Ancient Narratives

The Iliad: Unveiling the Complex Role of Women in Ancient Greek Society

The Role of Women in the Iliad: From Objects to PropertyThe Iliad, an epic poem by Homer, depicts a world that is dominated by men. However, the women in this ancient Greek tale play a crucial role, although often as objects of pleasure and possessions rather than as individuals.

This article explores the complex portrayals of women in the Iliad, examining how they are seen as objects to be desired and possessed, and how they use sex as a means of manipulation. In addition, we delve into the concept of women as property, with a focus on the character of Helen, who is considered a prized possession, and the treatment of captured slaves Briseis and Chryseis.

Women as objects of pleasure and possession

In the Iliad, women are frequently depicted as objects to fulfill men’s desires. They are seen as prizes to be won or stolen, and their worth is often determined by their beauty.

These attitudes are exemplified in the portrayal of Helen, whose abduction by Paris sparks the Trojan War. Her beauty is described as “face that launched a thousand ships.” Helen is seen as a possession to be fought over, with little autonomy or agency of her own.

– Men vie for Helen’s attention and possession, using her as a means to display their power. – Women’s worth is tied to their physical appearance and sexual allure, reinforcing their objectification.

– Female characters are often defined by their relationships to men, such as being someone’s wife or daughter, further reducing their individuality and agency.

Women using sex to manipulate men

Women in the Iliad also employ sex as a powerful tool of manipulation. They understand its allure and use it to their advantage, often to influence the actions and decisions of men.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is an embodiment of this theme, employing her seductive powers to sway the fate of mortals in the war. Examples of women using sex to manipulate men include:

– Hera bribing Zeus with her sexual favors in order to gain advantages for the Greeks.

– Thetis seducing Zeus to convince him to help her son, Achilles, in battle. – Briseis, Achilles’ captured slave, using her sexual relationship with him to convince him to return to the war.

Women as property in the Iliad

Helen as a prized possession

Helen, the wife of Menelaus and the catalyst for the Trojan War, is the ultimate symbol of women as property in the Iliad. She is depicted as a prized possession, coveted by all who lay eyes on her.

Her capture by Paris not only triggers the war, but it also highlights her status as an object of desire. – Helen is often described in terms of her physical beauty and attractiveness, reinforcing her role as an object of possession.

– Menelaus’s anger at Helen’s betrayal is rooted in his perception of her as his property, leading to a quest for revenge. – The entire war revolves around the idea of ownership, with Helen being the ultimate prize at stake.

Treatment of Briseis and Chryseis as captured slaves

The Iliad also explores the concept of women as captured slaves. Briseis and Chryseis, both taken as spoils of war, are subjected to the status of objects rather than individuals with their own agency.

– Briseis is taken by Achilles as his personal concubine, highlighting her reduced status as a possession. – Chryseis is captured by Agamemnon and used as a bargaining chip.

– These women are treated as property, forced into servitude, and denied their freedom and autonomy. Conclusion:

The Iliad’s portrayal of women as objects and property highlights the dehumanization and subjugation prevalent in ancient Greek society.

By exploring these themes, we gain insight into the roles and expectations placed on women, even in the realm of Greek mythology. Though the depiction of women in the Iliad may be troubling, it also serves as a reminder of the progress made in advancing gender equality throughout history.

Homer Using Women to Manipulate Men

Hera’s Manipulation of Zeus

One cannot discuss the role of women manipulating men in the Iliad without mentioning the intricate power dynamics between the gods. Hera, the queen of the gods and wife of Zeus, is a master manipulator, often using her charms to get what she desires.

In the Iliad, Hera employs her feminine wiles to influence Zeus and manipulate the outcome of the Trojan War. She understands the power of seduction and uses it to her advantage.

One notable example of her manipulation is when she seduces Zeus to distract him while the Greeks gain an advantage on the battlefield:

“With the girdle of the Lady Aphrodite

looped tight around her breasts she pursued him,

Wheedling, cajoling: ‘Zeus, dearest, my own,

Can’t you do something? You’re letting these Danaias

Eat up my kinsmen.

Have you no more feeling?

Up with just one hand on the scale-surely

A solution favorable to me might be found?'”

Hera’s seductive tactics successfully divert Zeus’s attention from the Trojan War, allowing the Greeks to seize the momentum. This manipulation is a reflection of traditional gender roles and power dynamics, with women leveraging their sexuality to influence men’s decisions.

Perceptions of Women as Deceivers

The Iliad perpetuates the notion of women as deceivers and manipulators, reinforcing the stereotype that women are naturally cunning and untrustworthy. This perception is exemplified through the characterizations of female goddesses and mortal women alike.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and desire, is depicted as a captivating deceiver who uses her beauty and charm to manipulate men. She is often seen as a seductress, using her allure to tempt mortals and gods alike.

Likewise, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, skillfully employs her intelligence and craftiness to influence and deceive men. Both goddesses are portrayed as master manipulators, effortlessly leading men astray.

Even mortal women in the Iliad are seen as wielders of deception. Helen, the infamous cause of the Trojan War, is not spared from these accusations.

She is often portrayed as manipulative and treacherous, especially by male characters who blame her for the devastation and loss of life caused by the war. This perception reflects a deep-rooted belief that women’s actions are inherently manipulative and that they are not to be trusted.

