Barely There Women in Ancient Literature Essay

This essay has a total of 2335 words and 9 pages.


Barely There Women in Ancient Literature




Are the ancient biblical stories and the myths of the Greeks irredeemably male oriented?

All ancient societies treated women as the inferior gender. It has been historically
shown that in the ancient world, men were the leaders, heroes, and kings, and women served
primarily as companions, helpers, and child-bearers. In the Old Testament and throughout
ancient Greek literature, there is a constant theme of male superiority that cannot be
ignored. Men did not believe that women were capable of existing as anything other than
the typical “housewife;” it was unthinkable that a woman would actually need an education,
let alone earn a living. Rarely was a woman seen doing anything but being dominated by
males in some form, whether she was a man’s sexual object, a submissively devoted wife, or
a woman being punished for doing what she believed was right. Women had no identities of
their own; in every action, they were presided over by a stronger male counterpart.
Because female characters lacked power and existed primarily to provide men with
companionship and support, ancient Greek and biblical stories can be described as
irredeemably male oriented.

A woman’s primary role in ancient times was to serve as a companion to a male figure. The
most common form of this companionship was as a wife. God created “the woman” because “It
is not good for the human to be alone, I shall make him a sustainer beside him” (Genesis
2:18, p9). “The human” was living in a perfect environment, yet something was still
missing. God decided that it would be human nature to desire and need a partner. Thus
began the practice of wife-seeking. Men were able to choose whomever they desired to be
their wife, an idea that is demonstrated in the book of Genesis “…the sons of God saw that
the daughters of man were comely, and they took themselves wives howsoever they chose”
(Genesis 6:2, p. 26). Women did not get to choose who they married. The entire concept of
love, especially from a woman’s point of view, was not considered as a factor in marriage.
The women were expected to comply and marry the man who chose them without complaint.

In the book of Genesis, Abram sends a servant to fetch a wife for his son, Isaac, in order
to console him following his mother’s death. “To my land and to my birthplace you shall
go, and you shall take a wife for my son, for Isaac” (Genesis 24:4, p113). The servant
then follows his instructions and travels to Abram’s homeland, finding Rebekah and
bringing her home to Isaac. “And he loved her, and Isaac was consoled after his mother’s
death” (Genesis 24:67, p123). A wife-seeking mission such as this was considered normal,
and was often done, in the name of God- “Take [Rebekah] and go and let her be the wife of
your master's son as the LORD has spoken" (Genesis 24:51-52, p120).

An ancient woman’s principal function in life was to supplement the life of her husband,
ensuring that his every need was met. Because men were usually out of the home
completing their own duties (in the case of the Greeks, fighting; in the Bible, working),
women were expected to maintain the well being of the family, as both wives and as
mothers. As a wife, a woman was expected to serve her husband however he desired, which
meant remaining constantly sexually available. As a mother, she had to provide a loving
and nurturing environment for her children. Wives had the responsibility of doing various
tasks around the home like making bread, making clothing, and cleaning. Any time her
husband wanted something, a woman was expected to do it promptly, without question.
“…Abraham hurried to the tent to Sarah and he said ‘Hurry! Knead three seahs of choice
flour and make loaves” (Genesis 18:4, p78).

As a big part of meeting her husbands needs, women were expected to bear children. Having
children was crucial during ancient times; it was considered to be very important that a
woman be able to give children to her husband so that he could carry on his family legacy.
If a woman was unable to make babies, her husband would turn elsewhere in order to have
children. In the book of Genesis, Lot’s daughters recognized their father’s need to
continue his lineage. “Our father is old, and there is no man on earth to come to bed
with us like the way of all the earth. Come, let us give our father wine to drink and let
us lie with him, so that we may keep alive the seed from our father” (Genesis 19:31-33,
p90). Although incestual and undoubtedly unpleasurable, the daughters recognized that it
was their duty to carry on the “seed of their father.” In another biblical example,
Abram’s wife Sarai is barren and unable to bear him children. This is seen as a
near-tragedy to the family, so Sarai tells her husband “look, pray, the LORD has kept me
from bearing children. Pray, come to bed with my slave girl. Perhaps I shall be built up
through her” (Genesis 16:2, p67). At the time, it was socially acceptable for a man to
sleep with any woman in order to have children of his own, particularly sons. If a woman
were to cheat on her husband in the same manner, she would be condemned; however, a man
was allowed to produce children by any means, without a second thought.

It could be argued that men faced just as much pressure as women to produce offspring. In
Genesis chapter 38, Judah says to Onan, “Come to bed with your brother’s wife and do your
duty as brother-in-law for her to raise up seed for your brother” (Genesis 38:8, p218).
However, God sees this as an evil action, and puts Onan to death soon after. At the time,
it was generally thought that babies came from a man, with a woman serving as merely a
vessel for his seed. With the details of conception unknown, no one believed that a child
was just as much a part of its mother than it’s father; a baby was considered to be solely
its father’s child. Therefore, a man could not sleep with his brother’s (or any other
man’s) wife in order to produce children for him, because he would be giving his own seed
rather than that of his brother.

Women in the Ancient world were considered property of men. A woman belonged to her
father until she married, and she was then considered to be property of her husband.
These women had no identity of their own; in both Greek and biblical literature, women are
identified not by their own names, but by their relation to their husband or father (i.e.
Andromache, wife of Hector; Esther, daughter of Abihail). This demonstrates the common
Continues for 5 more pages >>