The Role of Women in Homer’s Iliad
Homer’s Iliad is undoubtedly focused on its male characters: Achilles, primarily, but also Hector and Agamemnon. Nevertheless, it seems that the most crucial characters in the epic are female. Homer uses the characters of Thetis, Andromache, and Helen as a basis for comparison to the male characters. Homer wants his audience to see and understand the folly of his male characters in choosing war over peace, aggression over kindness, and honor over family. While the behavior of these characters clearly speaks for itself, the contrasting attitudes and behaviors of the female characters proffer an alternative; in comparison, the reader can hardly fail to concur with Homer’s message that war, aggression, and honor are misplaced and self-defeating values.
The men of the Iliad are very emotional individuals; however, the emotions they express are consistently rage, pride, and jealousy. Achilles and Agamemnon jealously bicker over Briseis, a war prize that neither man particularly values. Agamemnon eventually returns her to Achilles with the admission that he never actually coupled with her; Achilles is less-than-enthused to have her back. Not only is Briseis, as a woman, regarded less as a human being as she is chattel, but the real issue dividing Agamemnon and Achilles is petty jealousy and pride. This is symptomatic of a general attitude among men that "might makes right," and the only priority is to exert a dominance over others whenever possible and at any cost. Achilles is willing to risk the lives of his compatriots and eventually forfeits his own life in pursuit of glory. Hector also loses his life and fails his family and country for glory despite having weighed the alternatives and consequences.
Although Thetis supports her son Achilles is his quest for glory, her motives are very different from his and provide a glimpse to the reader of what the male characters lack. Thetis is always motivated by her love and pity for her son, two emotions he seems unable to feel himself. As a loving mother, she is concerned for her son and his future and so ensures that he is aware of his options. Out of respect for him, she allows Achilles to make his own decision and goes as far as to support him fully, although the attentive reader can sense that doing so is immensely painful for her. Therefore, although it superficially seems...