Women Driving the Plot of the Iliad

Helen’s Role in Initiating the War

Helen, the central figure in the Iliad, plays a significant role in initiating the Trojan War. Her abduction by Paris, a prince of Troy, is the spark that ignites the conflict between the Greeks and Trojans.

However, it is crucial to note that Helen’s agency is limited in this narrative, as she becomes a pawn in the hands of men. Helen’s beauty and allure make her a highly sought-after prize, inciting lust and jealousy among the male characters.

Her status as the wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta, further adds to the political ramifications of her abduction. Menelaus, feeling his honor and masculinity threatened, feels obligated to go to war to reclaim his “property.” Thus, while Helen’s actions set the course of events in motion, she is ultimately reduced to a passive object of desire.

Aphrodite and Athena’s Influence on the Plot

The influence of goddesses on the plot of the Iliad is undeniable. Aphrodite and Athena, two powerful female deities, significantly impact the trajectory of events and the actions of mortal men.

Aphrodite, with her seductive nature and association with love and desire, actively intervenes in the affairs of mortals. She protects Paris during combat, saving him from certain death, and orchestrates his encounter with Helen.

Throughout the epic, Aphrodite’s actions serve to manipulate and shape the destiny of mortals in the war, highlighting the power that women can exert over men. On the other hand, Athena represents the strategic intellect and cunning that guides the Greeks in their battles against the Trojans.

She directly influences the outcome of battles by providing wisdom, courage, and inspiration to her chosen heroes, such as Achilles and Odysseus. Athena’s intervention not only displays her influence over the actions of male characters but also emphasizes the importance of feminine wisdom and strategic thinking.


The Iliad is not just a tale of war and heroic deeds but also a testament to the complex roles women play in shaping events and manipulating men. Whether through sexual allure, strategic cunning, or the portrayal of deceptive tendencies, women in the Iliad exert their influence on the narrative and play an essential part in driving the plot forward.

This exploration of gender dynamics in ancient Greek society sheds light on how societal perceptions of women as objects, manipulators, and even scapegoats are perpetuated through mythology and literature.

Women Evoking Sympathy and Pity

Andromache’s Pleas to Hector

In the midst of the violence and chaos of the Trojan War, the Iliad offers glimpses of women who elicit sympathy and pity through their emotional pleas. Andromache, the wife of Hector, provides a poignant example of a woman’s desperation and sorrow in this epic poem.

When Andromache learns of her husband’s imminent battle with Achilles, she rushes to his side, knowing the devastating consequences that could follow. In their tender exchange, Andromache pleads with Hector to consider his role as a husband and father:

“Husband, dear to my heart, all my care is you

and worry, too–how can fate show you kindness?

But I want to see you safe beyond dread Ares’ reach,

while my days of joy, my husband, have run out. No comfort now, unless you my Hector die by

the hands of Achilles, stormcaptive here.”

Andromache’s pleas evoke a deep sense of empathy for her situation.

Her role as a wife and mother is highlighted, emphasizing the human toll of war. She fears for her own safety, but more importantly, she worries about the welfare of their young son, Astyanax.

Andromache’s words paint a vivid picture of a woman desperately trying to hold onto her family and protect her loved ones in a time of great turmoil. Hecuba’s Mourning of Hector

Hecuba, the queen of Troy and mother of Hector, bares the weight of grief and mourning in the Iliad.

When Hector falls in battle, Hecuba’s sorrow is both palpable and heart-wrenching. Her lamentation and mourning showcase the depths of a mother’s pain and loss.

In her mournful cries, Hecuba mourns the loss of her beloved son, expressing her anguish directly to him:

“Hector, my darling, may I never see you

safe in the house again; not while I’m alive

nor you, my child–the land of your birth, I think,

holds you down. Hector, you died far from your parents,

felled by that ruthless man who never shows mercy.”

Hecuba’s grief encapsulates the universal sentiment of maternal love, pushing the boundaries of societal expectations and reminding readers of the profound impact that war has on families.

Her impassioned words lament the loss of a son and the devastation inflicted upon the entire Trojan community. Through Hecuba’s mourning, Homer emphasizes the human cost of war and provides a glimpse into the emotional turmoil experienced by women who are left to mourn the fallen.


Within the epic canvas of the Iliad, women are not only depicted as objects of desire, manipulators, or catalysts for conflict. They also evoke sympathy and pity through their pleas, grief, and mourning.

Andromache’s desperate pleas to Hector and Hecuba’s mournful lamentation for her fallen son highlight the emotional toll that war exacts on women and the broader impact it has on families and communities. Through these portrayals, Homer humanizes women and emphasizes the shared humanity between men and women in a time of tragedy and loss.

In the Iliad, Homer presents a multifaceted portrayal of women, who are often seen as objects, possessions, or manipulators. However, the epic also showcases the ability of women to evoke sympathy and pity.

Andromache’s pleas to Hector and Hecuba’s mourning of her son, Hector, humanize the female characters and highlight the emotional toll that war exacts on individuals and communities. These narratives serve as a reminder of the shared humanity between men and women, and the profound impact of gender dynamics.

Through their stories, we are called to reflect upon the inherent dignity and complexities of female experiences in times of tragedy and loss.

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