Classical Work Essay, Research Paper
In general, ancient history portrayed women as the inferior sex, because at that point intime, women were seen as beings merely born to bear children. Men didn t think thatwomen were capable of being anything other than a typical housewife; it wasunthinkable that a women would actually need an education, let alone earn a living, orbecome a leader. This idea is very apparent throughout classical literature. Rarely was awoman seen doing anything but being dominated by males in some form, whether shewas a man s sexual object, a submissive devoted wife, or a woman being punished fordoing what she believes is right. Three such women of classical literature are the harlotfrom The Epic of Gilgamesh, Andromache from Homer s The Iliad, and Antigone fromSophocles Antigone. This essay will discuss the roles, powers, and restraints on each ofthese three women in their societies. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the harlot plays a major role. Gilgamesh realizes that,in order to break Enkidu s power over the animals, he must get him to admit his desirefor a woman, the harlot. The aspect of the girl being a prostitute wouldn t be so bad initself, as it was her chosen profession, if it weren t for the way the harlot was treated. The trapper, who takes her into the wood, merely orders her to do her job: There he is. Now, woman, make your breasts bare, have no shame, do not delay but welcome his love. Let him see you naked, let him possess your body. When he comes near uncover yourself and lie with him; teach him, the savage man, your woman s art (pg 64) The manner in which he commands her is a clear representation of how men treatedwomen. He orders her around like an object he owns. Another main point of thispassage is the fact that he tells her to do her woman s art, or in other words, do whatyou do best. Mesopotamian men, as well as in other ancient cultures, thought of womenas a sexual toy; something to take and play with as one desires and to be put back on theshelf when finished with. Even worse, the harlot accepts this with a smile! By takingorders with a smile, she willfully accepts her position in society as being a sexual objectand nothing more. In ancient Mesopotamian cultures, women’s rights were not equal to those ofmen. However, in early periods women were free to go out to the marketplaces, buy andsell, attend to legal matters for their absent men, own their own property, borrow andlend, and engage in business for themselves. In Gilgamesh, though, the harlot doesn thave as much power as most Mesopotamian wives. However, in her own right, she holdsmuch power over Enkidu, as she was the cause of his loss of control over the animals. We see through their interactions and all other interactions between males and females,that women s roles in this society are limited and their restraints are many, but they do have a certain unique power over the opposite sex. In The Iliad, one of the most important female figures in the play is Hector s wife,Andromache. One of the most important issues about Greek women is the fact that each
woman is identified by their relation to a man. For example Andromache is referred tonumerous time in the text as Andromache, wife of Hector. This implies that womenare nothing without men. Andromache is the embodiment of all ideals that make a good wife. Her love forHector is absolute, she bears and takes care of his child, and she willfully obeys herhusband. In a passage in Book VI of The Iliad, we learn of her love and obedience toHector. … and for me it would be far better to sink into the earth when I have lost you, for there is no other consolation for me after you have gone to your destiny–only grief; since I have no father, no honoured mother. (pg 164) Her plea to convince Hector to fight from the walls of Troy illustrates her total loyaltyand submission to her husband. She is saying I m nothing without you, which, onceagain, is the basis for which women think of themselves. Unlike the harlot, Andromache has no profession, which was overly commonamong Greek women. Their husbands would provide for them, if need be, but awomen s place was not in a profession. Greek women s place in the world was to bearchildren not make money. Another Greek work with one of the strongest female roles ever, is Antigone.Antigone is portrayed as a female true to herself.. She stands up for what she believes isright and is not phased by severe punishment; even death as long as she supports whatshe is dying for. This is shown when she buries her slain brother Polynices. She burieshim because she thinks that he deserves a respectable burial like the one Eteoclesreceived. She does this even under the threat of death, which shows just how much she iswilling to sacrifice for what, in her opinion, is right. This behavior was almost unthinkable in that period, because women were stillinferior, and they were never thought of as being capable to think for themselves. Theywere expected to follow along with the male role (in this case, Creon) and do everythinghe says. However, in doing what she believed to be the right thing, Antigone does theone thing that is forbidden. Creon cannot let her live because she is a woman, so hedecides she will be put to death. In one point, Creon says that a woman s proper place in society is locked up. Atanother point, he says that women lure men by sex. This is the general conception ofwomen–good wives and lovers, but they need to keep to their own business. Women in this society had very little power. They couldn t leave their houses–theirhusbands feared they would commit adultery, they couldn t voice their opinions freely;they were simply under their husbands total control. Women in ancient times were dominated by men in every aspect. In all societies,especially Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman, women were treated like property. Theattitude of men toward women was rooted in the desire to control human reproduction,nothing more. They were expected to raise the children, supervise the preservation andpreparation of food, weave cloth to make clothing, direct the work of the householdslaves, and nurse their husbands when they were ill. Women didn t realize that this wasunfair, so they accepted it and became used to it, and therefore, that is why this systemexisted.