Women in the Iliad

In the Iliad women are items of exchange and markers of status for the men who possess them (Chryseis and Briseis, whom Agamemnon and Achilles argue over in Book I) obstacles that the male hero has to overcome or resist to fulfill his heroic destiny (Andromache’s entreaties to Hector in Book VI). To the extent that the Iliad has a moral lesson to impart to its readers, part of it would have to be that the behavior of Agamemnon and Achilles in thefirst book (and beyond) is excessive. Both men are so fixated on their own images as heroic warriors that they bring woe upon themselves and the rest of the Greeks. A main part of that is the way they treat women as emblems of their status and martial prowess. Notice what Agamemnon says to the seer who declares that he must give back Chryseis:
Now, again, you divine god;s will for the armies, bruit it about, as fact, why the deadly Archer multiplies our pains: because I, I refused that glittering price for the young girl herself, I want her mine in my own house! I rank her higher than Clytemnnestra, my wedded wife-she;s nothing less in build or breeding, in mind or works of hand (I, 127-134).
To those who already knew the stories of the Trojan War heroes, these words would have been ominous. They would know that Agamemnon had angered his wife Clytemnestra by sacrificing their daughter to obtain favorable winds for the expedition. They would also know that when Agamemnon arrived home victorious after the war with Troy, with concubine in tow, Clytemnestra would murder him. Agamemnon is already being characterized here as a person whose arrogant, insensitive and cavalier treatment of the women in his life brings him grief and destruction.
Contrast Agamemnon’s callousness, its results, with the gentler attitude of Hector toward his mother and wife in Book VI, and it’s easy to see that the poet can imagine a different sort of attitude toward women. Notice also the care that the p…