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Author Topic: Rape in Greek Mythology  (Read 44842 times)
Altair
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« Reply #15: March 30, 2011, 06:49:25 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.


Excellent--somebody who knows a lot about ancient Greek culture! This helps put things into context. And your points about the power imbalance are very well taken.
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Altair
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« Reply #16: March 30, 2011, 06:53:00 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.


Additional useful info on ancient Greek culture; thanks, Marc. In fact, thanks to everybody who has replied so far--it's giving me a lot to think over.
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« Reply #17: March 30, 2011, 06:58:21 am »

Well, the guy he killed was a son of Poseidon and he was the one who brought him to trial.....

That makes sense. Poseidon, as one of the Greeks' Big Three, would be one of the few gods with the rank to get Ares' ass in the docket.
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« Reply #18: March 30, 2011, 12:48:00 pm »

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.


I'm not defending rape as "something everyone wants," no, or even what "she" or "he" may have wanted. It's more that I think many people jump to conclusions about rape as much as they do romance. When it comes to stories, which are records of things people say happened, or interpretations of events that happened, I just think there's a lot of room for interpretation. If someone's interpretation of a story is "YES, she was definitely raped!" then yeah, that's awful. But if a person reads a story and thinks "hmm, there might be more at work here" or "Nobody ever asked the girl what her side of the story was, so I wonder..." then that's a different reading. All I'm saying is that with myths, sometimes the narrative itself is quick to claim that someone was raped or taken advantage of, and often times the perspective is ONLY from one side, or from a neutral narrative side...

With our own societies today, we have courts, witnesses, and real-time ways of determining all sides of a story. Yeah, crimes aren't always solved fairly or accordingly, but it's much easier to conclude "So and So definitely did not love this person or want this sexual encounter"...maybe I'm just the product of being a literature major, but for me, stories and myths are much more about interpretation. With the example of Persephone, I just don't see rape as being what the story is about, and I believe there's much more complex feelings at work, that have to do with a fascination with the relationship between Birth and Death (Spring vs. Underworld, etc.). Also, I tend to be a bit optimistic about things, such as: perhaps we can grow and heal from our various hardships, and learn to live with mistakes or bad experiences. Maybe abduction does not have to end with tragedy.

I don't think rape is a good thing, if that's what my response kind of sounded like to you. I think rape is a complex, psychological, and unfortunate act, that can stem from a simple misunderstanding to a hatred of someone, or the desire for dominance. I am not trying to defend it. I'm simply defending the concept that not all stories end in tragedy, or mean one thing versus another.

Also, I tend to view myths as metaphors, or important frame-stories for events that may or may not have happened...we are too far removed from them to take them literally, in my mind. This is very personal, though, and some people believe every word of various myths, and some believe nothing. I think we can learn important lessons from myths, but not necessarily how to live our own lives, or what applies to a modern world. Rape in ancient days, for example, could simply mean having sex before marriage, or being taken advantage of by a man before marriage...now, it means many other things, and marriage often has nothing to do with it. In a modern sense, rape can be awful, and evil. But I don't think that's necessarily what's happening in every myth that mentions it.

Does that make sense? Please don't think I'm defending the act of rape. I'm simply curious about the process of myth interpretation.
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« Reply #19: March 30, 2011, 12:57:57 pm »



Also, I do agree that interpretation is, often unconsciously, a way to feel more comfortable with a myth or a story, as was mentioned...but is that really such a bad thing? So long as our interpretations don't get in the way of living our lives in a rational, productive way...then is it so bad to imagine a story might not be all that it seems, or that the characters in them eventually grow to heal or learn or enjoy their various encounters/experiences with things? I can read a story and think "Hmm, I see the seeds of new growth or healing from this" or "they end up married in the end, perhaps they grow to tolerate or love one another?" but that doesn't mean I'm going to support rape in every instance in my own society just because a story made me feel a certain way...stories are often unrealistic, and idealistic, anyway. I often know that going in.

Does that also make sense?
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« Reply #20: March 30, 2011, 04:23:01 pm »

...When it comes to stories, which are records of things people say happened, or interpretations of events that happened, I just think there's a lot of room for interpretation...

