To what extent is the presentation of Helen in Homer's Iliad consistent with the traditional portrayal of women in literature?

The presentation of Helen in Homer's Iliad is very consistent with the traditional portrayal of women in literature. She is an object of desire whom the men in the story use as they see fit.

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Helen has a small role in the Iliad, and it is largely consistent with how women are traditionally portrayed in literature. First, we see her primarily through male eyes. She is defined by her beauty and sexuality as the men perceive it. In book III, we learn that she impresses the men as she walks past because she looks like one of the "immortal goddesses."

We also see her engaged in traditional women's work in the house as she weaves a tapestry, just as Ulysses's wife Penelope will weave and weave in the Odyssey. This sets up an implicit contrast between Helen and Penelope: Helen is the "bad" and unfaithful wife and Penelope is the good and faithful wife.

Traditionally, too, Helen is treated as an object rather than a person. Paris and Menelaus decide to fight to see who will win her, with men on both sides cheering on this decision. Helen has no say in whose wife she gets to be. Nobody thinks to consult her as to what she wants anymore than they would a table or chair. In fact, she is openly equated to objects. Paris says:

I will meet Menelaus beloved of Ares, before both armies, and fight for Helen and her riches. Whichever wins and shows himself the better man let him take both wealth and woman to his house.

"Wealth and woman" means that Helen is no more than another thing to be acquired, as one would some gold coins. From the male point of view, Helen, like most women, exists to be convenient for them. She is like Briseis, another piece of war "booty" the men quarrel over.

However, Helen is given some personality. She capitulates completely when Aphrodite, the goddess of love, siding with Paris even though he is losing the fight against Menelaus, whisks Helen to his chambers. Helen wants to be loyal to her husband, but the message is that her lust overtakes her. Unlike Penelope she is not the loyal wife. She also develops disdain for Paris, and a sense of self hatred, even though nothing that has happened to her is her own fault. In book XXIV, we learn that she feels affection for Hector because he is kind to her, adding a touch of humanity to her portrayal. Overall, however, she is a sex object to be used by the men as they see fit—a traditional depiction of women.

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