Roles of Women Figures in the Major Works Thesis

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Roles of Women Figures in the Major Works

Major literary works will always bear two distinct values for mankind: they are as much artistic pieces as they are testimonies of the times their authors lived in. Historians of the early ages have extracted as much as they could from the information provided by works such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to enlarge their horizon about the historic facts of passed periods. Warfare, language, customs, socio-economic relationships between towns and their people, religion and worldviews, all these were to be traced in the two fundamental myths of the Western world. Other epic heroic stories that followed over the centuries, such as: The Aeneid and Beowulf continued to influence historians in their pursuit of finding historic meanings and truths between the lines. Among the oldest most important sources of the sort, there are the stories based on the real character of the king Gilgamesh. For the modern reader, the five epics could become the starting point of an analysis for gender relations starting two thousand years BC and arriving in the Middle Ages world of the Anglo Saxons. Five of the most important literary pieces of all times can become testimonies of the roles women roles changed over almost three millennia in different parts of the world and of their relationships with their fellow men.

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A study of the evolution of gender roles in time and space would be suitable to start with the story o Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk. The story was never known by the historians of the Ancient times since it had been discovered and translated into modern language only a couple of hundreds of years ago. Although it is full of symbols and references that are still to be explored and explained, it represents one major source in discovering the meaning and representation of the women and sexual relationships two thousand seven hundred years BC, in ancient Mesopotamia.

Thesis on Roles of Women Figures in the Major Works Assignment

At first, the oppressive and despot Gilgamesh is supposed to represent the civilized world, while Enkidu appears as the primitive man who will be civilized by having intercourse with a woman serving in a religious order. The women in the civilized world of Gilgamesh are mere prays for the greedy and merciless king who takes them as he pleases. This is one of the sources of malcontent between his subjects and their invoking the gods into helping them bring peace back to the city of Uruk. The solution and the answer from gods is the primitive Enkidu. In response to the threat he appears to pose to the despot Gilgamesh is civilization through intercourse with the harlot Shamhat. Shamhat is a temple prostitute who will deliver the method to tame the wild Enkidu. She represents the one way bridge toward civilization, but also to corruption of the human nature. Ishtar, the goddess of love, Siduri the mysterious tavern kipper and Utnapishtim's wife complete the female characters panoply that appear into the story of Gilgamesh. They are no major characters into the plot, but they bring their contribution to the way the story will turn out in the end. The main point is mankind's eternal seek of immortality. Through their ability to give life, women could appear closer to immortality than their fellow men. On the other side, one conclusion that might be drawn from Gilgamesh's experiences is that not only human beings, but any form of mankind's creation that outlasts its human authors could bring the human race closer to immortality. Beside a lesson about people's yearning for eternal life, Gilgamesh send out another important message regarding the symbolism of women and sexual relationships in Mesopotamia, two thousand seven hundred years BC. When the hunter asks Gilgamesh for advices, the latter suggests him to use something that appears to be more powerful than a man: "Go, trapper, bring the harlot, Shamhat, with you. When the animals are drinking at the watering place / have her take off her robe and expose her sex. / When he sees her he will draw near to her, / and his animals, who grew up in his wilderness, will be alien / to him" (Gilgamesh, 8). Women and sexual relations tamed the beast in men, turned them face civilization and stay away from the wilderness. Beside the civilizing role of women, they also appeared to be providing the source of corruption in all mankind.

Compared to the representation and roles of women and sexual relationships, the Homer's two epics The Iliad and The Odyssey are not very different, although they are written a couple of millennia after the story of Gilgamesh. The presence of women in the Iliad is actually only meant to provide a starting point, a pretext for the events that Homer describes. He places a women, Helen, at the heart of all the happenings in the Iliad, but that is highly inconclusive to the role women plaid in ancient times. The Iliad is in fact a complete hymn dedicated to warfare, men, their bravery and their relationships. Women are mere accessories that one could dispose of at any time. Sometimes they are not even necessary for the act of physical love. Dorothy Avery analyses the Iliad from the point-of-view of the roles attributed to women in one of the two major myths of the Western world: "Love in The Iliad, like the female, plays a passive role. The passivity of the feminine allows the masculine to run rampant. That is not to say that the female could necessarily have done otherwise, short of adopting Lysistrata's remedy. But Homer shows very clearly what occurs when one sex is dominant. There are no happy endings in The Iliad. No-one wins, although Helen is recaptured and Menelaus takes possession of his wife once more. The grandiosity of Agamemnon is rewarded with death, a death foreseen by his captured prize, Cassandra, another powerless female" (Avery, "Women in the Iliad"). Avery finds thus Homer, the author, aware of the lack of balance between the importance bore by the sexes and their roles in the establishing of order in the contemporary world. She explains the tragic ending thorough this very imbalance, as opposed to other myths of the ancient world. The heroes who are all men take women for trophies and quarrel or even start wars because of the possessions, among whish there are also the women. Therefore, women only play a decorative role in The Iliad and never provide a source information regarding the real nature of the relationships between men and women in the ancient Greece.

While Homer decides to keep women in The Iliad only in marginal roles, The Odyssey, although still lacking a woman hero figure, is much more generous in depicting the gender relations and give women a voice from time to time. Analyzing female representations in the Odyssey, Seth L. Schein finds the "description of a variety of females -- human women, goddesses, and monsters"(Schein, 17) as being "among the most striking features of the Odyssey"(idem). This is a completely different point-of-view than any attempt to analyze the roles women plaid in the other Homeric epic. The women in the Odyssey often have a thinking of their own, act in their own behalf and according to their convictions, they are much more involved in the life of the city. They bring a different view of the representation the writer has of the women of his time and although they are still lacking the heroic element, they are nevertheless challenging any simplistic conclusion that pictures the women in Homer's times as children bearers and caregivers.

Diana Buitron and Oliver Beth Cohen focus their analysis of women roles in he Homeric epic on the converging views all the authors who recited the poem the Odyssey after its creation. The portrayal of its female characters on stage differed from century to century according to the involvement of women in theatrical representations in ancient Greece and their respective roles in real life. The two authors analyze the role of human vs. non-human females in the story considering the religious beliefs and the day-to-day life aspects related to gender roles. Taking the Sirens as an example that encompasses a wide array of aspects, Buitron and Cohen finds numerous aspects in the roles women plaid in ancient Greece in real life, but also in the religious representation of female characters: Women played an important role at Greek funerals; not only serving as professional mourners but also preparing the body of the deceased at home and accompanying it to the grave counted among the crucial duties of the wife and other female members of the household.

Another superhuman female character in the Odyssey, Kirke, is widely popular in ancient and classical Greece. She is a female goddess who has the knowledge and the power to make men forget about their homes. Although a negative character in her deeds, she is a woman empowered over men.

Buitron and Cohen further analyze the representation of the human female characters… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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