Men in Classical Literature

It’s time to touch on one of my favorite topics out of all conversational topics: how all men in classical literature are rat bastards. You heard right. Every last one of them.

Don’t generalize, Clare! That’s stereotyping. It’s bad. They can’t all be that terrible. Right? Wrong. And here’s why.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie Troy.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie Troy.

Odysseus. You know, from The Odyssey? You do know, because every sucker had to read this thing in high school. Odysseus. Leaves his home in Ithaca to fight in the Trojan War. Sin #1: rallies the Greek army against Agamemnon so the poor guy has to kill his own daughter. After putting on a show to avoid going to war in the first place. Sin #2: Devises the Trojan horse. I know, all’s fair in love and war, but who honestly roots for the Greeks? Everyone is pulling for the Trojans even though they lose. Sin #3: Sleeps with everything he meets on his way back to Ithaca. Sin #4: Has the gall to disguise himself once he arrives home to make sure his wife was faithful. Double standards are never a good thing, you cad.

Aeneas. Of The Aeneid. Okay, so he’s not Greek. He’s Trojan, and he’s going to found what will become the Roman Empire. Sounds like a rad guy, right? Wrong again.

Aeneas fleeing Troy by Pompeo Batoni.

Aeneas fleeing Troy by Pompeo Batoni.

Sin #1: Carries his father on his back while holding his son’s hand to escape from Troy but loses his wife. And by ‘lose’ I don’t mean she dies. I mean, she does die because her ghost appears to him later, but he literally loses her. As in, OMG where did my wife go? Sure, Aeneas, save the men, you sexist pig. Sin #2: Sleeps with Dido, the queen of Carthage, after tricking her with a fake marriage, which Venus, Aeneas’ mother, helps arrange. This is why Aeneas’ wife’s ghost appears to him, to give him permission to have sex after he lost her. I mean, that’s just sick. Sin #3: Abandons Dido by proverbially sneaking out the window, which leads her to commit suicide. Sin #4: After losing his wife, tricking Dido into bed and then ditching her, Aeneas arrives in Italy and steals another guy’s fiancé. And then he kills the poor guy whose girl he stole.

Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse.

Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse.

Jason. Of the Argonauts. Sin #1: Also sleeps with everything he meets on his journey. Sin #2: Also has Aphrodite enchant a woman to be in love with him. Sin #3: After marrying said woman—Medea—he decides to take another wife. Even though Medea is the only reason he was able to complete his three tasks to acquire the golden fleece. After Medea killed her brother so that they could escape. After promising Medea that he would love only her forever. Sin #4: When Jason tells her about his engagement and she reminds him everything she did for him, he tells her she’s not the one he should be grateful to, but rather Aphrodite who made her fall in love with him. No wonder he dies alone.

To avoid spending all day ranting about every male character in classical literature, I’ll stop there, but you get my point. Men suck, at least they did 3,000 years ago. Except I’m not actually as feminist as I sound in this rant. Men in classical literature can be very interesting and very complex, like Achilles or Agamemnon. And they can be heroic and good, like Orpheus and Hector. Okay, so I did generalize a bit. There are great men in classical literature. But there are also a lot of rat bastards. But I suppose the same is true of men in literature from any time period. And in real life. Ah well. C’est la vie.

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