The role of women in the ancient world is generally accepted to be that of possession and house-servant, mother and decorative status symbol, but not human, not thinking and not individual enough to act upon her own volition. This impression comes from a long line of ancient texts and documents that suggest women were barely a part of the action but were frequently the treasure behind the throne. The truth, however, is that women’s roles differed from one culture to another and a blanket statement simply cannot be made. To get a real glimpse of what women’s roles might have been like in the ancient world, it is necessary to understand what the ancient texts really have to say about them, such as the character of Andromache, who provides us with an idea of what women’s roles might have been like in Troy during the time of the Trojan wars.
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Andromache’s first major appearance in the play occurs in Book Six as she attempts to convince her husband not to go off to war. As she pleads with her husband not to go outside the city’s walls, she outlines the many roles Hector fills for her, “you who to me are father, mother, brother and dear husband”, and then advises him as to the safest course of the battle, “as for the host, place them near the fig-tree, where the city can be best scaled, and the wall is weakest. Thrice have the bravest of them come thither and assailed it, under the two Ajaxes, Idomeneus, the sons of Atreus and the brave son of Tydeus.” That she is bold enough to make the suggestion indicates her role in the home is not necessary the silent and meek impression one typically holds of the ancient woman but is instead a helpmeet to her husband, accustomed to providing counsel and intelligent in the ways of war. In his answer to her, though, Hector outlines more of what Andromache is expected to do during her everyday activities which include “your loom, your distaff, and the ordering of your servants.” When Hector loses in battle, he indicates he fully expects Andromache to be taken prisoner and forced to serve someone else for the rest of her days but prays that one day his son will become a great leader and she will once again be provided with a protector.
Andromache is again seen engaged in the typical duties of the housewife immediately following Hector’s death in Book 22. As Hector breathed his last words to Achilles, Andromache “was in a room inside their lofty home, weaving purple fabric for a double cloak, embroidered flowers on it. She’d told her well-groomed servants in the house to place a large tripod on the fire, so Hector could have a hot bath when he came home from battle.” Upon hearing the sounds in the street, she again boldly moves forward to the tops of the walls where the rest of the townspeople are and arrives just in time to see Achilles dragging Hector’s body off to the Achaean camp. Without Hector, Andromache is no longer the brave individual she was seen to be in Book 6 but is now weak, requiring the help of her sisters-in-law to help support her and mourning the fate of her son now that he has no father to show him the way.
Throughout the Iliad, the character of Andromache demonstrates the power women held within their society as the keepers of the home. They weren’t necessarily the silent shadows and pieces of property they seem to be within the Greek camp through such figures as Briseis, but were respected by their men and had voices of their own. While Andromache begs her husband not to go to war, fearing she will lose him, she accepts his decision as protector of the home and holds such confidence in him that she makes preparations for his immediate return. Through Andromache, we gain a glimpse of the lifestyles and risks taken by all of the women of Troy as their men fought outside the gates and away from the family as their only means of protecting it. While her situation after Hector’s death seems incredibly pitiful, it is difficult to understand how it might have been different.
Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997.