Roman Women And Their Mythology Essay, Research Paper
Throughout the ages myths, legends and fairytales have been used to teach people basic moral and educational lessons. For example, mothers and fathers use the childhood story of ?Goldilocks and the Three Bears? to teach their children that stealing and snooping is wrong. In the end, Goldilocks was either eaten or she ran away, depending on your bloodthirsty nature. By using this comparison between myths and reality the Romans were able to ?control? their women, and to discourage them from vain, romantic and adulterous actions. Women themselves had a very low place in Roman society, and could be bought and sold like cattle or slaves. Despite their low legal status, women had immense power and influence over their fathers, brothers and husbands. These myths and legends were society?s guidebook, which provided women with a manual about correct conduct.
Despite being a guidebook for all women to use, the Romans couldn?t simply say, ?Look what happened to that mythical person. You shouldn?t do what she did.? This would have led to a very depressing and boring set of myths, so the Romans spruced them up a bit. They portrayed both good and bad pictures of women, including the Goddesses. Some of these stories were funny and some sad, but every single one had a lesson which could be learnt and acted upon. For example, the Amazons were a legendary race of warrior women who despised all men. They killed all the male babies that were born, and kept the female ones. In fact, it was said that the Amazons used the men from a nearby village as sex slaves, so that they wouldn?t die out. One day, Hercules came along, and wanted to borrow the Queen?s belt. Hippolyte, being a woman and all, fell madly in love with Hercules and readily agreed. But the other Amazons weren?t impressed, and thinking that Hercules was trying to kill their Queen, charged towards him. Hercules seized Hippolyte and slew her, then ran away with the belt. Needless to say nothing much else was said about the Amazons. This story was used to teach the folly of women who thought they could survive without men. They were dependant on the nearby village, and weren?t very well organized. They were much better off sticking to their own place in society.
But as I said not all depictions were bad. Some were quite nice. The Muses were the daughters of Heaven and Earth, and were in charge of epic poetry, history, mime, flute, light verse and dance, lyric choral poetry, tragedy, comedy and astronomy. All in all some very nice things. Then there were the Graces, the divines of beauty, grace and artistic inspiration. They used to run around naked and hug each other a lot. That seemed to the Romans to be a suitably womanish thing to do, and plus it would have looked funny to have the Grace of grace as a big hulking man. So the Roman women would aspire to be like the Muses and the Graces, and to be suitably modest while doing so.
To a young Roman girl, romance and love was very important. To a man, marriage to a suitably well-endowed and respectful family was more important. Marriage was a way of passing on the family name, and producing legitimate heirs. As Augustus himself once said: ?Since Nature has decreed that we cannot live at all comfortably with our wives, or live at all without them, we should consider the long term benefits rather than immediate happiness.? Not exactly a speech to inspire courage in a fifteen-year-old girl about to marry someone the same age as her father. But the Romans believed it. Romantic notions were worthless dreams, and listening to your parents was more important. Take Pyramus and Thisbe. Long before Shakespeare ever said his first word, the Romans were instilling fear into the hearts of young girls with the tragic tale of star-crossed lovers. Pyramus and Thisbe lived next door to each other and wanted to get married, but their parents disapproved. So they whispered sweet nothings through a chink in the wall which separated their villas, and one day decided to run away together. Thisbe arrived at their meeting place first, and saw a huge lion sitting there. Being a rather ditsy young woman, she dropped her scarf whilst fleeing, which the lion then tore to shreds. Pyramus arrived and finding the remains of dear Thisbe?s scarf, he fell on his sword. Thisbe returned a few moments later, and seeing her beloved lying dead on the ground she plunged a dagger into her heart. Everyone agreed it was a tragic waste of life. If only they had listened to their parents, maybe they would have found someone else to love. But they took the initiative, ran away, and perished. Romance was also a way of getting hurt. Medea was a sorceress, who fell in love with her father?s enemy. She helped her love, and ran away with him. He then ditched her on the nearest island and married someone else. It would have been much better if she?d exercised some self-discipline, and let her love die as her father wanted. But as a woman, she didn?t and so she suffered.
Self-discipline was very important to the Romans, particularly in women. A man could have as many affairs as he wanted, but if a woman had one, she was killed or divorced instantly. Not all Romans were ignorant of these double standards, and as a character in one of Plautus? plays explains: ?If husbands suffered for their wenching in the same way women were divorced for theirs, their would be a lot more lonely men than women.? The women of the myths were constantly having affairs, mostly with Jupiter, the King of the Gods. Io, Europa, Daenae and Leda are just a few of the naughty women who had relationships with Jupiter, and some very horrible things happened to them. Io was turned into a cow, Europa was carried away to the ends of the Earth, Leda became a swan and Daenae was flung into a wooden chest and tossed out to sea. So there were some very horrible consequences for women considering adultery as a pastime. Needless to say nothing happened to Jupiter. Paris and Helen are two of the most famous lovers, and they caused the Trojan War which killed thousands of people. So adultery was a definite no in the Roman?s guidebook to life.
Women were expected to exert self-discipline and to control any sentiments like pride and vanity they might be feeling. Men were welcome to feel great about their children and to boast about them at the gym. But for women this was a horrible thing to do, not the least because the gym was a boys only club. In one story, Queen Niobe was so proud of her fourteen children, she told everyone. Apollo and Artemis were horrified by her audacity, and killed all. Then they turned Niobe into a rock with a spring bubbling up, so that she could weep forever. Andromeda boasted about the beauty of her daughter, so Neptune sent a monster to eat her as a sacrifice. Weaving was also very important to the women of Rome, and on many tombstones there was the inscription Lamam fecit, ?she made the wool.? But a woman must never boast about her talents. Arachne did, and the jealous Minerva turned her into a spider, so that she could weave forever. Even the first woman created was a brainless lady. Pandora let all the evils out into the world, because of her insatiable curiosity. But she did however manage to trap hope, and keep that forever. So a woman was expected to be modest, uninquisitive, and self-controlled. The men were allowed to do whatever they wanted.
As you can see, many of the myths and legends created were directed towards women, to teach them lessons in humility and obeisance. They explained the social laws and rules which women had to obey, despite their influence over their husbands. The double standards exerted by the Romans are clearly evident to a twenty-first century woman. Now that we have feminism, equal rights and legal rights, the world is a much better place. Vivat femina!