Greek Myths & Gender Conflicts

02 November 2020

Starting with the myth of Pandora, women were shown to be inferior to men. The myth of Pandora explains the creation of the first mortal woman, Pandora. She was created to punish men. The gods created her as a response to Prometheus tricking Zeus and stealing fire from Olympus. Hephestos made her body, Athena taught her weaving, and Aphrodite gave her grace (Hestoid lines 60–69). They gave Pandora a jar to never open. Curious as to what was inside, Pandora opened the jar, releasing pain, suffering, and plague into the world. Pandora’s actions resulted in women being considered the “undoing” of mankind as well as being regarded as foolish and deceitful.

Photo by Tbel Abuseridze on Unsplash

In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, women are portrayed as being a major object of temptation and trickery. The goddess Calypso and Circe are primary examples of seducers to the male characters. Even though these women seem powerful, they are still powerless under Zeus. In the epic, Odysseus finds himself trapped on an island with the goddess Calypso. The goddess’ sex appeal kept Odysseus distracted and temporarily kept him from returning home.

When Zeus commands Calypso to let Odysseus leave, Calypso complains about the gods’ double standard that allows male gods to have human lovers but punishes female deities for doing the same (The Odyssey book 5). This is shown to be true throughout the epic. Odysseus is never disgraced for sleeping around during his journey, but Penelope is repeatedly criticized for allowing the suitors to stay at her house, even though she has little power to make them leave. This is a double standard that has continued to this day.

Circie was another trickster female that Odysseus encountered on his way home. Circie tricked Odysseus’ men by drugging them, turning them into swine, and making them forget about returning home. Her trick does not work on Odysseus, so Circie lures him into bed and he gives in to temptation. Odysseus loses sight of his goal of returning home and remains with Circie’s for a year (The Odyssey book 5).

Here, Circie represents temptation, a common trait given to women in Greek myths. This is also still an issue today. School dress codes, for example, primarily focus on what is appropriate for girls to wear, some schools say girls have to cover their shoulders and have to wear shorts that go to the knee because they do not want the girls distracting the boys. They are attempting to avoid the “temptation”.

The myth of Helen of Troy is the greatest example of women being a symbol of trouble. Her affair with Paris sparks the trojan war. This connects back to the Pandora myth, where the very creation of women caused trouble and suffering for men. Helen is also portrayed as a prize for Paris to win for choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the goddess (The Iliad book 24).

This exemplifies a common theme in Greek mythology, or women being subject to the will of a man. Today, women are not generally seen as the root of all problems for men (although, some men might think they are). Even in the ancient Greek world, men knew they could not look down upon the goddesses Athena, Hera, Demeter, and many other female deities, because they knew these goddesses were essential to human life, without them, men would not survive. This thinking has somewhat carried over to today, where men now realize they need women.

Even Hera, queen of the gods, wife of Zeus, is still a victim of gender inequality. Hera is often the victim of Zeus’ rage and power. She often has to trick or fight against Zeus, She commonly had to seduce him to have power over him. In Homer’s Iliad, during the Trojan War, Hera deceives Zeus by seducing him then going behind his back and tells Poseidon that he can steer the Achaeans to victory. Hera is a very powerful deity, however, she is inferior to Zeus.

The only way she can use her power and influence is when she deceives and tricks Zeus with her feminine seductive nature which is normally looked down on by the greeks. Today, women don’t have to sneak around men to obtain power and influence, they can gain it on their own. Some people will say that they only got that power because the woman seduced her way to the top, but regardless of these ancient ways of thought, today’s women are skilled, intelligent, clever, hardworking powerhouses who naturally rise to the top.