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Women : Penelope And Clytemnestra

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The stories that as a whole make up the body of ancient Greek mythology have treatedthe complex subject of women in various ways. Although women are generally considered to beweak and subordinate to their husbands, there exist some examples of strong, even heroic womenin certain myths. Such “extraordinary” women include Deianeira, Phaedra, Medea, Penelope,and Clytemnestra, among others. This discussion of women will focus on the latter two,comparing and contrasting them and addressing the ways in which the former is often considereda “good” wife and the latter a “bad” wife. The comparison of Penelope and Clytemnestra willultimately show that, in certain ways, the line between “good” and “bad” wife is rather blurryand the distinction between husband-killing monster and devoted, faithful wife is not as clear-cutas one might expect.The major works in which Penelope and Clytemnestra appear are Homer’s Odyssey andAeschylus’ Oresteia, particularly the Agamemnon. One of the first things to notice about theseworks is that they were both written by men, for men. Given the ancient Greek context, this is arather obvious observation, but it deserves to be pointed out because it should be expected thatmen would have a biased view of women. Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days describe thecreation of Pandora, the first of “the race of women”, as a gift and punishment from the gods.While she is made to “look like a goddess immortal, / having the lovely, desirable shape of a Costescu 6
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