There is a terrible and nasty thread that runs throughout the history of the world—the “rape” of women and girls. Rape is in quotations as there are various definitions of the word:
• The offence of forcing a person, especially a woman, to submit to sexual intercourse against that person’s will;
• The act of despoiling a country in warfare;
• Any violation or abuse—i.e. the rape of justice;
With regards to war, whether thousands or years ago or even today’s so called “enlightened” period, the above definition stands to be true. Women are the “spoils of war”, the male need to dominate, possess and demonstrate power runs in the face of human decency. The Trojan women did try and fight but many were resigned to their fate, raped and abducted, taken to Greece as concubines and slaves. Sadly many were killed. At a recent dig at the site of Troy, a young adolescent girl’s bones have been found, buried in a shallow grave. Evidence of the bones showed trauma and suggests the girl was killed during the siege. For Hektor’s wife, Andromache, a tragic figure in the Iliad with many personal losses, managed to survive the war.
Andromache, loyal and devoted to her husband was the epitome of a wife. She was the antithesis of Helen, the one who “left” her husband and child to be with another man. Homer characterises Andromache to be the ideal wife, demonstrating how to act and what to say. Even though Homer describes her to be the perfect wife, her role in the story is one of heartbreak. There is a very long scene in Book 6 between Hektor and Andromache, where she tries to encourage him to stop fighting. Hektor’s response is prophetic and spouts duty bound by responsibility to his father and the city of Troy.
‘…deep in my heart I know well the day is coming when sacred Ilium will be destroyed, together with the people of Priam and Priam himself…
…but much more the thought of you, when you are dragged off in tears by some bronze-armoured Greek, your freedom gone.’
He also predicts his own death. What a terrible conversation to have. Of course it was Zeus, the puppet-master who dictated the outcome of Hektor’s final days. Andromache does not only witness the horrible death of her husband at the hands of the crazed Akhilleus but also her son Astyanax. The toddler was thrown over the great walls of Troy by the Akhaians in order to destroy Priam’s bloodline.
She was given to Neoptolemos/Pyrrhos, Akhilleus’ son as a concubine along with her brother-in-law Helenos. She lived with him in Epiros, Greece where Pyrrhos ruled and had a son or a few depending on the sources. When Pyrrhos died, she married Helenos, and they had a son. Helenos ruled Epiros and when he died, Andromache left for Pergamum and lived there till her death.
Was it Homer’s intention to illustrate the plight of women in the story or their role in a world dictated by men? I believe it’s both. Females were a commodity and Homer, in his narration, showed how women were treated and where they stood in society.
What are your thoughts about the role of women in Homer’s story? Love to hear from you.
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