Sample Essay

Humanities 1
December 1996

Focus Question: "What role do women play in this society?"

Through out history, women have held many different roles. In Sumer, the culture we just studied, women were seen practically as equals. Even throughout the United States history, women have played assorted roles: from having no say to being equal in the present day. Women have fought to assume the roles they have. We demand to be respected. Women today would, no doubt, hate to live in a time when women were not, as a whole, respected. Women in The Iliad were not treated fair by today's standards: respected (if one call it that) as mothers and wives, but mostly treated as possessions.

The Iliad's basis displays the perception of women at that time: the Akhaians are fighting the Trojans because a Trojan man "took" an Akhaian woman. Women in that time were "taken" and "given" as if material belongings. Many examples of this are shown in the readings, especially in Book 1. For instance on page 29 of our text (Western Literature in a World Context), Agamemnon says that if the army does not give him a prize or one of his liking, he will "take a girl myself." He is then "given" a girl by his army on pages 34 and 35. Women were taken and given because they were thought of as "prizes." Akhilleus talks about his girl, "a prize I sweated for, and soldiers gave me" on page 29. Also because women were seen basically as possessions they were sacrificed and "employed" only as maids and prostitutes. Examples of this are on page 20, when Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter so he could sail; on page 44, when the king "offered" his daughter to Bellerophontes; and through Book 22, as maids took care of Hektor and his wife.

Women were seen as just reproducers in the culture, but there seemed to be some respect between sons and their mothers. Akhilleus prayed to his mother on page 34 and appeared to have a strong, respectful relationship with her. She supported him during the poem and he looked up to her (but I' m sure if that is because she is a goddess). Hektor referred to his mother as "her ladyship" (pg 130), making it seem as if they had a strong bond. His mother I also called "my husbands queenly mother" by Hektor's wife (pg 132).

There also seemed to be a bond of respect between some husbands and wives-maybe not love, but an understanding. At first, I thought that Troy's culture treated their women better, but examples I found to support that were only between Hektor and his wife; therefore I have concluded that it is just the spouses in the cultures. (I also decided that Troy wasn't different because in Book 22 when I talks about the citizens, it separates the men and the women. For example, page 134 says "the Trojans and their women.") On page 49, Hektor thought of dearly of his wife, alling her "his warmhearted lady." The his demonstrates that she is his possession, but calling her warmhearted displays his sensitivity for her. She is supportive of him and they both really seem to care for each other. Other couples, such as Hektor's parents, definitely had a bond of some kind, and not just a master/diciple relationship. It could have been the common goal of trying to stop Hektor from fighting in Book 22 that pulled them together.

I don't think that the women of our culture today could handle being thought of as a thing to be taken or given; taken for granted much more than we think is humane. I can't help but think of what the women of that time were thinking: Did they mind that men treated them as though they didn't have feelings or did they just accept it? Did they think about rebelling against their culture? I'm sure they loved the bond with their children and perhaps husbands, and their importance of these roles. I know that I, as a modernized, American young woman, would no be able to live in a time of thought like these women in The Iliad after having lived my life here first. To be thought of a just a possession…awful.

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