Notes on Mythology Themes

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Mythology Topic Tracking: Women

Women 1: The earth is identified as a woman, Gaia. Her food, on which men subsist, is the property of women. Demeter is the personification of this understanding: women are responsible for the vital elements of life, while men are responsible for war and wine, two things human beings could survive without. Spring, the season that brings life, is also feminine. The life-bringing season disappears because of the male gods and their need to abduct and control women. Violence interferes with the necessary dealings of life and all humans suffer.

Women 2: Although Dionysius is a man and a god of wine, he is the most effeminate of the male divinities. Women (the Maeneds) follow him but they do not behave like other women in mythology. The Maenads represent violent and senseless destruction. In a sense, they are emasculated by wine, just as Dionysius becomes less of a man because of it.

Women 3: Often, women are not portrayed as willing partners to their husbands; they are often violently compelled subjects. Gaia intrigues against her husband because of this. Her bond with her children is stronger. The first women were either made as a punishment for men or as companions. Their connection with the release of evil into the world is a parallel to the Judeo-Christian belief in Genesis. The story of the Flood to punish men's evils is also in parallel to the Judeo-Christian tale of creation.

Women 4: Many of the most important families or tales in mythology are begun just as those of Io and Europa. Zeus rapes a woman and she bears a son who is fated to be famous or wretched. Always, the wrath of Hera against her unfaithful husband results in harm for the women and their children.

Women 5: The story of Cupid and Psyche illustrates another common theme about women in mythology: They are intensely jealous of each other. Venus is angry that Psyche has earned the praise of so many men and tries to get rid of her. When her own son falls for this mere mortal, Venus only gets more angry. Psyche's sisters are just as bad. They envy their sister's wealthy circumstances and try to trick her into ruining them.

Women 6: In these eight stories of lovers, two types of women are developed. The first is the loyal lover/wife who would do anything for her husband. The second is the virgin who wants nothing to do with men, but is pursued by a lusting divinity. Both these themes endure through mythology. The only other option for a woman is to be a witch like Medea. Hamilton's story of Oedipus and Eurydice has an interesting omission. In some accounts Oedipus looks back because Eurydice begged him to do so and had accused him of not loving her.

Women 7: Medea presents another type of woman in mythology. She is the daughter who betrays her family and city for love. She helps Jason defeat and deceive her father and follows him to his homeland. When he betrays her, however, she becomes another archetype. She gets the most gruesome revenge, killing her husband's children and Jason's new fiancee.

Women 8: Proetus' wife is the lusting woman who gets revenge when she is denied a lover. Theseus' wife does the same thing when her stepson denies her. In this, she is like Medea, except Medea was actually done wrong. Bellerophon receives a princess as a prize for committing such heroic deeds. This is another common theme: women can be offered as a prize (much like property).

Women 9: Danae's father becomes primarily concerned with her sexuality after the Oracle at Delphi tells him that she will bear a son who will later kill him. Zeus, as usual, finds some way to impregnate the maiden. In a far away land, she becomes the primary interest of the wicked King, Polydectes. Polydectes tries to do away with her son, the only man who stands between him and his lust for Danae.

Women 10: In this section, many different female archetypes are presented. Pasiphae is driven mad with lust for a bull and bears a wretched child. No where in Mythology does such a creature result from a man's lust. Ariadne betrays her father in a way similar to Medea's betrayal. She is also abandoned by her love. Some sources blame Ariadne's curse on Theseus: he killed Aegeus. The Amazons were women who were war-like. They took no lovers and lived only for war. Theseus, however, defeated them. The planned rapes of Helen and Persephone are common in Greek mythology, although it is most common for gods to carry out such endeavors. Fortunately, Theseus and Pirithous are harshly punished for their attempts.

Women 11: Great heroes are always said to be the son of a god with a mortal wife; the women contributes little to the gene pool. Hercules brutally kills his first wife but eventually atones for it with his twelve labors. His last wife, however, is angered when Hercules sends captured maidens home. By a fluke, she kills him. A misunderstanding between Hercules and his wife results in his final demise. She, however, did not plan this; it was a trick from a long dead Centaur.

Women 12: Atalanta was abandoned because she was not a son. This is typical of the ancient world. A daughter had to be cared for and a suitable husband would have to be found. When she shows herself to be on equal ground with men, she is reconciled with her parents, but must still yield to the requests of suitors. They cannot beat her in physical competitions. Melanion, a suitor, beats her in a foot race only after resorting to trickery; she stops to pick up the 'shiny' golden apples he drops deliberately.

Women 13: In many ways, women play an important role in starting the Trojan War. It is the goddesses' vanity that fuels a competition between Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite. Paris, the mortal judge, picks Aphrodite, who had promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen, the most prized woman in Greece, is the object of an oath to protect her husband's right to her at all times. These two forces bring all of Greece to Troy, and the War begins. The Iliad opens with Agamemnon and Achilles fighting over women. In war, women become property, even more so than in peace.

Women 14: The end of the Trojan War highlights the long-term sufferers of war: women and children. The men, though killed, die in battle and the suffering ends quickly. The women are enslaved and become the property of their captors in every way, especially sexually.

Women 15: The Odyssey is filled with much stronger women than the Iliad. Women like Circe and Calypso have a significant impact on Odysseus' continued journey. When he asks for help on the island, he asks the Queen not the King. Penelope is the interest of many suitors, but she denies them all and waits dutifully for her husband. She is the model of a good wife. When Odysseus finally comes, she hesitates and seeks proof before embracing him.

Women 16: Women are largely absent from the Aeneid except in key places. Dido is a great example of a tragic love. She doesn't mean to fall in love with Aeneas, but the gods make her. When he leaves, she kills herself. In the underworld, she will not speak to him. The war in Italy is ostensibly fought over the right to the native king's daughter. The native Turnus does not want her going to a foreigner instead of him.

Women 17: Women factor into the strife of the Atreus line. Atreus hates Thyestes because of an affair he has with his wife. This is enough to make brothers kill their nephews. Menelaus goes to war over his wife. Clytemnestra takes a lover and kills her husband. Orestes must kill his mother to end the family curse.

Women 18: All the women in the House of Thebes meet tragic ends except for Iphigenia. The daughters of Cadmus have terrible fates. Jocasta has one husband die, and later realizes that her second husband is actually her abandoned son. She kills herself. Iphigenia is strong and truly brave. She stands by her father against the unjust ruling of Creon. She is rewarded for her courage by being executed.

Women 19: Women were allegedly once allowed to vote in Athens, but they lost this right after making a bad decision. Procne's husband brutalized Procne and Philomela, so they fought back by killing his child and feeding it to him. Creusa bore a child and abandoned it only to be reunited happily years later.

Women 20: The Danaids killed their husbands because they were married forcibly. This force did not absolve them of their penance in the Underworld. Erysichthon's daughter is yet another example of a woman being used primarily as property. Pomona and Vertumunus is the first example of a man and woman working as partners. This is an early example for a good marriage

Women 21: The shorter myths continue the archetypes begun in the earlier myths. Zeus abandons Leto when she is pregnant. Clytie falls helplessly in love with Apollo and is denied. Scylla betrays her father, but Minos does not want anything to do with her. Tyro abandons the children of Apollo like many other women.

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