History free essay: Role of Women in the Stories of Ancient Societies
Role of Women in the Stories of Ancient Societies
Patriarchal social structures were prominent in most ancient societies. In patriarchy, men predominate over women. In such societies, women are denied most of the favours to men and in some cases, they are mistreated (Johnson, 2005). Men own and control properties, and women do not have rights to own valuable properties. In some societies, for instance, valuable properties such as land and cattle are owned and inherited by men. In most societies where patriarchy is dominant, women are only assigned household chores and they hardly play dominant roles in social privilege, political leadership and moral authority (Johnson, 2005). Ancient Greece and other ancient societies had most of the characteristics associated patriarchal social structures. However, some of the stories written during the ancient times portray prominent women characters that played important and significant roles in their societies. Women with such characters are present in The Odyssey, Oedipus the King and Hamlet. Since the three writings were written during the ancient times, they tend to feature or to reflect the characteristics of the ancient societies. The three stories demonstrate that even though patriarchy was the dominant system in the ancient societies, women still played some prominent roles in some societies.
Analysis of the Ancient Stories
The Odyssey is a poem that is believed to have been written around 800 B.C. The poem was attributed to Homer and it reflects the life in ancient Greece between 1200 B.C. and 800 B.C. The patriarchal nature of the Ancient Greece is reflected in the Poem. Although the poem mainly focuses on a male hero called Odyssey, it also portrays the prominent role played by women who emerged as the most important helpers of Odyssey. One of the most prominent female characters in the poem is Athena, a Goddess of war and wisdom. Athens often helps Odyssey to overcome the opponents during the Trojan War (Francis, 2009). In the beginning of the poem, Athena stays next to the king of gods called Zeus. Odyssey is held captive and all his soldiers are killed. Athena convinces Zeus to release Odyssey and eventually, the king of gods agrees. When the council of gods deliberate about Odyssey, Athena stands in support of Odyssey (Francis, 2009).
At that point, Athena emerges as one of the most convincing women. Despite the fact that Zeus and the council of gods comprising men only seems to make prominent decisions as they wish, Athena manages to push for her wish to be granted by the king of Gods, leading the release of Odyssey. Further, Athena helps Odyssey to revenge after he returns home. She also makes peace between Odyssey and his family members. All the roles aforementioned above carried out by Athena are preserved for men in the patriarchal societies (Francis, 2009). Making peace, for instance, is the role of men. By convincing the male gods and influencing their decisions, Athena emerges as one of the leaders in the story. Her ability to make critical decisions shows that she has good leadership skills. Thus, Athena emerges as a prominent woman who carries out the role of women.
Although Kirke is an antagonist in the beginning of the story, she changes and becomes an important ally for Odyssey afterwards. Kirke hosts Odyssey and his men for a whole year, a role that is played by men in the patriarchal societies. Also, Kirke plays the role of guiding Odyssey and his men to the council of blind (Francis, 2009). Kirke commands men and influences their decisions throughout the story. She demonstrates her ability to make critical decisions when she advices Odyssey and his men what to do. This shows that Kirke has leadership skills. Although she derives power from witchcraft, Kirke emerges as a dominant woman over men in The Odyssey, something that is not common in the patriarchal societies.
Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King is a play that was written around 400 B.C. by Sophocles. The play tells the story of a man, Oedipus, who fulfils prophesy of killing his father who is a king and ultimately marrying his mother. The characteristics of patriarchy are very explicit in the society described in the story. Women are treated as inferior beings to men in the society. From the onset of the story, the mother of Oedipus, Jocasta, carries out household duties of a wife. Although she is a queen, she does not have any influence to the decisions made by his husband, King Lois. To adhere to the demands of the patriarchal society, Jocasta marries Oedipus without knowing that he is her son, after the death of her husband. Despite the fact Jocasta lives in a society where patriarchy is dominant, she plays a more prominent role than women in most patriarchal societies (Sophocles, 2012). First, the status of a queen given to her was not common in the ancient Greece, where context of the story is based (Johnson, 2005). At some point, Jocasta mediates a fight between Qedipus and Creon, a role that is hardly played by women in the patriarchal societies. Although her role is not very pronounced in the story, Jocasta emerges as an influential woman in her society (Sophocles, 2012).
The daughter of Oedipus, Antigone, is also a prominent character in Oedipus the King, although she appears almost at the end of the story. Antigone makes her own decisions and she is hardly influenced by men, even his own father. Her decisiveness, however, may be attributed to the fact that she has become tough because of the negative feelings she has about life due to the curse that has been brought down to her by her father (Sophocles, 2012). However, the decisiveness and toughness she portrays is not common among women in the patriarchal societies. Women in such societies tend to obey and to listen to men (Johnson, 2005). Antigone plays a more prominent role as a woman when she openly questions the authority of Creon. She claims that the Creon’s edicts cannot override the unshakable traditions as well as the will of the gods (Sophocles, 2012). Such an open stance against a king by a woman is not common in most patriarchal societies. In some patriarchal societies, Antigone could attract a serious punishment because of making such sentiments (Johnson, 2005). Although Antigone does not have most of the qualities of a leader, she has the ability to make critical decisions and influence men.
Hamlet was authored by William Shakespeare around the late 16th century. It is a play that tells the story of revenge that Prince Hamlet wreaks against his uncle who had kills his father in order to take the throne of a king. Just as the other two stories described above, hamlet is set in a context of a society where the values of patriarchy are upheld. In the story, the mistreatment of women by men is so severe that they die prematurely (Shakespeare & Edwards, 2003). Although the play does not seem to portray women as prominent characters, they play an active role. One of the women who appear to be prominent in the story is Gertrude, the mother of Hamlet. She seems to be very reliant on men as she cannot do anything on her won, just like most women in patriarchal societies. However, she plays the role of a peacemaker throughout the story. For instance, she mediates conflicts between Claudius and Hamlet many times, a role that is hardly played by women in most patriarchal societies. In the end, she drinks poison to show loyalty and strength to Hamlet. Despite this, she lacks the qualities of a leader. Similarly, Ophelia is reliant to men for survival. She seeks guidance from her brother and father and love from Hamlet (Shakespeare & Edwards, 2003). Clearly, Ophelia does not portray the qualities of a leader in the play.
Overall, patriarchy was common in most ancient societies, as portrayed in the ancient plays. Despite that patriarchal values were propagated in most societies, women still played some important roles in some societies. The Odyssey demonstrates that women were also influential and they sometimes contributed to the making of important decisions, which is not common in most patriarchal societies. In Oedipus the King, patriarchy is more prominent as women have little influence in the society. In Halmlet, women do not have a significant influence in the society. The three stories suggest that the extent of propagation of patriarchy values varied from one ancient society to another.
Francis, P. (2009). The Odyssey. New York, NY: Windmill Books.
Johnson, A. G. (2005). The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple
Shakespeare, W., &. Edwards, P. (2003). Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press
Sophocles (2012). Oedipus the King. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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