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Essay on Zeus: Understanding Rape In Ancient Greece

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With the third wave of feminism and the inception of the #metoo movement the topic of rape, has been renewed in vigor in public conversation and discussion. Many contemporary artists have taken an active part in this renewed discussion; using their platform of artistic work to offer their own opinions on the matter, oftentimes forged of their own personal struggles with sexual assault. Yet while this movement of feminist art is a relatively recent occurrence, the long-subdued topic of rape has found itself to have a long history in the arts. There has been an abundance of art throughout the centuries and even millennia that has focused specifically on the topic of rape. These artistic portrayals of rape have generally been created by males and thus the art encapsulates the male’s perspective. For example, in Greek art portrayals of rapes and abductions typically feature young and beautiful women as a popular focal point. While viewing these artistic portrayals of rape can at times be emotional to many, it is impertinent to look back and examine the past as these artworks allow for a greater understanding of what morality, equality, and justice should look like in today’s society. Therefore, I will examine the motive behind Greek artworks and why the topic of rape was so popular during the time.

Before diving into examining pieces of Ancient Greece art, it is important to analyze the treatment of women. Throughout the city-states generally, females were held to strict standards publicly and privately. Women received less food, had little to no education aside from domestic household duties, and no freedom socially. These women were basically property that must perform household duties and produce children and that was it with a few exceptions to religious cults and jobs. Adolescent girls would be forced into arranged marriages by her father to an older man. Private spaces versus public spaces held women to standards that kept the woman segregated even within their own homes. Symposiums were parties the Greeks held inside their houses with fellow men. The only women permitted to these parties were prostitutes. The wives were not allowed to go to parties and had to stay in the corridor of the house. This distrust and objectification of women were so strong men couldn’t even do something fun like a party with their own wives. Men’s sexual desires to objectify and keep control are shown in various depictions of sex anally or even from behind. The control and fear forced onto women into submission through misogynistic language, objectification of women’s bodies, disregard for women’s rights, and total segregation.

Were there sanctions in place to protect women and men from sexual assault? Literature and inscriptions from legal hearings provide reliable information however is limited. The information presented in this essay primarily focuses on two cities Athens and Gortyn. It can be assumed that although the legal information from these cities says a certain thing does not mean other cities throughout Greece may have been more diverse with their laws. In Athens, several laws were put in place against sexual assault however, the penalties of commuting such crimes were simply a monetary fine. Invaded in which a husband or father found a man with their daughter of wife they could legally kill the man. The next law protected the accused if they wished to follow a suit for being unjustly accused and detained. If found innocent the accused could punish the lyrics in any way he saw fit as long as no knife was used. The psychological physical pain for a female victim is not listed in Attic law, any compensation would go to her guardian.

What exactly is misogyny and why is it important to understand it while analyzing the factors, justification, and motives for sexual abuse? Misogyny is the hatred of women and its roots are traced back to ancient Greece and Rome from the silencing, mistreatment, and loathing of women. To understand this deep hatred for women you have to look at the birth of Pandora. According to myth, Pandora was the first woman that Zeus gave to the mortals. She was beautiful and Zeus’s intention was to use her to punish Prometheus who stole and gifted mankind with fire. Pandora was given a box and within the box was evils such as illness and war. Her curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box releasing all of these bad things onto mankind. Pandora is the first female to ruin everything for mankind impacting the opinion of men all over Greece. A similar story to a more relevant religion nowadays would be Adam and Eve. Eve and Pandora both made mistakes that made life far more difficult for humanity according to these stories. Understanding Pandora’s story and the strength of influence mythology had as the main religion it’s understandable to why there were male chauvinism and misogyny.

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Another important example of this rooted hatred can be found by looking into the words of Aristotle and many other Greek philosophers. According to Aristotle, women were inferior to men because their bodies were cold and could not produce semen, women were deformed men, and the most disgusting of his beliefs was that “ women were unable to control themselves physically and psychologically through the exercise of the reason the way men can” (Whaley, 16). Taking this sentence and applying it to the modern world in a way many criminals will use something along the lines of this sentence. It is easy for the predator to blame the victim because of the clothes they are wearing or the look they gave you inside the bar. This hateful perspective is so critical to grasp when viewing art that depicts injustices such as rape because of the time period and social environment.

Now that we have done a little bit of digging into the treatment of Greek women as well as the reasons why misogyny was rampant we can start to look into actual pieces of art for what they were in terms of narrative, visual, and social meaning behind these pieces.

The best-known stories of rape and abduction go with the King of the Greek Gods himself Zeus. Although married to Hera Zeus has a well-known history of chasing after, kidnapping, and raping many young women and even boys such as Ganymede a beautiful Trojan prince. However, for this essay, I would like to focus on the deceitful tricks Zeus used on these women and the outcomes of the rape through their stories and vases portraying the act. Alcmena was the wife of King Amphitryon. Amphitryon had left Alcmena in Thebes in order to avenge Alcmena’s dead brother in order for her to marry him. Zeus seeing an opening came to Thebes and Made himself spear to be Amphitryon and has his way with her. It is said that this was the last time Zeus slept with a mortal woman. After this Amphitryon returned the following day and made love to her and she confessed that she thought he had already returned the day before. The Seer then reported the news to Amphitryon. Later on Aclmema have birth to Hercules, furious Hera sent two snakes into Hercules’ crib however the infant was strong and fearless and defended himself. Throughout his life, Hera tormented the boy out of spite and hatred for him. The Sacrifice Of Alcmena is a paean red-figure krater vase made that dates back to circa 360 – 320 B.C. Zeus and Hera are watching from above as Amphitryon has two attendants place his wife on fire to test the veracity of her claim that Zeus has changed himself to Amphitryon and taken her virginity and got her pregnant. Zeus watching had the flames put out saving her and validating her claim. According to this vase’s story Alcmena was punished for a sexual act she hadn’t even known was with someone who wasn’t Amphitryon. Instead of believing her and comforting her the distrust seen repeated throughout Greece, he punishes her in a brutal abuse of power. Amphitryon does not believe her until a male god has to come and intervene which speaks volumes of distrust, insecurities, and trust in the gods and fellow males.

Another story involving Zeus that has inspired various artworks is the story of him Abducting Eropa. Zeus was filled with lust for this beautiful young woman and he knew he had to have her. He took it upon himself and transformed into a majestic white bull and transported himself to Tyre. There he came across Eropa and her attendants gathering flowers. Zeus knew he had to take things slow so he played a tame act of an innocent gentle bull. Eropa comfortable around the bull began to put flowers in his fur and then climbed onto his back. Zeus then proceeded to take her to the shore and then into the sea. Eropa scared to let go held onto Zeus until they arrived in Crete. Following this they had sex and after Zeus was done he left her there. She later married the king of Crete and became the first queen there. Zeus did not fully abandon her and sent her several gifts. Here Zeus once again uses a transformation to manipulate young women. He takes it a step further by kidnapping her and bringing her on a terrifying trip through the sea and isolating her from family and friends. The vases for this are generally very tame pieces. The best example of this was an Apulian Red-figure vase that dates to circa 330-320 B.C. It shows a very simple design of Zeus in bull form and shown has white and Eropa hanging off the side of him with a straight unemotional expression. They are surrounded by a circle of waves so it can be assumed they have either just reached shore or she and he are still on their way through the ocean. There are multiple depictions if this story through oil paintings which all have a very whimsical and almost romantic emotion to them. These interpretations have very unrealistic and almost dreamlike qualities to them that plays down the fear this girl must have faced

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