The Role of Women in Homer’s Iliad Essay

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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,
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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 that Thetis supports war and aggression, her true motives are far more admirable.

Unlike Thetis, Andromache’s values are clear. On the rampart in book six, she makes an impassioned plea to Hector for reason and peace. "Pity me, please!" she says, "Take your stand on the rampart here, before you orphan your son and make your wife a widow." (ll. 230-231) When her fears are realized and Hector is struck down by Achilles, she laments, "Hector, what help are you to [Astyanax], now you are dead?" (l. 571) This single statement lays bare the true folly of pride: How can one justify the preservation of honor at the cost of the destruction of all that one fought for in the first place?

Finally, there is great irony in the lamentations of both Helen and Briseis for Hector and Patroclus respectively. Helen proclaims her respect for Hector’s kindness: "Hector, you’d win them to my side . . . you with your gentle temper, all your gentle
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