How are Women Portrayed in Homer's Iliad?

Expert Answers
jjohnson112 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Iliad, by Homer, takes place during the Trojan war.  If one reads a list of the characters, one would find male character, after male character, after male character.  It's a poem of war and the main characters are mostly men.  However, the epic poem does have several memorable female characters.  

The character of Helen represents the beauty of women.  Helen's beauty is supposed to be the cause of the Trojan war.  Because of her beauty, she is stolen.  She does not seem to have free will of her own.  

Other women in the story are considered slaves, or the property of men.  For example, the characters of Chryseis and Briseis are both taken as part of the 'spoils' of war.  Like Helen, they are stolen and have no free will.

Another category of women characters, would be the wives.  In the poem, wives are considered faithful, obedient and dutiful.  The wives are seen in the characters of Hecuba, the Queen of Troy, and Andromache, the wife of Hector.

The poem also has its share of goddesses.  Interestingly, the goddesses are much more powerful than the human women.  Hera, the wife of Zeus, is clever and actively works to defeat the Trojans.  Athena, Zeus' daughter, and the goddess of war, shares Hera's hatred of the Trojans.

Finally the poem has faithful mothers.  Hecuba is the mother of Hector.  The sea nymph, Thetis, is the mother of Achilles.

In sum, women are portrayed in a myriad of ways.  They are devoted mothers, dutiful wives, powerless possessions, ideals of beauty, and powerful goddesses.