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The Iliad is largely a poem involving the conflict between two great armies.

The epic
poem, generally regarded as “a male-dominated world” focuses centrally on the
rage between men but it also happen that most of the time this rage is affected,
initiated, and inspired by a woman. In the background there are a myriad of women
who are used as pawns by these men in order to assert power. These women are
devoid of substantial personalities or purpose. They are seen as the objects of both
lust and domesticity, yet they are also used to excuse war, cause conflict, and
display the power of men. Different types of women are represented in the epic
poem: strong-willed and shrewd women, damsel-in-distress types, wicked and
vengeful women, or even women who cause the downfall of the protagonist male
hero.

In the Iliad we saw women as items of exchange and as markers of status for the
men who possessed them (Chryseis and Briseis, whom Agame mnon and Achilles
argue over in Book I). We saw them in their normal social roles as mothers and
wives (Hecuba, Andromache in Book VI). We saw stereotypical characterizations of
them as fickle (Helen in Book VI), seductive, and deceitful (Hera in Book XIV). We
see them as an obstacle that the male hero has to overcome or resist to fulfill his
heroic destiny (Andromache's entreaties to Hector in Book VI).

There are women depicted as possessions (war prizes) or women who have little or
no control over her destiny. For example the case of women characters such as
Chryseis and Briseis, considered in the epic poem as “war prizes” – captured
maidens and spoils of war, with little control over their destinies. But in Book 1, the
major conflict was fueled due to some concerns about these two women – since
Chryseis (Agamemnon’s war prize) needs to be returned to his father to stop the
plague sent by Apollo, Agamemnon demands in exchange Achilles’ war prize Briseis
which angered the warrior Achilles. Thus Achilles after the incident withdraws the
battle, leaving the Achaean army futile against the Trojans’ assault. The very notion
of a woman as a war prize is degrading to a modern audience. Yet it is obvious from
the language that all women, whether they be wives or slaves, were considered
objects by men. Agamemnon, mourning the loss of Chryseis, indicates that,

“Indeed, I prefer her by far, the girl herself,


I want her mine in my own house! I rank her higher
than Clytemnestra, my wedded wife---she's nothing less
in build or breeding, in mind or works of hand.” (Book 1, 131-134).

Greek men were plain about what they thought was an ideal women. They did not
need to use their wives for sex. The sad thing is that women who were not suited to
be a wife, really had no place. Fortunately, the emphasis was placed on the family
so, if a person could be productive in the family, they would probably be taken care
of. Without a supportive family you were out in the street, and you probably could
not live long there.

The notion of bringing a mistress into his home does not seem unusual to
Agamemnon. He indicates that he can easily replace his wife Clytemnestra with this
girl who is nothing more to him than a symbol of his victory. He has no real affection
towards his wife and publicly declares that as long as Chryseis is equal in “build or
breeding,” that she is more than suitable to be ranked higher than Clytemnestra.
The emphasis that he places on these qualities suggests that, while women were
valued according to their social position in society, as a whole the female gender
was far below men. Agamemnon speaks of Chryseis as though she were an animal
to be judged, rather than a human being.

Left without his war prize, Agamemnon insists on taking Achilles’ woman in order to
assert his power. He tells Achilles,

“But I, I will be there in person at your tents


to take Briseis in all her beauty, your own prize—
so you can learn just how much greater I am than you” (Book 1, 217-219).

He immediately labels Briseis as his “own prize,” objectifying her as a possession to


be stolen. The formulaic manner in which Briseis is followed by “in all her beauty”
comprises the extent of any description of Briseis. Her only attribute worth
mentioning is her beauty, a fact which makes her desirable to men. Neither Achilles
nor Agamemnon even cares for Briseis; they treat her not as human beings but as
emblem of their own status and martial prowess. She is simply a tool that Homer
uses to incite conflict between the two men.

There are also women who are the stereotyped mothers, like Thetis (Achilles’
mother) and Queen Hecuba, who in the course of the epic poem are seen to be
either weeping or troubled with the affairs of their sons.

