Introduction to Women's Studies andgirlhead.gif (6951 bytes) Classical Studies: 
Epic Study Guide for Women in Antiquity


I  Ancient Evidence: Know 1) the literary genre (epic) and how these poems conform to requirements or expectations associated with the genre;

2) what society was like in the Archaic Period (800-500 B.C.E.): what does the literature tell us about the lives of women from childhood to old age:

  • appearance and dress;
  • actions and speech;
  • goals or stated values;
  • interaction with other women and with men?

What do other sources (Cf.. art or other archaeological evidence in Fantham) indicate about the lives of women of that period?

II. Evaluation of Evidence for Female Powers and Personalities: How do the stories about goddesses and mortal women conform to or differ from what you learned in the video, The Goddess Remembered? How does each account present a positive view of a female character; What would you criticize? Cf the charts on handout "Desirable Characteristics" and "Gestures of Power and Privilege" in Women and Gender.

III. Evaluation of Evidence for influence of social structures on individuals: Be able to give examples of how social hierarchies influence the lives of individual characters and how individuals suffer but also benefit from, subvert, and create new structures. Show how a character can be both subject (person acting and influencing others) and object (peson acted on or influenced) in a situation or relationship. Consider bell hooks'argument in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center on the need to "eradicate oppression...(and) the ideology of domination" (24) and to "transform relationships so that alienation, competition, and the dehumanization of human interaction is replaced by feelings of intimacy, mutuality, and camaraderie" (34). Give examples of oppression/domination and intimacy/mutuality.

A. Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: How does this goddess serve as both an archetype (sex goddess) and as an individual who desires and is desired?

1) What does the introduction tell us about the goddess Aphrodite and how were the three virgin goddesses, Athena, Artemis, and Hestia involved in non-sexual ways with men and women? How does Aphrodite exert her power over gods and animals?

2) Describe Aphrodite's seduction of Anchises: Her preparations and appearance; her words to him; her actions before and after she talked to him. Describe Anchises' reaction to her appearance and words, his words and actions. How does the poet's description of him suggest reasons for Aphrodite's being attracted to him. How and why is Zeus involved in this relationship: Is his involvement necessary or do his machinations suggest the author's attitude toward the relationship between men and women/ gods and mortals?

3) Describe the aftermath: What Aphrodite says and does after she lies with Anchises: How does she address Anchises now? Why does she talk about Ganymedes and Tithonus, name her child-to-be Aeneas, refer to the nymphs, threaten Zeus' punishment? How do Anchises and Aphrodite respond to each other's needs? How can we argue that there will be a lasting bond between them? How will they forever be separate?

B. Homeric Hymn to Demeter: How does this goddess serve both as an archetype (earth goddess of fertility) and as an individual mother who loves, loses, and regains her child? 1) Describe why and how Hades takes Persephone and consider the female evaluation: Gaia's intervention, the initial responses of Persephone, Hecate, and Demeter, the symbolic significance of Persephone's being in a flowery meadow with the Oceanids. How does this scene compare with other descriptions of ancient Greek weddings? How does the later scene, when Hermes goes to Hades, suggest a revision of marriage--consider the meaning of Hades' promise to Persephone and his giving her the pomegranate seed?

2) Describe the relationships between females--among the mortals in Eleusis the four daughters, Queen Metaneira, (the servant Iambe), new nursemaid Demeter; among the goddesses: Persephone, Demeter, Hecate, Iris, Rhea. What does each do and say? How does this poem portray the psycho-social life of a female: as a young woman before marriage and as a bride, as a mother of young, unmarried children, as the mother of adult children?

3) How is lasting union established between the gods of Olympos and the underworld, between males and females, between mortals and immortals? How does the poem demonstrate the power and the limitations of gods and mortals, female nurturing and bonding between a mother and her children, daughters and sons?

C. Homer's Iliad 6: Discuss the women in Troy during the Trojan War: A) Hecabe with Hector and the woman sacrificing to Athene; B) Helen, the woman for whom the war was fought, in Paris' bedroom and speaking to Hector about herself and the men with whom she is involved; C) Andromache with her husband Hector and son Astyanax

D.Odyssey 19, 23: Discuss the character and social role of Penelope, a woman left behind during the war: With what obstacles must she contend and what strategems does she employ to keep her home and family intact under siege? How does she prove a worthy match for her husband, the wily long-enduring hero Odysseus? How is Athene involved in their eventual reunion, and to what extent does Penelope act completely on her own--unlike Odysseus?

Cronus and Rhea (son and daughter of Gaia, "Earth," and Ouranos, "Sky") had six children:

  • Zeus (Lord of the Heavens),
  • Poseidon (Lord of the Sea),
  • and Hades/Aideoneus (Lord of the Underworld)
  • Hera (Queen of Heaven),
  • Hestia (Goddess of the Hearth),
  • and Demeter (Goddess of Grain)

Some cousins of the above include

  • Hecate (Helper),
  • Helios (Sun),
  • and Iris (Rainbow messenger)

Zeus (Lord of Heaven and Father of Gods and Men) had many children. These include the following.

  • With Metis he had Athena (Goddess of Wisdom).
  • With Demeter he had Persephone (Goddess of Underworld).
  • With Leto he had Apollo (God of Archery, Music, and an Oracle) and Artemis (Goddess of Hunting, Music, and the Young).
  • With Dione he had Aphrodite (Goddess of Love); according to
  • Hesiod, Aphrodite was the child of Ouranos only.

  • With Maia he had Hermes (Messenger God, also called Slayer of
  • Argos).

  • With Hera he had Ares (war), Hebe (youth), and Eileithyia
  • (childbirth).

Trojan War Families:
King Priam and Queen Hecuba had (among other children) Paris/Alexander who took Helen from her Greek husband Menelaos and Hector who was married to Andromache and had a son Scamandrius/Astyanax.

King Odysseus, son of Laertes and Antikleia, was married to Penelope and had a son Telemachus.

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