It's particularly important in this instance, as there is no directly-equivalent word in ancient Greek for our modern English 'rape'. For those interested in some academic background on this, try Greek Sanctions Against Sexual Assault (Susan Guettel Cole - 1984) (in PDF Format, 1.87 MB). It's a bit heavy, but quite skimmable for the faint of heart Smiley
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« Reply #21: March 30, 2011, 05:48:55 pm »

Also, I do agree that interpretation is, often unconsciously, a way to feel more comfortable with a myth or a story, as was mentioned...but is that really such a bad thing? So long as our interpretations don't get in the way of living our lives in a rational, productive way...then is it so bad to imagine a story might not be all that it seems, or that the characters in them eventually grow to heal or learn or enjoy their various encounters/experiences with things? I can read a story and think "Hmm, I see the seeds of new growth or healing from this" or "they end up married in the end, perhaps they grow to tolerate or love one another?" but that doesn't mean I'm going to support rape in every instance in my own society just because a story made me feel a certain way...stories are often unrealistic, and idealistic, anyway. I often know that going in.

Does that also make sense?

Personally, I am with you and understand where you are coming from. I've been long of the opinion that Persephone wasn't raped... and somewhere here on tC, there's a link to a poem about that very thing that sums it up quite well. Smiley
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« Reply #22: March 30, 2011, 06:55:23 pm »

Personally, I am with you and understand where you are coming from. I've been long of the opinion that Persephone wasn't raped... and somewhere here on tC, there's a link to a poem about that very thing that sums it up quite well. Smiley

I think I've read that poem! And yeah, I'm by no means defending rape itself, just saying that many myths and stories are always up to interpretation.

I don't think Persephone was raped, either, not in the modern sense of it, anyway. But if someone thinks She was, in however way they want to define rape, that's their interpretation, and yeah, it could be problematic or upsetting, depending on their definition. I just don't see that story in a completely negative way, that's all.
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« Reply #23: March 30, 2011, 07:07:06 pm »

I think I've read that poem! And yeah, I'm by no means defending rape itself, just saying that many myths and stories are always up to interpretation.

I don't think Persephone was raped, either, not in the modern sense of it, anyway. But if someone thinks She was, in however way they want to define rape, that's their interpretation, and yeah, it could be problematic or upsetting, depending on their definition. I just don't see that story in a completely negative way, that's all.

Yeah, I know you weren't defending rape. Smiley
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« Reply #24: March 30, 2011, 09:57:56 pm »

Yeah, I know you weren't defending rape. Smiley

Oh, good ^_^
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« Reply #25: March 30, 2011, 10:36:06 pm »


I'm not defending rape as "something everyone wants," no, or even what "she" or "he" may have wanted.


Great; not that I thought you were. It's just that that interpretation has some potentially problematic implications in today's context. That may be my own hang-up.

And you (and Marc and others) are right: Judging ancient Greece by today's context is problematic in and of itself.
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« Reply #26: March 31, 2011, 02:24:32 am »

Personally, I am with you and understand where you are coming from. I've been long of the opinion that Persephone wasn't raped... and somewhere here on tC, there's a link to a poem about that very thing that sums it up quite well. Smiley

Can't remember for the life of me where I posted that link, so here it is again:-

http://diannesylvan.com/?page_id=107
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« Reply #27: March 31, 2011, 03:44:19 am »

It's just that that interpretation has some potentially problematic implications in today's context. That may be my own hang-up.

Not yours alone.

Looking at the texts, certainly some things are clearer than others when it comes to the Hymn to Demeter; only the abduction itself is explicit. The Roman myth as accounted by Ovid is far more explicit (almost gleefully so) in terms of sexual violence and violation, and there is no doubt that both the Roman mind and the modern would recognize the actions accounted within as rape and abuse.

In regards to my own personal take on the myth, I look to the Greek version, which is far more open to metaphorical and allegorical interpretations. Ovid's account I consider a exploitive product fine tuned to appease a rapacious audience. I prefer that to more problematic justifications.
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« Reply #28: March 31, 2011, 10:45:32 am »

In regards to my own personal take on the myth, I look to the Greek version, which is far more open to metaphorical and allegorical interpretations. Ovid's account I consider a exploitive product fine tuned to appease a rapacious audience. I prefer that to more problematic justifications.

Yes, exactly. When I was speaking of which version I prefer, I meant the Greek one and should have been more explicit. The differences are as you say; my long-winded-ness should have simply mentioned them and moved on ^_^;;;
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« Reply #29: March 31, 2011, 11:11:34 am »

Great; not that I thought you were. It's just that that interpretation has some potentially problematic implications in today's context. That may be my own hang-up.

And you (and Marc and others) are right: Judging ancient Greece by today's context is problematic in and of itself.

Interpretation itself can always be problematic due to the nature of human beings, and our differences - what we value, what we simply believe without question, what we hate...everyone has their own opinion or feeling about a text, or an event, etc. That's why I find conversations like this interesting (and many that exist all over this forum!)
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"...Read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."
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General spiritual blog: http://greetingnewlight.wordpress.com/

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