Human Women in Greek Myth


Antigone and Oedipus, by an unknown artistThere are a bunch of fascinating women – human women – in Greek myths. Though the overwhelming majority seem to be tragic figures (when they’re not totally insignificant), there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. If you’re not already familiar with people like Andromeda, Danae, Niobe, and Semele, you should go spend some time reading up on the famous ones. If you don’t believe me about the tragic part, then you should go read the Catalogue of Suicidal Females over at Diotima. If, however, you are like me, and slightly depressed by reading the myths of the mortal women, read on.

I’ve come to some dangerously general conclusions about Goddesses, Amazons, Monsters (especially the female ones) and Nymphs, but thusfar any major generalization about the mortal ladies has escaped me. Some women – like Clytemnestra and Medea – have got the scary woman with power thing going on. Lots of ’em – like Jocasta and Pelopeia– have got the tragic victim thing down to a science. But there are plenty that do not fit into these common roles at all.

Let me give you a few examples to consider. Semiramis was raised by doves and became a great adviser to a king and, despite some crappy stuff in her personal life, lived a long life in which she dispensed wisdom until she died. Penelope, the wife of Odysseus of Odyssey fame, faced the challenge of being a single parent while her man was at war for 20 years and dealt with the complicated situation of remarriage with aplomb and craftiness. Helen (of Sparta and Troy) was such a complex mythical figure that she continues to stump young students and crusty old professors alike (read up!). And even some of the simpler stories like that of Iphis and Ianthe and Leucippe (with pirates!) are impossible to reduce to mere reflections of a patriarchal storytelling.

It seems like the majority of people visiting this blog are looking for archetypes rather than entertainment, and it is true that when it comes to essentialism the human chicks have less to offer. However, I invite you to give those stories a second read; the mundane dames of Greek myths have a depth that the goddesses often fail to achieve and offer much to the understanding of the human experience.


2 responses to “Human Women in Greek Myth”

  1. love the work you are doing!

  2. wonderful research!

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