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Author Topic: Rape in Greek Mythology  (Read 44344 times)
Altair
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« Topic Start: March 29, 2011, 02:44:12 pm »

My knowledge of Greek mythology is superficial, so I figured I'd ask the experts (that's you guys!) to shed some light on these questions:

1) What can one conclude about rape based on the instances of it in Greek mythology?

From my scant knowledge, I'd say that rape (the rape of mortal women, anyway) is commonplace and expected among the Greek gods. It doesn't seem to carry any stigma or adverse consequences for the rapist. I recall many instances of Zeus raping mortal women, though I can't name specifics, and I think other gods raped as well.

2) Was this a reflection of rape (attitudes towards it, its frequency, etc.) in Greek society?

I'm historically impaired, so I have little idea. I can imagine a lot of raping and pillaging during the many wars between Greek city-states, but that's purely a guess.

3) For you recons, how do you reconcile gods who rape within a practice that adapts the mythos to the modern world (where rape is still all too common but at least, in the West, carries a stigma and penalties for a convicted rapist)?

I ask because I'ven been dealing with the issue of rape for quite some time in writing my own myths, so I'm curious how it plays out in the Greek mythos, which is most familiar to Western culture.
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« Reply #1: March 29, 2011, 03:09:32 pm »

1) What can one conclude about rape based on the instances of it in Greek mythology?

From my scant knowledge, I'd say that rape (the rape of mortal women, anyway) is commonplace and expected among the Greek gods. It doesn't seem to carry any stigma or adverse consequences for the rapist. I recall many instances of Zeus raping mortal women, though I can't name specifics, and I think other gods raped as well.

2) Was this a reflection of rape (attitudes towards it, its frequency, etc.) in Greek society?

I'm historically impaired, so I have little idea. I can imagine a lot of raping and pillaging during the many wars between Greek city-states, but that's purely a guess.

*insert I-don't-know-much-about-this-topic-but-will-answer-to-the-best-of-my-ability-anyway disclaimer here*

There was also a myth where Ares was bought to trial for murdering a man who raped his daughter (and managed to get a not guilty verdict) so there was probably some stigma attached to sexual assault.

Quote
3) For you recons, how do you reconcile gods who rape within a practice that adapts the mythos to the modern world (where rape is still all too common but at least, in the West, carries a stigma and penalties for a convicted rapist)?

I ask because I'ven been dealing with the issue of rape for quite some time in writing my own myths, so I'm curious how it plays out in the Greek mythos, which is most familiar to Western culture.

I tend to separate the Theoi I worship from the characters that appear in the myths.  I think that the hymns are probably a bit more accurate to how the typical Ancient Greek viewed hir gods than the myths, anyway.
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« Reply #2: March 29, 2011, 03:12:24 pm »

My knowledge of Greek mythology is superficial, so I figured I'd ask the experts (that's you guys!) to shed some light on these questions:

1) What can one conclude about rape based on the instances of it in Greek mythology?

From my scant knowledge, I'd say that rape (the rape of mortal women, anyway) is commonplace and expected among the Greek gods. It doesn't seem to carry any stigma or adverse consequences for the rapist. I recall many instances of Zeus raping mortal women, though I can't name specifics, and I think other gods raped as well.

2) Was this a reflection of rape (attitudes towards it, its frequency, etc.) in Greek society?

I'm historically impaired, so I have little idea. I can imagine a lot of raping and pillaging during the many wars between Greek city-states, but that's purely a guess.

3) For you recons, how do you reconcile gods who rape within a practice that adapts the mythos to the modern world (where rape is still all too common but at least, in the West, carries a stigma and penalties for a convicted rapist)?

I ask because I'ven been dealing with the issue of rape for quite some time in writing my own myths, so I'm curious how it plays out in the Greek mythos, which is most familiar to Western culture.

Now, I could be wrong on this, and I have no sources to back me up, but maybe someone out there does... but I seem to recall hearing that in some cases it was rape, and in some cases "rape" and "seduce" were thrown about in an equal light. As in, Mr. Man's virgin daughter got "raped" by Zeus, but the only "rape" that happened was that they had sex and she, being an unmarried virgin, had the stigma of rape assigned to what they did. If that makes sense.
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Altair
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« Reply #3: March 29, 2011, 04:09:41 pm »

There was also a myth where Ares was bought to trial for murdering a man who raped his daughter (and managed to get a not guilty verdict) so there was probably some stigma attached to sexual assault.

