeneas is almost killed, it is depicted that,

That would have been the end of Aeneas, But his mother Aphrodite, Zeus daughter (Who bore Aeneas to Anchises
the oxherd), Had all this in sharp focus. Her milk-white arms Circled around him and she enfolded him In her
radiant robe to prevent the Greeks from killing him with a spear to the chest. (Il. Book 5, 337-343 pg 93)

This is yet another case where despite Aeneas being a mortal, he is still her son and thus she does

everything in her power to be protective of him during the Trojan War.

Although the actions of the women may be reasonable in that their reasons in many cases

are that they are being protective of their children, their responses are often a reactionary

outburst. As said when describing Pandora, the first mortal woman, From her comes the fair sex;

yes, wicked womenfolk are her descendants. They live among mortal men as a nagging burden

and are no good sharers of abject want, but only of wealth (Th. 599-601 pg 7). Women were

said to be bestowed upon man as a punishment for Prometheuss actions. Thus they are described

as a wicked people to men. Their actions support their protective nature of their children,

however the characters of most women in mythology are questionable. Even Zeus said of his

wife Hera,

You witch! Your intuitions are always right. But what does it get you? Nothing, except that I like you less than ever.
And so youre worse off. If its as you think it is, its my business not yours. So sit down and shut up and do as I
say. You see these hands? All the gods on Olympus Wont be able to help you if I Ever lay them on you (Il. Book 1
594-597 pg 18).

Zeus and Hera bicker often their involvement in the Trojan War as each has their own

preferences and agendas regarding it. This however is a good depiction of the role Hera plays as
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Zeuss nagging wife. In addition, the attitude toward women is that their usefulness is only for

bearing children. In Eumenides, Apollo states,

The mother is no parent of that which is called her child, but only nurse of the new-planted seed that grows. The

parent is he who mounts. A stranger she preserves a stranger's seed, if no god interfere (Eum. 657-660 pg 158).

This shows women were valued by men for the most part only as caregivers and bearer of

children. The only exceptions were the three virgin goddesses and Athena who are not involved

in taking care of children. Even Athena, in Eumenides, sided with Orestes simply because he is a

man and thus his actions were seen as justified. The relationships of women and man were thus

mainly to punish man, and their utility was merely to produce children.

The characters of Greek mythology differ thus mainly by their gender and whether or not

they are immortals. The mortal men sought kleos, obeying the will of the gods while the gods

sought power over others, but eventually Zeus came to be the ruler of them all. Meanwhile,

women were seen to be concerned parents, but unreliable and prone to emotional outbursts. They

were not seen to have much utility though they commanded more power than what might be

suggested. While these observations were specific to the Greek mythologies, such ideas likely

reflected the dynamics of relationships.