The Role of Women in Greco-Roman Society:
As Reflected in Classical Mythology
The Greco-Roman society was a very patriarchal society. This is reflected throughout the myths in classical mythology. By looking at the classic mythology we will see that the roles women portrayed are very different than women’s roles in today’s society. Although there are a few similarities to women’s roles in today’s society, their roles are more like those women in the past. We can see this by looking at the attributes of Greco-Roman female gods and looking at the roles women play in the myths. By comparing the roles of women in the myths with women’s roles today we will see that the roles have many differences and few similarities.
The first things we will look at to show women’s roles reflected in Classical mythology are the attributes of the female gods. Of the fourteen main Olympian Deities, only six of them are women. This includes Hera, Hestia, Demeter, Artemis, Athena, and Aphrodite. Of these six I believe Hera, Demeter, and Aphrodite best portray the role of women in Greco Roman society, as reflected in Classical mythology
The Olympian Deity who best shows the role of women is portrayed by Greek Mythology is Hera. Hera is the goddess of marriage, childbirth, and consort of Zeus. She stays at home and presides over the family all day while her husband goes around making love with every other beautiful girl in Greece. This indicates that in Greco-Roman society the women would stay at home to watch over their children, clean the house, weave, and make the meals. This could be looked at as being very similar to the roles of women in the early to mid 20th century, but is different than the roles of women in today’s society. Woman in today’s society are no longer expected to stay at home and watch over the house and home. Most women today have jobs and share the housework and cooking with their husbands. In addition, if a woman finds out today that her husband has been sleeping around on her and having children with many other women she can take him for every thing he’s got. Lets just say Zeus wouldn’t have that that crown or thunderbolt thrower anymore in today’s society.
Another Olympian Deity who helps show the role of women in Greco-Roman society was Demeter. Demeter is the goddess of grain and fertility. Demeter controls the crops and the making of children. I think that Demeter showed women’s roles as gardeners and the thought at the time that it was the women’s doing that determined whether she would get pregnant and which sex it would be. This is different than today’s society because today gardening is shared among males and females and we know that it is actually the males X or Y chromosome that determine the sex of a child.
Aphrodite is another Olympian Deity who helps show the role of women in Greco-Roman society. Aphrodite was the goddess of sexual desire. I think this showed that women in this period used men’s desire to get things they wanted. In one myth Aphrodite got Zeus to change himself into a swan (Hughes, Lecture). Now, who’s supposed to be the most powerful god? This is very similar to the role of women in today’s society. Women usually use men’s desires to get them to do what they want them to. The big difference is that in today’s society many women give into the men and share in desire with them before they are married while in the Greco-Roman society very few women had premarital relations. Women who were not virgins were usually never married and sold into slaves by their fathers (Powell 34).
Another way to look at the role of women in Greco-Roman society, as reflected in Classical Mythology is to look at women’s roles within myths. Several myths that help explain women’s roles in Greco-Roman society are The Folktale of Pandora, Theseus and Hippolytus, The story of Penelope, and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. All of these myths help to show the roles of women in the Greco-Roman Society.
The folktale of Pandora is one myth which helps show the role of women in the Greco-Roman society. The story of Pandora is one that shows how men found themselves superior and blamed women for the problems of the world. In the story Prometheus offered Zeus something that looked good but was bad on the inside. In return Zeus offered him something that looked good on the outside but was filled with lies, swindles, and other bad behaviors (Powell 115). To make a long story short, Pandora opened the jar and made the good life turn into labor, misery, and disease, with death in the end. I think that this showed that the Greco-Roman society blamed women for all of their problems. I think that this is different than the women’s role in today’s society. I think that men are blamed more for the problems of today. Even though you and I both know they’re mostly the fault of women.
The story of Theseus and Hippolytus is another myth that shows the role of women in Greco-Roman society. In this story Hippolytus rejects Aphrodite to follow Artemis. In revenge, Aphrodite makes Hippolytus’ mother Phaedra fall in love with him. Phaedra, unable to control her sexual desire, makes her move on Hippolytus. After he rejects her, she hangs her self and leaves a note saying that Hippolytus raped her. When his father Theseus returns he kills him. This story shows that the Roman-Greco society thought women were filled with lies and the cause of many bad things. This is different than women’s roles in today society because today it is usually thought that more men lie to avoid troubles and confrontations.
Another myth that helps explain the roles of women in the Greco-Roman time period is the story of Penelope. This is part of the story of the Odyssey, by Homer. In this story Odysseus won Penelope’s hand in marriage in a foot race. After they had been married for a short period of time Odysseus is sent off to the Trojan War. To make a long story short Penelope waits for Odysseus for ten years, keeping away suitors by sewing a robe by day and undoing it at night (http://hsa.brown.edu/maicar/Biographies.html). First of all this myth shows that during the Greco-Roman time period women were looked upon as prizes that can be won by competitions of skill. Second, it shows how during this time period women were expected to wait for endless numbers of years for there husbands to return. This is different from women’s roles in today’s society. Women are no longer won in competitions of skill and are no longer expected to wait for an endless number of years for their husband to return. Now there are even women in the wars.
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter is another myth that helps explain the role of women in the Greco-Roman time period. In this myth Zeus gives away his daughter Persephone to Hades. Because of this her mother Demeter is so upset that she does not allow the crops to go. To save the human race Zeus has Hades give Persephone back. But before she returns to earth she has a pomegranate seed, meaning she must split time between the underworld and earth. This is the cause for the changing of the seasons. This myth shows how the fathers chose whom their daughters married during the Greco-Roman time period as well as blaming a woman the seasons when crops will not grow. This is different than the role woman play in today’s society because although it is still common for a father to give away his daughter at wedding, fathers in our society rarely choose whom the daughter will marry.
The Greco-Roman society was a very patriarchal society. This is reflected throughout the myths in classical mythology. By looking at the classic mythology we see that women’s roles portrayed in myths are very different than their roles in today’s society. In classic mythology women are thought of as housewives who stay at home and preside over the families. They are expected to do what men say even to the extent of marrying whomever their father chooses. They are always at fault for the world’s problems and are never thought to be equal to men.
Women’s roles in today’s society are far different from this. They are no longer looked upon only to preside over home and family, they are not forced into marriages, and they are not blamed for all the worlds problems. Today’s society is not a patriarchal one. In today’s society women are looked upon as equal to men making it more equalitarian compared to the Greco-Roman society.