This is interesting, since there were consequences for the divine rapist. Who brought him to trial? (It could only have been other gods, I assume...but which?) And why would a god go on trial for killing a mortal? They kind of did that left and right, with impunity (and with far less provocation than the rape of one of their daughters), no?
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« Reply #4: March 29, 2011, 04:13:02 pm »

This is interesting, since there were consequences for the divine rapist. Who brought him to trial? (It could only have been other gods, I assume...but which?) And why would a god go on trial for killing a mortal? They kind of did that left and right, with impunity (and with far less provocation than the rape of one of their daughters), no?

Well, the guy he killed was a son of Poseidon and he was the one who brought him to trial.....
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« Reply #5: March 29, 2011, 04:17:13 pm »

Now, I could be wrong on this, and I have no sources to back me up, but maybe someone out there does... but I seem to recall hearing that in some cases it was rape, and in some cases "rape" and "seduce" were thrown about in an equal light. As in, Mr. Man's virgin daughter got "raped" by Zeus, but the only "rape" that happened was that they had sex and she, being an unmarried virgin, had the stigma of rape assigned to what they did. If that makes sense.

This is a good point. I never thought to consider the difficulties of translation. Is "rape" an accurate term? Does our understanding of rape today apply to the situations in the Greek myths?

I think at least in some instances it must. Again, my knowledge is scant, but I recall instances where the women Zeus pursued protested/ran away/did everything in their power to avoid his lustful advances. And got changed into phragmites or somesuch for their resistance. Or somesuch.

OK, I may be totally mangling Greek myth, but isn't the constellation Aquila (in which the star Altair sits), the Eagle, chasing the constellation Cygnus, the Swan, across the sky because some maiden or goddess became a swan in order to better elude Zeus in eagle form?
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« Reply #6: March 29, 2011, 04:21:17 pm »

There was also a myth where Ares was bought to trial for murdering a man who raped his daughter (and managed to get a not guilty verdict) so there was probably some stigma attached to sexual assault.
Or to despoiling another man's property.

Just sayin'. 
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« Reply #7: March 29, 2011, 04:28:36 pm »

Also with the superficial historical and mythological knowledge here, not qualified to give an informed opinion.  But I am interested in other's takes on the subject. 

I tend to believe that the myths are not to be taken literally but that they contain deeper truths about the nature of Life, the Universe, and Everything in spite of their less-than-factual nature.  I will confess though, I have a hard time grasping the deeper meaning in some of these stories.



(Hey look!  I just became an "Adept Member"!  Woo!  And might I also say, Hoo!!!)
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Altair
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« Reply #8: March 29, 2011, 04:38:09 pm »

I tend to believe that the myths are not to be taken literally but that they contain deeper truths about the nature of Life, the Universe, and Everything in spite of their less-than-factual nature. 

I completely agree, Adept Thorn ( Wink). However, myths also can be quite revealing of the culture from which they sprang--what the concerns of that people were, what they valued, what the conditions in which they lived were, etc. In that light, I wonder what the prevalence of and attitudes towards rape displayed in the Greek myths tell us.
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« Reply #9: March 29, 2011, 05:03:52 pm »

This is a good point. I never thought to consider the difficulties of translation. Is "rape" an accurate term? Does our understanding of rape today apply to the situations in the Greek myths?

My knowledge of ancient Greek isn't good enough to tell. I think in some cases it actual rape and in other cases was more like our statuary rape -- only age wasn't what made it rape it was the despoiling the father/husband's property.
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« Reply #10: March 29, 2011, 05:31:28 pm »

My knowledge of ancient Greek isn't good enough to tell. I think in some cases it actual rape and in other cases was more like our statuary rape -- only age wasn't what made it rape it was the despoiling the father/husband's property.


Yeah! That's what I was going for. Smiley Er, to explain, that is.
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« Reply #11: March 29, 2011, 10:52:20 pm »



I'm not sure about rape in ancient Greek society itself, or sexual assault for that matter, but when it comes to the myths and stories, I think personal interpretation needs to come into account too when judging how right or wrong or whatever the Gods were in relation to rape.

For example, I'm very closely tied to the Persephone story, as She is a Patron if mine...and I've read many versions of the story, and though it is generally accepted that yes, Hades "raped" Persephone...I can't help but come to a personal conclusion that the whole affair wasn't at least somewhat mentally consensual...I believe strongly (based on my readings of the myths, and my personal connection with Persephone) that She wanted to eat the pomegranate seeds and that she had some feelings of attraction for and interest in Hades - she wanted to stay with Him, in the end. I think the entire "snatching Her away" thing is rape in the sense that it was violent and sudden, and perhaps not exactly what Persephone may have wanted at that moment, but the relationship that developed between the two because of it - both sexually and mentally - ends up as one of mutual attraction and desire. Persephone eventually desired to know more of the Underworld, and desired to marry Hades...perhaps it began as a scary, weird journey for Her, but I believe it ended more positively.

