General Themes in Classical Myth
Throughout classical myth, there are many themes that are presented in multiple plays. In plays such as Hippolytos, Agamemnon, Herakles, Hekabe, The Iliad, The Aeneid, Medea, The Odyssey, and Antigone, the characters, their actions, and the wills of the gods highlight the themes that women are tricky and dangerous, that the pursuit of time and kleos does not come without a terrible price, and that hubris will always lead to destruction. Through these themes, we can see that such excesses and flaws of human nature leave destruction and misery in their wake.
There are innumerable instances throughout classical myth in which women are conniving, dangerous, and vengeful, especially towards men. In Hippolytos, Phaidra and Aphrodite both contribute to the death of Hippolytos by seeking revenge. Because Hippolytos values chastity and worships Artemis above all other gods, especially the goddess of love, Aphrodite seeks revenge and makes Phaidra fall in love with Hippolytos. Hippolytos rejects his stepmother, which then results in Phaidra hanging herself. However, before her death, Phaidra avenges the rejection by writing a letter accusing Hippolytos of raping her. Because of this, Theseus curses his son, and Hippolytos is thrown from his chariot and dies. While it is true that these events resulted from Hippolytos’ lack of moderation, it is the women and their desire for revenge in this play that ultimately brings about Hippolytos’ downfall. Agamemnon is another work in which women reek havoc. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, is furious because Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia. She meticulously plans the murder of Agamemnon, and, when he returns home, she kills him while he is in the bath. In the play, this is seen as a tragedy because Agamemnon is a good king. He values justice, is concerned with his state before himself, and respects the gods. In addition, his murder only leads to more misery and bloodshed. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, is commanded by Apollo to avenge his father’s death and kill Clytemnestra, which then results in Orestes being haunted by The Furies. All of this was caused by the evil done by Clytemnestra. Finally, in Herakles, Hera brings about Herakles’ destruction, simply because she hates him for being Zeus’ son. After Herakles succeeds in retrieving Theseus from the underworld and killing Lycus, Hera causes Herakles to go insane and kill his three children and his wife. In addition to this, Hera constantly attempts to sabotage Herakles during his twelve labors. In all of these plays, the women have a common goal: to get revenge for being harmed or insulted by men, usually when it is unintentional. Thus, this bolsters the villainy of women in classical myth, as the crimes of the men often do not fit their punishments.
Another common theme in classical myth is that the pursuit of time and kleos (usually war) comes with a terrible price: the psychological destruction and dehumanization of good men and women. In The Iliad, Hector and Achilles both change drastically and lose their humanity. In the beginning of The Iliad, Hector is a good man, who loves his city, his wife, his family, and his men. He is very honorable, and promises Ajax that if he were to kill him, that Hector would return his body for proper burial. However, as the play continues, Hector begins to lose his grip on his own humanity. When he kills Patroclus, he taunts him, and even plans to feed his body to the Trojan dogs, and not return it for burial. At this point, Hector is a very different man than he was at the beginning of the play. However, Hector is killed before he can reach complete dehumanization, as Achilles does. Furthermore, at the start of The Iliad, Achilles is concerned with time and kleos, the correct order of things, and the respect and love of his comrades. However, once Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles is solely concerned with vengeance and...
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