Ancient Greek mythology features many outstanding and admirable female characters, such as goddess Athena and heroine Atalante. At the same time, there are countless other women that got a negative reputation due to a lack of knowledge or shallow knowledge regarding their background. Let’s see the ten (10) most misunderstood mythical women.
10 Misunderstood Mythical Women:
- Gorgon Medusa
- Helen of Troy
Before we look at every character, it is important to remember that characters in ancient Greek myths are not necessarily “evil” nor “saints”. These terms were introduced centuries later. In the Greek pagan religion, gods and goddesses were similar to humans, meaning that they possessed negative and positive characteristics. With this in mind, we should understand that ancient Greeks were not necessarily judging these heroines the way they are judged today.
Circe was a mythical sorceress featured in Homer’s Odyssey and other legends. She is known as the “evil witch” of ancient Greek mythology and she has inspired a fictional supervillain that appears in DC Comics with the same name. Was she really that bad? Circe would use her potions and magic powers to transform her enemies into animals and to hold the men she desired as captives. Odysseus was one of these men. She was definitely not a saint but, if you count and evaluate the crimes she committed in the Odyssey with those committed by Odysseus, she is quite innocent.
If you are not new to this channel, you are already familiar with Hecate. Hecate was the goddess of darkness, witchcraft, and necromancy. She was also a chthonic deity, meaning that she resided under the surface of the Earth and not on Mount Olympus with Zeus and the rest of the gods and goddesses. In Christianity and other monotheistic religions, the underworld is a place of punishment and a place were evil resides, contrary to the heavens in the sky. Therefore, Hecate is often considered a fallen angel, a demon in the Judeo-Christian sense. However, Hecate is one of the least evil deities in pagan mythology. Yes, she would help people who wanted to put a curse on someone, however, she did not commit a series of crimes like other gods and goddesses with a good reputation.
Hera, the goddess of marriage, is one of the most vengeful mythological characters, punishing the women Zeus would cheat on her with. If you have watched all videos made by Helinika, then you might know that she tormented Leto by keeping her from giving birth anywhere on planet Earth. At the same time, it is worth understanding her background. Hera was eaten alive by her father, Chronos, and she was finally rescued by her brother, Zeus. In the end, she was forced to marry him and witness his infidelities, without complaining. As a protector of the sanction of marriage, she wanted to protect her own marriage from any external forces but she picked the wrong targets. But is she up to her terrible reputation? Absolutely not.
The myth of Pandora’s jar has been featured on Helinika’s channel in the past. Pandora was a robot-like woman; a creation of Zeus and Hephaestus that was offered to humanity as a “gift” and “curse” at the same time. Just like Eve in the creation myth, Pandora is often blamed as the woman who damned humanity by opening a jar that contained all evils. But if we look closely to the myth’s details, if someone is to blame here, that would be Zeus. The king of the Olympian gods and goddesses wanted to give some disadvantages to humans, since they had acquired the element of fire, enabling them to create advanced technological innovations. Pandora had free will but, at the same time, she was created in a way that predetermined the opening of the jar. The gods gave her the trait of curiosity and then offered her an unlocked jar and told her to never open it. Pandora was indeed curious, she was made that way, but she did not have any bad intentions when she opened the jar. She was simply a pawn in Zeus’ plan.
You might know Clytemnestra as the woman who murdered her husband Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, with the help of her lover. Fewer people though understand why she committed such a crime. Clytemnestra, sister of Helen of Troy, had a daughter, Iphigenia. When Helen was abducted by Paris and taken to Troy, Agamemnon gathered his forces to help Menelaus, Helen’s husband, bring her home. However, the winds were weak, and they were unable to sail away. According to an omen, goddess Artemis had to be appeased by sacrificing Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter. The man sacrificed his daughter and then sailed to Troy and came back with a concubine named Cassandra. Clytemnestra was enraged with the fact that her husband had killed their daughter and then had the audacity to come home with his lover. She killed him and Agamemnon was remembered as a hero of the Trojan war and she was remembered as the jealous wife who killed her husband.
If you have watched Helinika’s video on ancient Greek vampires, then you might remember Lamia. A monster that would take the form of a woman to seduce men and feed off of them. She was also known for abducting babies from their cribs. But why did she target men and why was she abducting babies in the first place? Lamia was another victim of Zeus and Hera. Zeus had forced himself on her, getting her pregnant. Hera got enraged and decided to punish the victim by killing her babies and cursing her with the inability to sleep. Lamia was deeply traumatized and turned into the monster we know today.
You might know Electra from Carl Jung’s neo-Freudian Electra complex, which describes the hostility of a daughter towards her mother. Electra is a character in ancient Greek mythology and numerous Greek tragedies. She was the daughter of Clytemnestra and the younger sister of Iphigenia. When Agamemnon returned home, she was out of Mycenae and she was unaware of his heinous acts. As soon as she came home and learned that her mother had killed her father and was now living with her lover, Electra plotted the murder of Clytemnestra with the help of her brother, Orestes. We do not know whether Electra had inappropriate feelings for her father or if she was always hostile towards her mother, despite the popular belief.
Medea is a character known by most people, whether they are interested in ancient Greek mythology and drama or not. She was Circe’s niece, priestess of Hecate, and, as you can imagine, these two facts would be enough to put her in the “evil” category. The woman, however, is known for murdering her children. This act can’t be excused. What we can do, is try to understand how she ended up there. If you have watched the Argonautica on Helinika’s channel, then you might remember that Medea was the princess of Colchis and was used by the goddesses of Mount Olympus as a pawn in their plan to help Jason flee with the Golden Fleece. Medea was blinded with Eros arrows and got madly in love -literally madly- with Jason. That meant that she would do anything to stop something or someone who stood between her and Jason. The hero did not have any feelings for her but married Medea anyways to receive the Golden Fleece and gain power. After having two children with her, he decided to get married to a younger woman, which enraged Medea. The latter went on a killing spree and fled the city of Iolcos. Her story will be narrated in this channel in the future, so make sure to subscribe and stay connected.
2: Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy was one of the first “trophy wives” to have ever existed. Known as “the most beautiful woman in the world” she was married to king Menelaus of Sparta and either abducted by Paris of Troy or tricked into following him to Troy. She is often blamed for starting the Trojan war and being the source of so many evils. Her reputation was tainted, although she never took any actions herself. She was simply the apple of discord between two men: Menelaus and Paris. Her reputation was restored with a play called “Helen” by the ancient Greek dramatist Euripides. I wont reveal too much about the plot, since it will be discussed in a future video, however, Euripides condemns war and hostility, as the roots of all evils, and portrays Helen as a frank, reliable, and misunderstood character.
1: Gorgon Medusa
The most misunderstood female character in ancient Greek mythology is Gorgon Medusa, a terrifying monster with venomous snakes on her head. Those who gazed into her face would turn to stone but she was finally destroyed by the Greek hero Perseus who used her head as a weapon. Medusa has been interpreted by Freud as a representation of the fear of castration in little boys. However, Medusa is now considered a symbol of female rage against gender-based violence. The monster was once a woman who was assaulted by Poseidon in goddess Athena’s temple. The goddess then decided to blame the victim for the attack and turned her into a serpent-headed monster that no one would be able to look in the eyes without turning to stone. As a result, Medusa hid in a cave in the island she resided in and, although she did not commit any heinous acts herself, she was killed by Perseus and her head was used as a weapon against his enemies.
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