Mrs. Skelton Period 3- Myth More than Just Stories When future generations look back to their past, to the people of 2012, what will they see? What will they know of people of this era? What will they know of today’s society? If they look back at contemporary society in the same way anthropologists look at ancient cultures, like the ancient Greeks, then they will have to determine our beliefs and cultural understandings by looking at what is read, said and thought about in the popular culture. Likewise, the popular culture of the ancient Greeks is evident in their myths and stories, which tells of heroes and monsters, great battles, women of unspeakable beauty, men of unsurpassed cruelty, true love, miracles. And underneath those myths and stories, there are what the Greeks really thought and felt about all sorts of subjects, specifically their view of women as objects, yet how they also believed in true love. The Ancient Greek view of women is one of possession. Women were to be seen, coveted and given to men by men. In the story of “Hercules,” there is a short tale that says he fell in love with a princess, but a river god also fell in love with her. Hercules and the god ended up fighting over her. Hercules, the strongest man to have ever set foot upon the Earth, won the battle, and therefore the girl. Edith Hamilton says in her book Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, “The cause of the contest, a young princess named Deianira, became his [Hercules’s] wife” (174). Right there, in the story of Hercules, is this minute piece about a fight for a woman. First, this woman had no choice about whom she would marry; these two men fighting chose for her whom it would be. It did not matter what she wants, for she is only the trophy of the battle. Second, because of the fact that this part is such a small portion of the whole story of Hercules it is easily glazed over, which means that this was thought to be an everyday occurrence by the Greeks. That this is not that uncommon, so therefore the author of this story felt no need to go into depth about it all, shows how objectified women were to the Ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greeks also made it clear through their stories that they believed that women were to be desired and claimed by men, with no regard for the female’s wishes. In the tale of Daphne, Daphne rejects all the suitors her father, a river-god, brought to her. Eventually, she pleads with her father for her to become like Artemis, the virgin huntress goddess. Her father allows it begrudgingly and she runs off happily free of marriage. One day, while she is hunting, the god Apollo sees Daphne. Apollo thinks to himself “what would she not look like properly dressed and with her hair nicely arranged?” (Hamilton 119) and immediately falls in love with her and runs toward her. Daphne, knowing that if Apollo caught her she would be forced to marry him, ran as fast as she could from him. As Apollo started to catch up to her, Daphne, desperate to never marry or be forced to marry, called out to her father for help. Just as Apollo was to overtake her, Daphne was turned into a laurel tree (Hamilton 119). Apollo, a god, thought to be better than any mortal, desired a woman who wanted nothing to do with him or his affection. But this meant nothing to Apollo, showing that it meant little to the Greeks as well. What a man desired, was far more important than what any woman wanted for herself. Despite these feelings towards women and their treatment as objects and things to be desired, the Ancient Greeks still believed in true, requited love between a couple. The Greeks’ feeling upon love is evident in the story “Cupid and Psyche” where anything will be done for true love, and “Bachus and Philamon” where lovers want nothing but each other. In the tale of “Cupid and Psyche” Hamilton says Psyche was so beautiful that Aphrodite was jealous, and sends her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a hideous creature, but Cupid falls in love with her himself and secretly marries her, requesting only that she never be able to see his face. Eventually, Psyche, worried that Cupid could be an evil creature, wanted to see what he looked like. Psyche, when she was gazing at how handsome he was, awoke Cupid and he fled from her. Psyche, wanting to find him, went to Aphrodite and asked her what she could do to see him again. Aphrodite had Psyche do many dangerously impossible tasks. Eventually, they are finished and Psyche and Cupid are brought back together and love each other forever (Hamilton 96-104). This tale tells of the power of true love and how far one would go to get that love back. The Ancient Greeks believed that true love was not only very real, but also very strong and powerful, as seen by the trials Psyche goes through for Cupid. The Story of “Backus and Philamon” is another tale of love and its power. The story tells of Zeus and Hermes going down to earth to see how people treated each other. They find that men are not kind to strangers who look for hospitality, until they come to the home of Backus and Philamon, who graciously let the two strangers in their humble home. The Gods, pleased with their amazing generosity and hospitality, revealed themselves to the couple and told them that they were allowed anything they so desired. The two wished to be protectors of Zeus’s, but also they really wanted to never be apart from the other; that they would never have to live a day without each other. Their desires were granted and when they too were at extreme age, they saw the other turn into a tree, and they grew intertwined. Together forever. This tales shows that the Greeks felt that true lovers always want to be with each other. Along with tales of great heroes and amazing feats, the Greeks also embedded their thoughts and feelings about certain subjects, like how they viewed women as material objects but still believed in true love, too. Tales like “Hercules” and “Daphne” give evidence of women being traded or won, with no say in their own futures. Despite this, there is also evidence that the Greeks believed in true love, as is evident with the tales of “Cupid and Psyche” and “Backus and Philimon,” which both show the power of love and the length of what one would do for a lover. The Greek myths have more to tell us than one may see on the surface; to find it, look beyond the plot and read into the mind of culture.
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