Homer was a Misogynist

Palladas (Greek Anthology 9.166)

“Homer depicts every woman as dangerous and wicked – the wise maiden and the prostitute both bring destruction. The slaughter of men came from Helen’s adultery, and death resulted from Penelope’s fidelity. The whole work of the Iliad is for the sake of one woman, but Penelope supplied the motive for the Odyssey.”

John William Waterhouse, Penelope and the Suitors

Πᾶσαν ῞Ομηρος ἔδειξε κακὴν σφαλερήν τε γυναῖκα,
σώφρονα καὶ πόρνην ἀμφοτέρας ὄλεθρον.
ἐκ γὰρ τῆς ῾Ελένης μοιχευσαμένης φόνος ἀνδρῶν
καὶ διὰ σωφροσύνην Πηνελόπης θάνατοι.
᾿Ιλιὰς οὖν τὸ πόνημα μιᾶς χάριν ἐστὶ γυναικός,
αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσείῃ Πηνελόπη πρόφασις.

15 responses

  1. Applying a concept such as misogyny to an ancient epic is, in the least, intellectual laziness. Besides the fact that his work was mostly fiction, women in Greek epics and lyrics had a much higher status than actual women in that age, being seen as holy and/or heroic figures of their own. Although both Hellen and Penelope were essential in their epics, they are far from central characters, often being seen as ideas or quests rather than actual elements at play, also justifying how both of them live statically outside the stories that move around them. Homer, unlike many Greek men of his times, isn’t qualified as a women-hater, nor would that affect his work in any form, it’s irrelevant, it’s a 21st century concept unfairly applied to an ancient jewel of literature.

    • 1.One can acknowledge misogyny without condemning an ancient work.

      2. Penelope is a representation of idealized male desire. This might look good to.some. but it.is still misogynistic.

      3. Just because Homer was not awful compared to contemporaries does not mean the epics do not come from and perpetuate a patriarchal discourse that was and is harmful to women (and men)

      • 1.One cannot acknowledge was wasn’t present.

        2. Penelope is a representation of idealised male desire: therefor, not mysoginistic, you seem to be confused about the meaning of the word. Penelope was desired, not hated. The hatred towards women isn’t even remotely alluded to, this witch-hunting fiction is absurd and dishonest.

        3. Homer wasn’t “not awful”, he was a brilliant mind among many of his time, and his influence in literary fiction, both poetic and prosed, spawns concepts that far exceed puny things like invisible patriarchal monsters, and far elevates from your character judgements based solemnly upon sociology and imaginative sciences.

        Isn’t the reckless and dumb chase of nowadays concepts enough for you? Must you tarnish ancient and incredibly progressive minds in search of your own agenda? It saddens me to see Old World admirers steep knee-deep into the traps of the modern world, believing foolishly that they will ever make sense applied to a time that is still vastly unknown to us.

      • We obviously have different ideas about (1) what Homer is, (2) what interpretation is, (3) what the duty of a reader is,, and (4) what the value of studying antiquity is. I thank you for reading the blog and for caring about antiquity, but I implore you to think about the impact of the shape and content of the stories we tell on all types of peoples before you type one more word of response. My comments about Homer come from both a deep love for the epics and a deeper lover for the human race.

      • I’m not putting your love for antiquity in question, but as you seem to implore of me to be mindful of toxic contraptions in all art, I implore you to see all Art beyond the scope of human selfishness and politically vague concepts. As I said in my first comment, and no matter our differing opinions, him being mysogynistic, even if you could prove it beyond strawmen current examples, has zero impact on Homers work or any of his influence. It is simply unconnected with his Art, no matter the mental gymnastics you are willing to partake.
        You claimed he hated women, and that goes beyond 1. interpretation, 2. readers duty, 3. value of studying. It is a false claim that you cannot back, and it’s based upon fictional constructions with irrational basis.
        I would abstain from passing these judgements and decreasing the value of your content, if I were you, but you are free to believe whatever you’ve been told.

      • You give the appearance of engaging in a dialogue but your final dismissive comment says everything: “but you are free to believe whatever you’ve been told.” It is entirely possible to debate ideas without debating people.

      • No, I’m not debating ideas, clearly. I’m debating concepts that you have made no attempt at clarifying, you claim Homer hated women, yet your only examples are of women that weren’t hated, at all, not by the reader nor the author. Plus, you disregard all female characters in Homeric work that didn’t conform to your warped idealistic hell-hole for women.
        I cannot debate what doesn’t exist, again, I’m just passing an opinion – this post is intellectually dishonest and lazy, and a spot in your record, nothing more. I do not need to prove anything, you made the claim, not me, and I’ve done a decent job (along with other commenter), telling you otherwise.

    • A more attentive reading of this post beyond its title might suggest to you that *we* did not import the notion of misogyny from the mire of modernity into the hallowed halls of antiquity. I wrote no modernizing commentary here. Palladas – an ancient author – writes that Homer depicts women as dangerous and wicked. Moreover, both the concept and the word are of verifiable antiquity; Menander is said to have written a play called μισογύνης or ‘The Woman-Hater’, and I cannot imagine any informed discussion of it *not* mentioning misogyny.

  2. Absolutely not. Homer was not a ‘misogynist’. And, no, he does not depict ‘every’ woman as dangerous and wicked. In his work, many female characters act as examples of his ‘ideal, good woman’. At the same time, yes, he refers to ‘bad women’ with the same way; as examples to avoid. He does exactly the same for his male characters. Does he ‘hate’ men? Obviously not.

    • 1. These are the words of Palladas, a scholar of Homer and a poet.
      2. Homer wasn’t a person but was a traditional type of poetry
      3. This poetry received, depicted, and conveyed a world in which women have little agencies, are property and are defined almost wholly by the function of their bodies.
      4. Homeric poetry is in fact patriarchal discourse and in its vilification of women is actually misogynistic.

      • Also, be mindful about Palladas, he is not credited as a “scholar of Homer” in any Alexandria proven-base, and his poems mostly revolved around misogyny, a term that he has often overused and clearly was obsessed about, which is why many current scholars disregard his work when it comes to ancient poetics.
        And your point 4 is blatantly absurd, at least make some effort to justify these statements.

  3. Faithful Penelope as dangerous? Did we forget how the suitors plundered Odysseus’ kingdom and plot to kill his son Telemachus? There’s a start contrast between Helen and Penelope. Helen is swept away by Paris because it confirms that she is the most beautiful. Meanwhile, Penelope becomes over more steely in her resolve against the suitors as the weaves and unweaves knowing full well of what the olive tree bed actually means to the pair. And when Odysseus reveals himself to her, she circles her white arms around Odysseus and tells him she’ll never let him go again. That’s character. She’s much different from Helen.

    Here’s my full post on Homer’s Odyssey:
    https://stephencpedersen.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/odysseus-return/

  4. It’s Palladas who was a misogynist; not Homer (whoever Homer was). This epigram seems funny, but it’s a distortion of Homer. One can say that women in Iliad and Odyssey are trophies, but a trophy is not dispised it is desired. The main characters (Achilles, Odysseus) are men, but that’s quite reasonable: it’s a war story.

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