Homer and feminism

In a recent post on Homer and violence, I speculated on one of the reasons why Homer’s Iliad should be banned namely for extreme and graphic violence.

Another reason is his attitude to women. For the most part women are just objects. It is true that there are powerful goddesses. But these are not real women. There are also some strong characters such as Helen and Andromache but these are hardly feminist icons and their parts are relatively minor. There is no implicit or explicit disapproval of the treatment of women. You would not want young minds to be introduced to a view of the world where women were either sex slaves or valued on their ability to do housework such as working the loom.

(I am not altogether serious on this. These are the attitudes in Homer but the reader of the Iliad does not have to hold these views himself or get his moral ideas from Homer. I hope I haven’t).

To take a couple of examples. This is what Agamemnon promised his troops if they captured Troy – basically this is rape.

τὼ μή τις πρὶν ἐπειγέσθω οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι
πρίν τινα πὰρ Τρώων ἀλόχῳ κατακοιμηθῆναι,
τίσασθαι δ᾽ Ἑλένης ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε.

So let none of you be eager to go home before you have slept with a Trojan wife and got requital for your efforts and hardships over Helen.

Iliad 2.354

And Achilles who got so annoyed when Briseis was taken from him soon found solace in another captured woman.

αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς εὗδε μυχῷ κλισίης εὐπήκτου:
τῷ δ᾽ ἄρα παρκατέλεκτο γυνή, τὴν Λεσβόθεν ἦγε,
Φόρβαντος θυγάτηρ Διομήδη καλλιπάρῃος.
Πάτροκλος δ᾽ ἑτέρωθεν ἐλέξατο: πὰρ δ᾽ ἄρα καὶ τῷ
Ἶφις ἐΰζωνος, τήν οἱ πόρε δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς
Σκῦρον ἑλὼν αἰπεῖαν Ἐνυῆος πτολίεθρον.

But Achilles slept in the corner of his hut and beside him slept a woman he had brought from Lesbos, Diomede with beautiful cheeks the daughter of Phorbas. Patroclus slept on the other side and next to home was Iphis with the beautiful girdle whom Achilles had given to him when he had taken Skyros the steep citadel of Enyeus.

Iliad 9.663

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3 Responses to Homer and feminism

  1. Does feminism really care that much about what Homer has to say?


    • platosparks says:

      No it probably doesn’t. But I suppose my point is that we like to think that the values that we hold are universal and apply to all cultures and all times. You cannot read Homer without realising that the world he describes does not hold many of our values and among these are the rights of women. His stories are powerful and you could get sucked into his world and perhaps see his values as the norm – that is if you read him for enjoyment and not just an academic exercise. So even a moderate feminist might see him as promoting an anti-woman view where women are objects. That they don’t is probably because it can be a difficult read even in English and if they do read it then they might see it as a historical document rather than a powerful work that can actually influence the way you think. Although I have to admit that it probably doesn’t change anyone’s core beliefs any more than playing a computer game would make someone go out and start shooting people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are absolutely right.

        Funny thing: people do claim computer games do make some go out and shoot people. I remember how, back in the day, it was Dungeons and Dragons that made young adults go out and murder, not it is video games. Further, feminism argues that both D&D and video games promote male chauvinism and misogyny. Lots of scary words there.

        Feminism is a very interesting movement. Through its eyes we have identified Hesiod as a misogynist (“Works and Days” speaks of women as property) and all-out abuser. I am not sure if we can project feminism into the past, and you, very effectively, express that values in 700 BCE Greece don’t have much to do with values in our modern world. That is not to say women didn’t have any power back then. Plural are the examples of Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Hecuba, Andromache, Medea, Alcestis, Penelope, Antigone, and many, many others.

        It is complicated, Homer. Maybe that is the best explanation of the complexities of culture and language made evident therein.

        Liked by 1 person

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