The essence of women in the society has been addressed with utter concern following the fact that despite their plight in the society, they play all major roles, which enhance the continuation of the society. Throughout the course of history, women have held a variety of roles in society. Traditionally men have been perceived to have a significant degree of superiority since the ancient times. Homer’s “The Iliad” is a perfect example of men’s dominance over women in that time. Female characters in “The Iliad” are like trophies, and what they do or say does not affect what happens in any important way.
The role of women represented in “The Iliad” is peripheral. The matter is that “The Iliad” is a poem about the Trojan War and about men who fought in it and women appear in the poem very rarely. As the Trojan prince Hector says, war is men’s business. What is more, women are treated as property and were simply used for children’s upbringing and work within a house: “As for the girl [Chryseis], I shall not release her. […] Old age will come upon her in our house […] where she will work at the loom and serve my bed” (Homer 4). Limited by such circumstances, they were given and taken as if they were belongings. Women are described as dependent on men both physically and intellectually. However, they are of crucial importance for the plot of the poem. Elena’s abduction by the Trojan prince Paris has brought the war. In addition to this, the kidnapping of the other women – Briseis,- lays the foundation for the specific development of events in “The Iliad” when Achilles’ passion and anger when Briseis is stolen from him is one of the major themes. Furthermore, Agamemnon, the Greek commander, being forced to free his slave Chryseis at first menaced the hero. Thereafter, he captured Briseis from Achilles in the form of compensation: “Just as Phoibos Apollo is taking Chryseis from me […] so I shall the beautiful Briseis, your prize, going myself to fetch her from your hut, so you can fully realize how much I am your superior” (Homer 7). As a result, Achilles abandons the Greek army and threatens possible victory of his compatriots: “the accursed anger which brought uncounted anguish in the Achaians and hurled down to Hades many mighty souls of heroes” (Homer 3). Putting it into other words, women determine the course of plot in the poem. In spite of this fact, they are perceived as property, stolen goods but not as human beings. For example, Briseis is awarded to Achilles in the quality of prize and has become a symbol of status. What is more, being passed from Achilles to Agamemnon she has become a means of defining the relationship between these two Greeks. The example of Briseis and Chryseis was the reminder of what would happen if the Greeks succeeded in capturing Troy.
There is more complex and at the same time interesting hero in the poem than Briseis or Chryseis. Elena is not a slave or trophy but a princess. With her appearance, the question of her responsibility is raised. Her role is notable and ambiguous at the same time. For instance, the old men judge her arrival to Troy and comment it saying that she is grief to the Trojan people. However, she is not only as a grief but also as a cause of war and a victim of men’s greed and arrogance and insolence. Many regard her to be a trophy of Paris who has stolen her from her husband. Although it happened during times of peace, Elena is a perfect prize because she was abducted while her husband was away from home. In addition to this, Paris had to make efforts and practice deception in order to get the aim. That is why Elena appears to be a bestowal for his endeavor.
In addition to all abovementioned, there is one more image of a woman described in the poem whose feelings and thoughts are not taken into consideration. Apart from other women of Troy, in “The Iliad” she is one of the many who receives particular individual treatment. It is Andromache was married to Hector, the Trojan prince. When her husband returns from the battle, she asks them not to return there and stay in the city. However, Hector being the true representative of the dominant stronger sex only threatens his wife that she will be enslaved and pays no attention to her pleading. In return, Andromache demonstrates an extraordinary insight into military matters giving him advice that was not appreciated at all. What is more, Hector offended her and commanded to return home and continue working. By his response, he highlights the fundamental discrepancy between feminine and masculine activities. Such women served to glorify their husbands and lament in case of their death. There is a number of speeches of Elena, Andromache, Briseis and Hecuba in which they talk about their vulnerability without men’s protection which shows that women in Ancient Greece were used to such treatment.
“The Iliad” is undoubtedly focused on the male characters as far as it is the poem about war. Achilles, primarily, Agamemnon and Hector are in the limelight, and women are in the minority. In addition to this, they are passive, they are items for exchange (Briseis and Chriyeis 56), seen in their social roles of wives and mothers (Andromache, Elena) and are described as obstacles that a warrior has to overcome in order to obtain a status of a hero. In other words, women are depicted more as belongings that have no right to act and speak than as human beings.
Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Martin Hammond. New York: Penguin Books, 1987. Print.