Now, this is, of course, a personal opinion. However, it is a personal opinion based on research as much as introspection. Certain re-writings of the story seem more right to me. I fully admit that rape (mostly in the sense of abduction) was definitely a part of it...but the end result was not necessarily an evil thing.

Rape as a whole, among the Gods, works in a similar way for me. I find that, personally, I feel that much more goes on between Them, and between Them and humans, than all the myths can account for accurately, or fully. We were not present for these happenings, being from the modern age, and we have only what old texts and writings can provide for us, as well as whatever personal relationships with the Gods we can form. How much of the myths are literally true, too, is always up to interpretation. I believe that whatever rape happened, if it truly was rape, was a much more complex issue than perhaps we can ever really know. Who knows if the women Zeus raped truly didn't love Him in some way, or found Him alluring, or were upset with His techniques for getting them into His bed? Maybe they were, maybe they weren't, or maybe some of both. Words tells us things, but authors can slant details or things can be lost in translation...


Now, I'm also somewhat of a romantic. I'm sure there were things that went on that were less than admirable - a wonderful trait of the Greek Gods is that they are somewhat human too, and do not always make the best decisions. But again, myths and stories and relationships with Gods can be interpreted differently among people. Some common threads and themes will hold true for many, but in general, I just sort of go with what feels right to me.
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« Reply #12: March 30, 2011, 03:00:14 am »


Ultimately, rape is about consent and who possesses the power to override it. In ancient Greek society women of rank were not considered at any age to be capable of any type of consent; neither were slaves; that consent legally lay with their guardians (usually father or husband) or owner. Women in concubinage were treated similarly to wives; consent lay with the men. Prostitutes were the only women who had any sort of control over their bodies in a sexual sense, and over sometimes sizable amounts of money as well.

In plays and stories, if a woman was to be depicted as respectable and sympathetic to the audience, the *only* way she could have sex is through seduction or rape, which is why you have depictions where true love, happy endings and rape are intermingled in ways abhorrent to modern audiences. (Its also worthy to note that the heroines of the plays were as different from the average woman and heroes were from the average man.) Seduction (with its implication of lasting influence on a woman's mind/actions) was actually considered a far worse crime under Athenian law than rape (which may have led to women declaring rape to save their lovers from more severe punishments).

As it is today, we know rape was common in the ancient Greek world; there are extensive codices of laws outlining the monetary fines. So it really isn't a surprise that rape would be depicted in mythological realms as well. And in regards to reconciling mythological actions to the modern mind, there is the added question of whether or not a mortal is even capable of granting true consent given the drastic power imbalance between divine and mortal - seduction blurs the line between persuasion and coercion at the best of times even among mortals; is a mortal pursued by a divinity ever capable of true consent? Given the myths revolving around ideas of divinities having to hide or suppress their true nature lest their lovers be consumed in a literal blaze of glory, I'm thinking the answer is no.


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« Reply #13: March 30, 2011, 03:55:37 am »



I have always seen these myths as linked to the practice of bride stealing that seems to have been common (or, at least, not uncommon) during the archaic period in ancient Greece. This involved actual, or symbolic, kidnapping of a girl (or boy) from their father's house as a prelude to marriage or a recognised/formal homosexual relationship. Obviously, when actual the kidnapping was essentially just that. Apparently the symbolic version established the worthiness of the husband/lover as a partner for the prospective girl/boy.

I haven't found a good reference for this online in the brief hunt I just did, but I have read it in a number of texts focused on either Greek or 'homosexual' history.
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« Reply #14: March 30, 2011, 06:42:25 am »



First off, Arynn, thanks for taking the time for that thoughtful reply.

I have to confess, though, that much of your post makes me, as a modern-day guy, uncomfortable. It reads like: "Deep down inside, she really wanted it"--that hoary delusion used to justify rape today. Is that really what the myths contain? Or is that us giving them that spin so that we don't have to feel awkward about gods we otherwise are drawn to?

I'm not saying you may not have a point--with our distance in time and culture, can we really know what subtleties are at work in the myths?--but I'd by very wary of accepting that interpretation without more to back it up, if only because for me it feeds an attitude that in today's context I find abhorrent.
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