THEME 1: WOMENS' ROLES
As a wife
As a virgin: pathenos
As a lover (victim usually)
The implications/power of motherhood Marriage: a double standard or specific rules for each person.
Breaking this down to make a little more sense, women in ancient Greece were contained to the family home or "Oikos" in a private section of the house called gynaikeion with their children.
The girls leave the house to marry, usually to much older men. This normally occurs when the girls reach the pathenos stage, or when a girl has received her monthly menstruation cycle, and is still a virgin. The pathenos stage is a fearful stage for men and fathers. When you ask why, think about the “preacher’s daughter” stories. The girl was brought up well and then at a certain stage she didn't marry and turned into the "bad girl" that no man wanted. Sounds silly but if you think about it, it's not that much different today. The goals of these fathers were to get those daughters married off as quickly as possible before they shamed the family.
A similar term for a young woman who is not married is "Kore". This term usually doesn't have the terrifying implications of the pathenos stage, though. The kore is the young woman who has not reached puberty, and who hasn’t yet attained that whirlwind of hormonal changes that we see in adolescence.
A bride is referred to a nymphe. The bride stage is a happy occasion for the father, because now there is a husband to guide the daughter.
A woman leaves her terrifying pathenos stage when she marries, and enters her sophrosyne stage, which usually refers to the fact that the woman now has self-control. Her self-control, however, is imposed upon her by someone else (her husband)
And finally, a woman enters her final stage, the gyne stage. This is a mature wife in charge of the household.
Why is it important to know about these stages? Because this is how the Greek home life was and why many women’s stories in Mythology seem unfair – to our modern way of thinking - when in fact they are not. These were the attitudes and mores of the culture of that time, really, and are not that different from beliefs of just the last century. One very important thing to take note of in Greek Mythology was that monogamy was extremely important to the Greeks.
Now why is one of the themes for women that of being victims as well as lovers? It’s quite simple. In many of the stories of the Gods falling in love and seducing mortals, the mortals are tricked or chased. Just with Zeus's affairs alone could you say these women were victims. He never appeared as himself (one reason being the women would burn to a crisp) but often took another form to impregnate the women or seduce them (more on WHY he did this later).
Another common theme with women in Greek myth is that of a mother using her influence to turn a son against his father and enemies. Example: Rhea convinces her son Zeus to overthrow his father Cronus.
THEME 2: THE GODS PARTICIPATING IN HUMAN AFFAIRS
- Taking lovers
- Populating the earth
- Implementing the laws of gods and men
- Maintaining the laws of gods and men
- Punishments/Rewards for men and other gods
Ah yes, the Gods in the peoples lives. Sometimes it's for a reward (see The Metamorphoses book 10) such as Aphrodite granting Pygmalion’s wish that his statue he created could be real. See the Odyssey for rewards given to mortals. There are too many to even mention them all here! There were punishments as well. In the Odyssey, when Cassandra was raped while holding on to the statue of Athena, the Greek men were trapped for ten years before they could get home from war. Hera, incensed at Echo's gossiping, makes it so she can only repeat words.
Also another theme is, in Zeus' case, an expectation to populate the earth. Zeus is a sky god. It makes sense why he would (as it also makes sense that his wife Hera is very jealous). His very being as a sky god is to spread as much of himself around as possible. Does it make him a philandering male slut? Possibly. But is it his job? Most definitely. He often resorted to trickery to get the women (and in one case boy) but again, given his title in mythology he can be forgiven and understood.
THEME 3: RULES OF XENIA, OR HOSPITALITY
- Gift giving
- Trespassing the rules... what consequences result
Xenia, or hospitality, was a very big deal in the Greek culture. If someone was to come to your home and, invited or not, you didn't offer wine and food for them, would be an insult. In the Odyssey, Polyphemus doesn't offer Xenia, mostly because he was not a part of the sophisticated culture, and didn't know to. What happened? Odysseus blinded him.
Sounds harsh but as some say "dems da rules" In all fairness, Odysseus and his men broke Xenia all the time (killing Helios's cattle, etc.) but still judged others and punished if the rules were not followed.
Story telling was a big deal in ancient Greece. In order for a storyteller to get a meal and a place to sleep, he better have a story that flatters the family he is visiting. That is also one reason that there are so many varied versions of the myths. They were only told orally for so long that different story tellers put different spins on them and so on. Think of the game telephone played in first grade. A sentence, whispered in the ear of one, when having been whispered to 20 or so people in the same way, ends up varied from the original. Such is life I suppose.
And the last thing I am including is a list of ways that heroes are usually portrayed in mythology. This is referred to as the Greek Hero Pattern and can still be used today. Look at them and just think of Superman, or even Jesus Christ!
GREEK HERO PATTERN
1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin or princess
2. The hero's father is a king (and often a near relative of the hero's mother)
3. Circumstances of hero's birth are unusual
4. He is usually reputed to be the son of a god or …
5. There is a prophecy surrounding his birth
6. At his birth, usually an attempt on his life is made (often by his parents)
7. He is rescued and spirited away, and
8. He is raised by foster parents in a far away country
9. We are told little or nothing of his childhood, but at reaching manhood he returns to his original kingdom or goes to claim his future kingdom.
10. He has a victory over a king, magical creature, or wild beast.
11. He marries a princess, usually daughter of his predecessor, usually abandons her
12. He reins peacefully for a while, until he loses favor with the gods.
13. He is driven from the city, meets mysterious death (often at the top of a hill) and his body is never buried.
14. His children, if any, do not succeed him
The Perseus Project
Homer, The Odyssey, translated by R. Fitzgerald.
Hesiod: Theology, Works and Days, Shield, translated by Apostolos Athanassakis
Ovid, The Metamorphoses, translated by Mary Innis
Powell, Barry: Classical Mythology 3rd edition