Thoughts on The Iliad and The Odyssey

A discussion on gender roles and heroes

While the Odyssey and the Iliad are classic pieces of literature, they contain themes that may not be enjoyable for a modern audience. One great example of those themes is the gender roles within the stories and what it means to be a hero. To start off, women are treated unkindly in the two works. To explain, the women within these stories are either the perfect docile wife, or they are evil women you would likely describe with a word that starts with b and ends with h. An example of the first category is Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, who remains loyal to a husband that essentially abandoned her for war.

Now, by no means is Penelope an empty skull with an inability to think for herself. Despite that, the impression of her as a docile and loyal wife mostly comes across through her and her husband’s differences. These differences are best expressed by the fact that Odysseus happily cheats on his wife while Penelope remains loyal. As stated before, Penelope is quite brilliant, but she is not praised for her intelligence. Rather, she is praised for being the ideal wife since she finds ways to not be married off again. From this praise then, we get the impression that women within this society are perfect wives when they remain loyal to husbands, regardless of what the men have done. This impression is further emphasized given the fact that Odysseus is never looked down upon for cheating on his wife. So from this situation, we get a very unequal dynamic between men and women. 

Furthermore, we also get a very negative view of what heroes are meant to be like. As stated before, Odysseus cheats on his wife and remains a celebrated hero despite that. Not only that, but many of his decisions often led to many of his men getting killed, along with their journey being prolonged for even longer. Yet, we are meant to see him as a hero? This issue is also one that we see in the Iliad with Achilles, who is a man with many flaws. To keep this short, however, I will only bring up two which are his disregard for humanity and his pride. The first is one that we see with the fact that he owns a slave, who is a woman named Briseis. Yup, he owns a slave who he refers to as his “prize.”Now, I should not have to explain to you why that is a bad thing, so I will move on! Second, Achilles is an extremely proud man and it is because of his pride that he stops fighting for the Greeks. Essentially, Achilles threw a temper tantrum because his slave was taken from him and his “honor” was tarnished as a result of it. Yes, this man refused to fight and let hundreds of Greeks die just to save his supposed honor! 

Now, many begged him to fight again and one of the most notable of those is his best friend Patroclus. Even when the person closest to him begged him to spare those that were getting killed, Achilles refused to do so and let his friend fight in his place instead. Spoiler alert, this ended horribly given the fact that his friend got killed. Once that happens, Achilles finally decides to fight again but as you can imagine, it had nothing to do with saving the soldiers but everything to do with him getting revenge. So, my issue with Achilles being portrayed as a hero is that he is a horrible person. For one, he owned slaves and sold others into slavery. Additionally, he allowed hundreds of innocent men to die simply because he felt like he was “wronged” when his slave was taken from him. So while these stories may be enjoyed by many, they certainly are not something I would keep on my bookshelf!

Written by: Saraleim Mozqueda Saldana | Editor

Graphic by: Valerie Claustro

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