Beyond misogyny : Penelope and Clytaemnestra as paradigms for society


Since the mid-1970s, classical scholars have taken a new interest in the study of women in antiquity. Prior to this time, the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome were studied, like much world history, from a masculine perspective. The literature in the growing field of feminist research is centered on the misogyny of these ancient cultures. Although I agree with their observation that women were subordinate and not afforded the exact same freedom as men, I also believe something is missing in their assessment of women in antiquity, especially with regard to the moral virtues embraced by the culture of the Ancient Greeks and the mythic medium through which those beliefs were transmitted.

This thesis presents the characters of Penelope from The Odyssey and Clytaemnestra from The Oresteia as paradigms, or role models, of good and evil for all of Greek society's members. I argue against the view held by some feminist scholars that regard the female characters of Greek myth merely as illustrating the misogyny of Greek culture. Those particular feminist views, in addition to being anachronistic, are based on too narrow an understanding of Greek society and the role that myth plays in that culture.

By contrast, I argue that these archetypes represent any member of society and should not be considered, on a scholarly level, merely as examples of misogyny. Because of the important role that myth provided and the equivalent value of the freedom afforded to each sex in fulfilling their societal roles under the conditions of life within Greek culture, these two female characters represent the paradigms of the ideal and the ignoble for that society's entire citizenry. Greek myths and the characters within them are actually expressive of the consequences of the actions of any individual and provide Greek society with a lesson on appropriate behavior within one's role in the larger order of society.


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Thesis Completion





Jaeger, Suzanne


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Program



Arts and Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic;Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Sciences;Women in literature -- Greece







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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