Hypocriticisms: Double Standards in Literature No. 1

Clipart depicting two women. Left, a woman is bent double and struggling under a huge stack of books. Right, a woman stands on her tiptoes to add another book to the top of the stack.

If you’ve ever read a book, you might have noticed that sometimes there are some double standards.  All kinds. It’s not limited to gender roles or sexuality. Just like in real life, you see discrimination for aspects like age, religion, justice/law, race/nationality, nepotism, and so on.

In this series, we’re going to point out some double standards in some of our favorite books. And although it might be a little painful, we’ll limit ourselves to three or four instances of double standards per book.

We’ll jump right into it like Oedipus into his mother’s bed, and start off with the classic Odyssey. Homer’s Odyssey is chock-full of double standards, especially when it comes to gender:

We begin with Calypso, the beautiful nymph who has her own island away from everyone else—that’s the life right there. And she also held Odysseus captive for seven years, until finally Zeus sends Hermes to tell her to let Odysseus go. She gets mad. Real mad. She tells Hermes straight to his face that the gods are sexist, and I quote:

“You cruel, jealous gods! You bear a grudge

whenever any goddess takes a man

to sleep with as a lover in her bed.

Just so the gods who live at ease were angry

when rosy-fingered Dawn took up Orion,

and from her golden throne, chaste Artemis

attacked and killed him with her gentle arrows.

Demeter with the cornrows in her hair

indulged her own desire, and she made love

with Iasion in triple-furrowed fields–

till Zeus found out, hurled flashing flame and killed him.

So now, you male gods are upset with me for living with a man. A man I saved!

Zeus pinned his ship and with his flash of lightning

smashed it to pieces. All his friends were killed

out on the wine-dark sea. This man alone,

clutching the keep, was swept by wind and wave,

and came here, to my home. I cared for him

and loved him, and I vowed to set him free

from time and death forever. Still, I know

no other god can change the will of Zeus.

So let him go, if that is Zeus’ order,

across the barren sea. I will not give

an escort for this trip across the water;

I have no ships or rowers. But I will

share what I know with him, and gladly give

useful advice so he can safely reach

his home.”

She has a point: How many stories do we have wherein a Greek god, usually Zeus, takes a lover?  

(ID: still from Disney’s Emperor’s New Groove, depicting Kronk frowning as his shoulder angel declares, “No, no. He’s got a point.”)

And then we come to Agamemnon, whom you may remember from the Iliad. He was one of the guys who actually survived and got to go home. But when he got there, it turns out that his wife took another lover, and they plotted to kill him, and then Aegisthus did murder him. But Agamemnon doesn’t even say a bad word about that guy. It’s Clytaemnestra who gets the bad rap. He says:

“It was Aegisthus

who planned my death and murdered me, with help

from my own wife. He called me to his house

to dinner and he killed me, as one slaughters

an ox at manger. What a dreadful death!

My men were systematically slaughtered

like pigs in a rich lord’s house for some feast,

a wedding or a banquet. You have seen

many cut down in war in thick of battle,

or slaughtered in a combat hand to hand;

but you would grieve with even deeper pity

if you could see us lying dead beneath

the tables piled with food and wine. The floor

swam thick with blood. I heard the desperate voice

of Priam’s daughter, poor Cassandra, whom

deceitful Clytaemnestra killed beside me.

As I lay dying, struck through by the sword,

I tried to lift my arms up from the ground.

That she-dog turned away. I went to Hades.

She did not even shut my eyes or close

my mouth. There is no more disgusting act

than when a wife betrays a man like that.

That woman formed a plot to murder me!

Her husband! When I got back home, I thought

I would be welcomed, at least by my slaves

and children. She has such an evil mind

that she has poured down shame on her own head

and on all other women, even goods ones.”

But what he doesn’t tell you is that Cly here is just getting revenge for his sacrificing their daughter.

Literally when I think of Agamemnon, this is what comes into my head:

(ID: a GIF of Ryan from The Office saying “Bitch.”)

Last but not least, Telemachus, the spoiled brat who tells his mom to shut up like eight times in the story. Telemachus has a big problem with women. This is very apparent towards the end, when he says: “I refuse to grant these girls / a clean death, since they poured down shame on me / and Mother, when they lay beside the suitors.” So, if he’s not gonna give these twelve women a decent death, how does he kill them? Hanging.  

For the Greeks, hanging is the worst fate because dying with your feet off the ground condemns your psyche, or your soul, to wander forevermore. You can’t go to the land of Hades. You’re stuck on earth. Forever.  

And note that he doesn’t hang the Suitors. They get an honorable-ish slaughter, right? At least they can try to defend themselves.

What are some of the double standards you’ve noticed in the Odyssey?

-Leigh Ann

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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