Women Subordination in Greek Mythology The versatility and malleability of Greek myths allowed ancient to incorporate their values and traditions. One recurrent theme throughout times and cultures seems to remain the same: the inferiority of women. In the following pages, I will discuss the relationship in Greek mythology between males and female figures. Furthermore, I will examine how ancient Greeks displayed their typical gender ideals through the visual representation of such myths.
This analysis has the purpose of educating modern audiences about the impact of misogynistic isual material; thus, allowing them to reflect in the modern values. The Centauromachy refers to the battle between centaurs and the Lapiths during King Peirithoos’ wedding. The myth narrates how the centaurs started abducting women and young boys after drinking too much alcohol. This myth emphasizes the importance of respecting xenia, of having control over wine and passions, and of restraining female sexuality. One prominent portrayal of this myth resides in the west pediment at the Temple of Zeus, Olympia.
In this sculpture, Apollo is the central figure, surrounded by two Lapiths youths and the abduction of the women. Apollo’s presence indicates the emphasis of the control of rationality over the body. Figure 1, shows a centaur abducting Hippodamia, Peirithoo’s bride. The sculpture shows Hippodamia fighting back and repelling the centaur’s hand over her naked breast; even though she is under stress, her face remains expressionless alluding to Apollo’s stoic expression. The exposition of her breast serves as a cautionary reminder of the dangers of female sexuality.
The fact that centaurs decided to abduct women, symbolizes the close association of between the centaurs and female’ animalistic nature and cautions the viewers about the roblematic nature of women. Since viewers of the Panhellenic world saw this sculpture, the portrayal of this myth seems very appropriate because it reminds the viewers about the basic respecting the properties of other people (i. e. land and women) and warns them about the consequences if they decide not to follow these customs. Alongside the Centauromachy myth, the portrayal of the Amazonomachy myth encompasses many ancient Greek values and customs.
The Amazons were mythical non- Greek warrior women; they were thought to be the daughters of Ares and were devotees of Artemis (wilderness). Their depiction showed lack of civilization (no agriculture) and the absence of traditional values, since unlike Greek society, Amazons were independent from men. In this way, the Amazonomachy embodied the fight against the evils of women and served as a fundamental sign to eliminate and subdue women and non-Greek civilizations. One of the many representations of this myth emerges in the Tomb of Mausolos at Halicarnassus.
Sculptures of the Amazonomachy myth appear as a central piece in the tomb’s platform. Figure 5 displays a typical representation of the Amazons. First, there is a contrast between the male and female body. On the one hand, the male’s nakedness encompasses the glory and perfection of masculinity, while the Amazon’s body evokes to her sexualized and wild nature. Her practically naked body defies the ancient customs and orders the audience to tame this enemy. Following the attitude of these gender norms, the myth of Herakles exhibits the dangers of involvement with women.
Herakles was one of the greatest heroes of Greek since his adventures adapted to any society and time; he also embodied the paradoxical nature of mortal men. Herakles’ involvement with women started with Hera and ended up with his death at he hands of his wife, Deianeira. Figure 14 displays the upcoming death of Herakles; he appears naked, holding his lion’s skin, his club lies on the floor. It seems as if he is giving up his heroic nature and subduing to his wife. On the other hand, Deianeria stands tall and stoic, while handing the poisoned chiton.
This image appears in a pelike, which was a liquid- holding vase, depending on who was using it; it either warns men about the women’s sinister nature or reminds women about their proper conduct. In the same way, the myth of Perseus incorporates these Greek values. Perseus’ most enowned heroic act was the killing of Medusa. However, this adventure only began after King Polydektes’ command, since he wanted Perseus death so that he could marry his mother. Since the beginning, Perseus’ myth warns the Greek audience about the troublesome nature of women.
Figure 20 shows a rare depiction of Medusa’s death since she is depicted as a half- horse. This depiction emphasizes the animalistic and devious characteristics of women; Medusa is looking directly to the viewer, signaling her dangerous personality, while a lizard hovers next to her. This lizard, a sign of doom, intensifies her evilness. On the contrary, Perseus dominates this monster by pulling her hair and thrust his sword against her neck, which can be interpreted as sexual innuendo, stating that women are the passive and penetrable ones.
Although Greek heroes usually conquered their antagonist, the myth of Jason deviates from the norm and serves as an ominous warning against women. Jason’s ruin begins when he meets Medea, a witch and a non-Greek woman. Medea’s qualities immediately suggest her wicked personality. Throughout Jason’s adventures, Medea aids him by using witchcraft or by committing devious acts, like killing his own brother. Thus, it is ot a total surprise that Medea kills her son after being betrayed by Jason.
Figure 19 shows the image of Medea killing one of her sons, her expression seems detached from her pleading son while she stabs him. She also wears typical non-Greek sleeves that are reminiscent of snakeskin. This depiction appears in an amphora, which was used mostly for storing wine. Thus, this depiction forewarns the viewers about associating with non- Greek people and the consequences of associating with improper women. The adaptability of these myths, allowed ancient Greeks to change and mold them in order to express their values. For example, figure 9 depicts the scene when Theseus’ abducts the Amazon Antiope.
Antiope appears to wear typical Persian or non-Greek garments alluding to her non- Greek nature. In comparison, figure 10 shows Theseus clearly conquering Antiope. These changes could allude to the acceptance of intermarriage between Greeks and outsiders. Nonetheless, the message remains: women ought to be conquered or possessed. The myth of the Trojan War appears as another cautionary tale about women’s deviant nature. The beginning of this myth depicts women as the main force of men’s downfall: Thetis and Peleus’ hateful marriage, Eris’ beauty ompetition, and Helen’s “abduction.
Figure 23 shows a Greco- Roman floor mosaic depicting the judgment of Paris. This mosaic was placed in the triclinium (symposia room) suggesting a theme about control and the consequences of being controlled by female sexuality. Finally, the Odyssey presents a myriad of examples about the dangers of women. Odysseus’ voyage home indicates the consequences and menaces of women. Throughout his voyage, Odysseus encounters threats, which most of the time women had caused them. He encounters the witch Circe, the sirens, Skylla, Charybdis, among ther female figures.
For example, figure 28 shows the encounter of Odysseus and the sirens, the sirens’ hybrid representation alludes to their animalistic and inferior nature. This vase has a clear message: women are tricksters and allurers; ignore their voices and opinions. Similarly, figure 29 clearly states the threat of women’s sexuality; it literally presents parallels a vagina to a rapid man-eater monster. Thus, Odysseus’ myth advises men to control and improper behavior, to question female’s nature, and to impose the proper and ideal wife, just like Penelope. eliminate this
Greek myths served as guidance and reminders of the culture’s customs and norms. The versatility of these myths changed and evolved alongside with the culture. The constant portrayal of these misogynistic myths aimed to establish and to affirm gender, social, and cultural differences within Greek society. Although we would like to think that such ancient gender constructs died along with the ancient Greeks, there is still a long way to go before these constructs perish once and for all. The first step is to be aware of the incoming messages on visual material and to understand the impact that these images have.