Being a Woman

1. Introduction
2. “The Hymn to Demeter” vs “Odyssey
3. Homeric representation of gender roles
4. Conclusion

Homer is a famous and mysterious figure in the ancient literature who made a significant contribution in the development of literature of all times. His personality and existence is the subject for numerous discussions since some specialists consider that he did not live at all but despite these arguments the importance of works, which are known as works by Homer, is not less significant.
Homeric works are characterized by description of ancient Greek traditions, beliefs, stereotypes. At this respect the attitude to women and their role in the society seem to be very interesting to analyze in the context of his works, such as “The Hymn to Demeter” and “The Odyssey”. These two works represent a gradual evolution on the role of women in society that will be discussed in terms of this paper.
“The Hymn to Demeter” vs “Odyssey”
On comparing two works by Homer, “The Hymn to Demeter” and “The Odyssey”, it should be said that they represent the transition of views from initially matriarchal prevailing to the new patriarchic views where the role of women becomes more dependable on men. Nonetheless, there may be found a lot of common features that make both works similar.
In fact “The Hymn to Demeter” depicts women to a certain extent dominating and controlling people. obviously in this work the traces of the matriarchal epoch are very strong because the Goddesses, namely Demeter, are so influential that even Zeus, the head of the Greek pantheon feels a kind of apprehension from her part. She is so influential that “she would have destroyed whole race of men and would have deprived Olympians of splendid honor of gifts and sacrifices” (The Hymn to Demeter). The reason is that at that epoch women Goddesses as well as women at large were traditionally associated with fertility consequently in such a context Demeter’s threats seemed to be more than real for ancient Greeks.
At this respect “The Hymn to Demeter” is quite different from “The Odyssey”. The reason is that in “The Hymn to Demeter” people are very weak creatures fully depending on Gods and Goddesses will while “The Odyssey” symbolizes the increasing role of men and their power along with the decreasing role of Gods and Goddesses that is one of the symbols of the transformations that took place in the ancient Greek society. For instance, Odyssey remarks: “Verily Calypso, the fair Goddess, would fain have kept me with her in hallow caves, longing to have me for her lord; and likewise too, guileful Circe of Aia, would have stayed me in her halls longing to have me for her lord. But never did they prevail upon my heart within my breast” (“The Odyssey”). Obviously it directly opposes to “feeble tribes of men and Gods” (“The Hymn to Demeter”).
At the same time such transformation concerned not only divine sphere but everyday life as well. In “The Odyssey” the role of women is more limited as compared to “The Hymn to Demeter”, where women played a very important social role and occupied significant social position while in “The Odyssey” the role of women is narrowed and now women are basically occupied with the family. A symbol of such loyalty to a man and keeping faithfulness to the husband is Penelope, the wife of Odyssey. She remains loyal to him and brings up their son.
Furthermore, if in “The Hymn to Demeter” the author depicts women being deceived by men than in “The Odyssey” he attempts to depict women as violating ‘rules’, for instance, when Odyssey speaks about Circe “who hast turned my company in swines within thy halls” (“The Odyssey”), practically the same may be said about Calypso who wanted to stay Odyssey with her. While in “The Hymn to Demeter” a reader witnesses the capture of Persephone. In all probability it is another evidence of the gradual transformation from matriarchal to patriarchal society and in such a transformation negative features traditionally were applied to the deprived gender.
Speaking about similarities, it is possible to say that women still play quite a significant role in both works though in “The Odyssey” the role of women have significantly been decreased since they do not control the life of the whole world and all people and Gods as it used to be in “The Hymn to Demeter”. But even speaking about women domination in the latter work, it is still quite relevant because to a certain extent this work symbolizes a ‘gender revolution’ that has been started when a man, on kidnapping a woma, made her to obey and this trend was only continued in “The Odyssey”.
Homeric representation of gender roles
In fact it is hardly possible to speak about objective representation of gender roles in works by Homer, including the two discussed above. Nonetheless, it is still quite skillful and reflects the main processes that took place in the ancient Greek society at the epoch. It should be also said that in Homer represents both Gods and people and his Gods and Goddesses look like ordinary people and behave correspondingly but what is really important is the fact that they were perceived as samples as sources for models of social behavior. In such a context the decreasing role of Goddesses in the Greek pantheon revealed by Homer is quite symbolic.
Furthermore, despite a certain degree of subjectivity it is still obvious the inequality that existed between genders at the epoch of Homer. And the gradual growth of the role of men in the context of decreasing role of women is evident that obviously reflected the process of the formation of patriarchal society.
Furthermore, in “The Hymn to Demeter” a reader observe a kind of admiration and respecting of women that is clear even from the title while in “The Odyssey” the attitude to women is very critical though the author still admires with women beauty but such admiration lacks of socially significant actions that women could carry on.
Consequently it may be said that in his works Homer underlines the fact that women get started to be perceived differently and new qualities have become important, such as loyalty, tolerance, etc. In all probability if “The Hymn to Demeter” and “The Odyssey” are taken as the basis for comparison than it would be possible to admit that Demeter used to be an ideal woman which possess such traits of character which later would be considered typically male, for instance her boldness to find Persephone, while in “The Odyssey” Penelope takes her place, a woman that is obedient and loyal to her husband, for her family is of a paramount importance.
Anyway, on summarizing the presentation of genders in Homer’s works it should be said that they reflect unfair attitude caused by unequal position of men and women in the ancient Greek society.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Homer has skillfully reflected the changes in social views on the role of women in the society and he underlined the disturbing trends for women which became more and more deprived that found its reflection not only in their everyday life but in art and in literature in particular. And this is exactly what makes his works so important for contemporary readers since they help to understand how people lived thousands of years ago and what a kind of society was in that epoch because knowledge about problems that existed in the past can really contribute to better understanding of the current problems and their solution.

Our services