Female Characters in “The Iliad”

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Homer’s “The Iliad” includes female characters as major roles in the epic story. Homer seems to make several points that go in contrast with the societal views pertaining to women. Homer gives hints that society should change the negative views of women as a call to action in order to bring change to Greek society. As a result, this story has played a role in working towards women’s rights in Ancient Greece. ‘’People need heroes, and epics provide heroes who fight against injustice and immorality.’’ (Baker, 2018)

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One of the major issues women faced was having a lesser value in Ancient Greece at that time. Homer adds powerful women characters like Helen, Briseis and Athena. They each have a value in Homer’s story even though women were viewed as unequal citizens to males. So it is rare to see a story written this way because of the contrasting cultural views.

In Homer’s “The Iliad”, there is a ten year war at the start of the poem. The reason behind the war was to return Helen -Queen of Sparta- back to Greece. Helen was romantically involved with Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother, but was seduced by the Trojan Prince, Paris. Helen falls in love with the Trojan Prince and they run away together leaving Menelaus angry. When Menelaus found out about this affair, he asked his brother Agamemnon to start a war to bring Helen back to Menelaus. What is important to see here is that Helen was the cause of this war meaning that she has some value to Menelaus since he wanted her back. This could also mean that women have a huge impact in what happens in society. Women play an important role in the way political issues play out. Women can also play an important role in society as a whole.

Since the war had been going on for so many years, Achilles no longer was the point in fighting. When Agamemnon asked Achilles to continue for Greek victory, Achilles refused to carry on the mission. Agamemnon then utilized a woman named Breisies as a reward to keep fighting the Trojan War. Agamemnon and Achilles enter into an argument. The argument led to Agamemnon threatening to take Briesies away from Achilles which caused “the rage of Achilles.”

Achilles becomes angry with Agamemnon for taking away his prize woman, Briesies. When she gets taken away, he decides to pray to his mother- goddess Athena- to fix all of his problems for him. So she hears his cry for help and helps him. She is basically the support for Achilles whenever he needs help. Athena is his voice of reason when he doesn’t know what to do next. So female figure Athena finally has a say in Achilles actions.

As seen throughout the story, each of these women played important roles in the story. It is important to note that women as powerful as this was rare in the eyes of Ancient Greek society because women were treated unequally to men. Women had no power in the real world of Ancient Greece. For that reason it is important to pay attention to these details because they are a rarity in Ancient times. Yet, Homer included them as such powerful people. He shows a different idea of women’s rights and abilities in contrast to Ancient society. It seems that the issue concerning women’s rights was also a concern to Homer because of the way he wrote the story and portrayed the female characters in the Iliad as having power and a voice.

In the Ancient Greek era, women were often seen as property. Women were not allowed to have a voice in society. Women were also not allowed to go and work or own land. “In the family home, women were expected to rear children and manage the daily requirements of the household.” (Cartwright,2018.)

If a woman married, she could not choose her husband. This responsibility fell into the hands of males in the woman’s life for example, a father and mother, brother, cousin, guardian etc. Men typically got married in their twenties or thirties and women got married in their teenage years. The men were the leaders and caretakers of the women. Women could not make their own decisions at this time and so they had to be fully dependent on males.

Women were expected to be faithful to their husbands. However, the husbands could have affairs with any woman without any backlash. If a woman was caught having an affair against her husband, there would be serious consequences. The consequences included being murdered by the husband without having his reputation being destroyed.

Women were basically seen as property of men and seen as potential mothers that were useful to have children. ‘’The fact is that the prime duty of women in the ancient world was to produce enough legitimate healthy children to ensure a stable society, and of men to die in battle protecting, or growing the power, of that society.’’ (Cartwright?)*

The reason behind the inclusion of women in homers story is so that the story can present a new idea that includes women into it. Around that time was when many people believed in many gods as opposed to just one. With that in mind, Homer includes those ideas in his story by placing goddesses (Athena for example) and gods into the Iliad while presenting opposing views. All of these ideas then raise the question of why Homer decided to include female characters into his story as major parts of the plot.

It can be said that he may have wanted to start a conversation about the poor treatment of women. It also could be that he wanted to show a different point on view of women. Perhaps it could be that Homer ultimately wanted to start a conversation about the treatment and views of women that society held back in that era. Having an opportunity to write a story could then change the perspective of others so that the community could perhaps improve. In this case, Homer may have wanted women’s rights to improve and so he included women. Perhaps women would be as more of an equal to men and not ultimately viewed as merely pieces of owned property.

As a result of having heard this story, the audience might be influenced to start viewing women as valued, courageous, strong etc. The Iliad then could be viewed as a call to action by the author for anyone who hears this story. Not only did Homer believe that there was much to be talked about and changed, other similar stories like “Thumos” is based around the same cultural views that show that there is much frustration over trying to be “seen” in Ancient Greek society. (Koziak)

This “call to action” would entail having women be a part of society. These forms include giving women the right to power, having a say in society and to participate in important matters such as political issues. Homer seemed to have this mindset of societal growth for women’s rights. This story then has impacted many other authors views and has since sparked the idea of women’s rights in Ancient Greek culture.

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Female Characters In "The Iliad". (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved December 7, 2022 , from

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