Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 22nd November 2017 | Manchester, UK

Women in Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is filled with wonderfully bizarre tales of bravery, redemption and sex. The purpose of these myths was to explain the customs and history of the Ancient Greeks. The majority of myths revolved around their gods and heroes, all stemming from the ruler of Mount Olympus, Zeus. Greek mythology placed as much emphasis on male gods and heroes as their female counterparts.

Hera, Demeter and Hestia are all sisters of Zeus and the daughters of Rhea and Cronus. It was predicted that Cronus was to be overthrown by one of his children. To prevent this, he swallowed his entire new-borns whole. Rhea tricked Cronus into swallowing a stone instead of their youngest child, Zeus. Zeus was then able to trick Cronus into regurgitating his siblings and then led an uprising against him. Hera married Zeus and holds the titled of the Queen of Heaven.  This event shows the transition from the rule of the titans to the rule of the Greek gods and goddesses.

Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty, love desire and pleasure. Aphrodite is one of the most well-known goddesses in Greek mythology. According to Homer’s account, she is perceived to be the daughter of Zeus and Dione. In a more interesting account, Aphrodite was born due to the consequences of Uranus. Uranus’ genitals were severed by his own son Cronus (one of the first generation of the titans) who then threw them into the sea. The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite, who floated ashore on a scallop shell. Aphrodite is honoured for her undeniable beauty, often being depicted entirely naked or semi-nude. However, this was conceived as a problem due to the jealously it was sure to attract from females and the rivalry it would create from males. That is why Zeus forced Aphrodite to marry the physically deformed god Hephaestus, who is besotted with her like all males. However, like many gods and goddesses, Aphrodite is not faithful in her marriage and had numerous affairs and other lovers, most prominently with Ares. Aphrodite’s promise to make Helen fall in love with Paris was the catalyst in starting the Trojan War. This goddess is herald for her beauty and is still referenced in contemporary society in discussions concerning desirability and love.

Another notable goddess is Athena, goddess of wisdom, craft and war. Her origin story, like the majority of Greek mythology, was formed through Zeus’ infidelity. Zeus lay with Metis, but swallowed her once it was prophesised that Metis would bear children who would be more powerful then Zeus. However, this did not prevent the birth of Athena, who emerged out of Zeus’ forehead fully grown. Athena appears prominently throughout Greek mythology, being portrayed as a companion to heroes, which leads her to be the patron goddess of heroic endeavour. The city Athens was named in honour after the goddess, who gave the citizens the first domesticated olive tree. In comparison to Aphrodite, who was seen as easily offended and ill tempered, Athena is revered for her calm temperament and involvement in only just wars. Athena never had any lovers and remained a virgin, being known as Athena Parthenos. One of the most famous temples dedicated to the goddess resides in Athens and is called the Parthenon, after her virgin status.

Greek mythology wasn’t exclusively about the actions of gods and goddesses but also told the story of mortals. Pandora was the first human women to be created by the gods, who each attributed her with a specific gift. Specifically, Zeus instructed Athena and Hephaestus to create Pandora. However, similarly to how it was Eve in Christianity who caused suffering to emerge in the world, it was Pandora who released all the evils of humanity. Pandora’s Box relates to the myth that Pandora innocently opened a large jar, which released many evils into the world, including death. Pandora hurried to close the jar, but the only aspect she was able to keep trapped was hope. The fact it was a women who released these evils, no matter how oblivious Pandora was to her actions, reflects the patriarchal narrative which was prominent throughout Greek mythology.

Women featured prominently throughout Greek mythology, but their roles were used to enforce the Greek patriarchal society. All females are concerned with beauty and discussed in reference to their sexuality, either as desirable temptresses or virgins. They have had a distinct influence in history, frequently appearing in popular culture, and their legacy is maintained through statues and art work.

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