Some women in the epic poem serve as the “partner” of the male hero, like Helen
of Troy to Paris and Andromache to Hector. Although they don’t have the power to
dominate over their lovers, these characters are sometimes used by Homer to
portray a more human side to the male characters – Paris is vulnerable with Helen,
Hector is both a sympathetic husband to Andromache and a heroic father to their
son. These women does not wholly affect the male characters (even Andromache
fails to convince Hector not to fight Achilles) but with their presence, the male
character assumes a multidimensional persona (Paris, a coward who indulges on
pleasures than fighting in the war).

But the most celebrated woman figure in the poem is probably Helen of Troy – her
illicit love affair with Paris is one of the most distinct events of the poem
unforgettable. She is considered the Spartan whore who deserted her husband and
ran off with a beautiful Trojan prince. While a modern audience may perceive her
situation as pitiable and romantic, the actual text and language of Homer suggests
a very different perspective. Helen is given very little dialogue throughout the
poem, and the majority of her speaking is done when she gives details about the
champions of Sparta to the Trojans. She blatantly betrays her friends and family
from Sparta because of her lust for a handsome prince. This does not make her a
very likeable character and Homer writes her as very one-dimensional, seeking to
satisfy her own desires with little regard for those around her.

While Homer makes sure to show the struggle of power between men, he uses
Helen as a means to justify the whole Trojan War. The reader can see the struggle
of power between the generals, but the perception of the soldiers is that they are
fighting this war simply because of Helen. Only King Priam welcomes her like his
own daughter. But even Helen knows that she is the reason for the downfall for the
male heroes, and considered herself as a wanton (“that man is Agamemnon…
brother to the husband of a wanton.”).
And here is another passage (one that is NOT in your packet) where the poet
brutally drives home the impact of the war on the women, in this case on Briseis
herself, who had previously appeared as a mute object handed back and forth
between Achilles and Agamemnon. In this passage, Achilles' friend Patroklos has
been killed by Hektor. This is what makes Achilles put aside his anger at
Agamemnon and rejoin the battle. As a reward for rejoining, Agamemnon has given
Briseis back to Achilles, and here she mourns Patroklos when his body is being
brought back to Achilles' camp. She is in such a helpless and desperate situation
that the death of one of her captors -- the kindest one of her captors -- is an
occasion for massive grief, and her best hope is that her future life is as the wife of
the man who killed her family rather than one o f his house slaves or concubines.

Women in the Illiad demonstrate the importance of women in the lives of the
ancient Greeks because they are so prominent in a story so dominated with military
affairs.
The Greeks idolized women, but many cultures did not. What the culture does is
define roles and expectations for its members. These are incoporated in rituals,
taboos, stories, and laws. The Greeks went beyond and defined deities that were
women. Some societies have removed the female sex from the divine.
A work on the glories of war might exclude women all together, but the Illiad
includes them in many and varied roles. This is a tribute to the importance of
women. There are goddesses, queens, wives, maidservants and concubines. Each of
these different women have a different role to play. This suggests that Homer
thought women were very important.
One of the joys of Homer is his universality, and one aspect of that is the relevance
of what he says to life in general. And this is still true. It is odd that he would include
so many women characters in what is on the face of it a battle story and an
adventure story, but this oddness gives him more universality. The fact is that
women are important in life and they act in many different ways and yet it is
important to know how they act. Homer has helped us to deal with that fact by
including in his stories many different kinds of women that portray the many roles
that women play in life.
The stories of ‘Illiad’ tell a lot about women at the time of the Trojan War and during
the classical period. The women at the time of the Trojan War were freer to act, but
they also had to submit to violence. They were more involved with religion and
ritual, but these details were left out of the stories. The classical women served as
the models for the characters developed by the classical authors. But details like
the segregation of the sexes were not brought out because it clashed too much with
the lives of the ancient women. One fact is constant. Women were seen as
important in both societies, but their role change a lot during the interval.

So, one could make an argument that the poet of the Iliad does portray women as
objects which men use to jockey for position with one another. He portrays them in
stereotypical roles and with stereotypical characteristics. He portrays them as
totally impotent outside the protection of their ma le guardians. But he does all this
in a way that doesn't seek to support or justify that system. Instead, he presents it
with such honesty and clarity that it makes the injustices of the society clear. This
does not make him a revolutionary, a reformer or a proto-feminist. There is no
reason to think that he wanted to, or thought that he could, change society in any
way. From his point of view he may have simply been telling it like it is. But it does
show a capacity in a Greek male writer to look upon the situation of women with
some sensitivity and compassion.