The role of Women in the Iliad
Throughout history, women have held many different roles in society. Men have traditionally been viewed as superior since the beginning of time. Homer's Iliad is an excellent example of the suppressive role of women at this time. Women were treated merely as property and were used for producing material within the household. Paralyzed by their unfortunate circumstances, they were taken and given as if they were material belongings. In Homer's Iliad, we conceive how women are introduced as suppliants to the masculine heroines. They are depicted as being inferior to men both physically and intellectually. Throughout the Iliad, women play a modest but important role that embodies their relative significance and the impact they have on the affairs that take place.
The Iliad began with a argument between Achilles and Agamemnon over Briseis, who was considered a war prize. One of the many advances of the Greek army was the raiding of a Trojan allied town. They brought back the spoils and divided them equally among the warriors. Agamemnon's prize was Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of the god Apollo. Achilles' reward was a maiden named Briseis. Both women were taken against their will. Unfortunately for Agamemnon, Chryseis' father pleaded for his daughter to be released and offered vast amounts of riches as ransom. Agamemnon was not pleased and dismissed him with harsh words:
Don't let me ever catch you, old man, by these ships again,
Skulking around now or sneaking back later.
The god's staff and ribbons won't save you next time.
The girl is mine, and she'll be an old woman in Argos
Before I let her go, working the loom in my house
And coming to my bed, far from her homeland.
Now clear out of her before you make me angry! [Iliad 1. 34-40]
The example of Chryseis and Briseis was a critical reminder of what will become of the women of Troy should the Greeks succeed in taking Troy. Both Agamemnon and Achilles thought they earned these two innocent women as their personal mistresses. They believed they proved themselves as the worthiest warriors and deserved more spoils than the other cowardly warriors. Chryseis and Briseis did not have any control in the situation they were in.
Chryseis' father, Chryses, prayed to Lord Apollo to punish the Greeks. Although Chryses seemed to love his daughter, she is still being perceived as an asset in a world where men dominate. At this time, Chryseis would have been worth more if married off rather then being captured by Agamemnon. Chryses might have gained profit from his daughter if he married her off. Considering that he had a dominate role in society if would not have been proper for his daughter to be captured as a slave. He loves Chryseis, however she was depicted as being a possession in every circumstance. She could be compared to gain in a crop, because they were fighting over her as if they needed her to survive. Apollo honored Chryses wishes and sent a great plague against the Greeks for not releasing Chryseis, which killed many men. Achilles called an assembly to end the plague and Calchas, a soothsayer, volunteered to explain the reason for Apollo's anger. He reported that the deadly plague was the consequence of King Agamemnon's refusal to return Chrysies to her father. Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the expedition against Troy, was infuriated that he was publicly named responsible for the plague. Being a man of power he did not want to end up without a war prize because he thought of himself as the deserving warrior.
Although, Chryseis was helpless, her presence had a huge impact on the outcome of the war because Agamemnon has to give her up in order to end the deadly plague. After finding this out he said:
Because I was unwilling to accept the ransom
For Chryses' daughter but preferred instead to keep her
In my tent! And why shouldn't I? I like her better than...
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