Power Structures in Greek History

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03 August 2010
Power Structures in Greco-Roman Mythology: The Power and the Powerless of Women Introduction Greco-Roman mythology is rich in names, characters, and events. Dozens of gods, goddesses, and mortal women and men participate in a variety of activities that reflect or exemplify behaviors and power relations in Greek and Roman societies. A wealth of literature was written about the relationships between mortals and immortals in Greco-Roman mythology. Much was written and said about the place humans occupy in the complex mythical hierarchies. However, the role and place of women remain the topic of the hot literary debate. In Greco-Roman mythology, the image of woman is always
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Greco-Roman mythology displays a tendency toward depicting women as either radically weak and submissive or radically monstrous. In this way, Greco-Roman mythology reflects the ambiguous position of women in Greek and Roman societies. Female weakness reflects the overwhelming power of men, while monstrousness and rage seem the only ways women can rebel against the existing social order. Hera is, probably, the brightest example of how Greco-Roman mythology reflects the power relations between women and men: Greek and Roman myths depict Hera as a woman of the utmost anger, evil, revenge, and jealousy. Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound shows Hera as a woman full of negative emotions and the desire to destroy everything and everyone on her way to personal happiness. Aeschylus mentions the story of Hera, Zeus and Io. Zeus falls in love with Io but fearing Hera’s revenge, he turns Io into a cow and asks her to come to the meadow to make love with him: “but get thee gone to meadow deep / By Lerna’s marsh, where are thy father’s flocks And cattle-folds, that on the eye of Zeus / May fall the balm that shall assuage desire” (Aeschylus). In his poem, Aeschylus mentions Hera a few times, and every time her name is overfilled with negative connotations, turning Hera into a monster: “And Hera’s curse even as a runner stripped / Pursues thee ever on thine endless round” (Aeschylus). However, these

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