Mythic Women Juxtaposed series explores the similarities of individual women from ancient mythology and our contemporary world.
Hecuba was the wife of the powerful King of Troy Priam, and the mother of many children. The body of her oldest son Hector, who was slain early in the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, was dragged around the walls of Troy; second son Paris was slain in the war; Polites died at the feet of his father; Deiphobus was mutilated and slain by Menelaus; daughter Cassandra was raped and carried back to Greece, a trophy of victory. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, she laments “for what does my calamitous old age preserve me.” Hecuba is regarded as one of the truly tragic figures of mythology.
Rose was the wife of a powerful and wealthy man, Joseph, and the mother of seven children. The eldest, Rosemary, was mentally retarded. Son Joe was killed in battle in World War II; daughter Kathleen was killed, along with her fiancé, in an airplane crash; son John, elected President of the United States, was assassinated before he finished his first term; another son, Bobby, later ran for President but was assassinated during his campaign; fourth son Teddy was besieged by scandal; daughters Eunice and Patricia mourned the tragedies with their mother who, according to President Clinton, “played an extraordinary role in the life of an extraordinary family.” Rose has often been called the most tragic woman in modern times.
Aphrodite was beautiful beyond compare. Because she promised the gift of love to Paris, he readily gave her the golden apple, which he had been charged to award to the most beautiful goddess on Olympus . Aphrodite had many lovers, but her favorite was Ares, the god of war. In her many amorous adventures, she was often accompanied by loving doves and the rose was considered special to her.
Marilyn was beautiful beyond compare. She became an undisputed icon of love and desire, from Hollywood to the White House. She had many lovers, three of whom she married, James Dougherty, Joe DiMaggio, and Arthur Miller. After her death, DiMaggio had roses delivered weekly to her grave site.
A resident of Mount Olympus, Themis personified the order established by custom, ethics and law. In her role as justice she both convened assemblies of the gods and attended the gatherings of mortals. Wearing a blindfold to ward off the corruptive influences of appearance, she holds the scales of balance in one hand, and the sword of justice in the other.
A member of the United States Supreme Court, Ruth interprets the constitutional legality of law in America. Her own individual experience of discrimination deepened her commitment to justice, civil rights and gender equity. She is respected for her balanced decisions based on study of the law and a strong personal commitment to justice for everyone.
Cassandra was a princess of Troy. As a child she loved to play with serpents in the temple. They, in turn, bestowed on her the gift of prophesy. However, when Apollo attempted without success to seduce her, the god was so enraged that he decreed that no matter how sincere her predictions, no one would believe her. She remained unmarried. When the Greeks rolled the large wooden horse through the gates and inside the city walls, Cassandra valiantly tried to convince the populace that what appeared to be a gift was truly treachery. They did not believe her, the Greeks devastated Troy , ending one of the epic wars of history.
Rachel loved nature and as a child played in the outdoors, learning about birds and plants at an early age. This interest led to a career as a biologist. She remained unmarried. Farmers considered the development of pesticides and herbicides an incomparable gift in their efforts to produce crops and ensure what they considered the success and prosperity of America . Rachel recognized the potential devastation of the natural world as a result of the widespread use of these chemicals and predicted a “silent spring.” She warned “For time is the essential ingredient, but in the modern world there is no time.” Her prediction has been largely ignored as our environment becomes less and less able to sustain a broad spectrum of life.
Antigone, a woman of great courage, followed her convictions, even when they clashed with local law. When King Creon decreed that traitors, killed in conflict, would not be allowed burial rites, Antigone performed traditional rituals for her treasonable brother, Polynieces. Claiming that the laws of god and family took precedence over those of the state, she was sentenced to death for her act of civil disobedience. Antigone was highly respected for her strength and her integrity.
Rosa, a woman of great courage, followed her convictions, even when they clashed with local law. When ordered by the driver of a crowded bus in Montgomery , Alabama . to relinquish her seat to a white person, Rosa refused, instead obeying the teachings of her religion, which decreed that all persons are equal in the sight of God. She was arrested for her act of civil disobedience, and, because of her strength and integrity, became a model for the fledgling Civil Rights Movement.
When Theseus, prince of Athens, asked Ariadne to guide him through the labyrinth so that he might slay the Minotaur, she agreed, marking the pathway with her string. Having fallen in love with the young prince, she fled her home in Crete with him. But Theseus soon grew tired of the young woman and abandoned her on Naxos , to pursue adventures elsewhere. Ariadne was rescued by Dionysus, god of wine and revelry, who married her and loved her deeply.
When Charles, crown prince of England, asked Diana to marry him she agreed. Faithful to the prince and her marriage vows, she dutifully bore him two sons — essential in securing his position within the labyrinthine royal family. But Charles soon grew tired of the young woman and abandoned her to pursue his lover, Camilla. Diana was rescued by Dodi, a wealthy and charming Egyptian, who loved her and helped her escape the stifling role into which she had been thrust.
Athena, daughter of Zeus and Metis, whom he probably never married, was characterized by the keen eyed radiance of her glance. The patron deity of Athens and particularly revered by women, she was renowned for her intelligence and wisdom. Often sought by ancients in trouble, she helped them solve problems and achieve personal security and happiness. Many temples were built and statues carved in her honor. Annually the women of Athens wove a saffron colored cloth and presented it to the goddess’s statue in the Parthenon.
Oprah, the daughter of parents who never married, is characterized by enthusiasm and vitality. A star of a communications empire, she is seen in over twenty million homes every day, where an audience of mostly women find solutions to their problems in her unflappable wisdom. Her “angel network” promises to change lives for the better. Oprah is respected for her intelligence and her innate understanding of human nature. She has been awarded numerous honors. Although the actual decor of her studio set changes from time to time, it is always colored a saffron yellow.
Circe was the daughter of the sun and was attractive to men. She seduced them by feeding them delicious food to which she had added potions which produced incapacitating effects so that they became focused on sensuality. When Odysseus visited her island domicile he was tempted by her charms, and barely escaped becoming one of the host of men whom the sorceress had changed into beasts.
Monica was a young woman who was attractive to men. She enchanted them by giving gifts, encouraging clandestine sexual activities and engaging in nocturnal phone sex. She used her seductive powers to produce incapacitating effects on men so that they became focused on sex and could not do productive work. Through her sorcery men were changed into beasts.
Hera, wife of Zeus and a powerful goddess was the mother of a daughter, Hebe, whom her father adored. Zeus had a roving eye, and often succumbed to the beauty of mortals, whom he seduced, against the wishes of his wife. On occasion, Hera sent her pet peacocks, with their thousand eyes, to spy on her wayward husband and report his unfaithfulness to her.
Hillary, wife of the President of the United States , Bill, and a strong woman, was the mother of a daughter, Chelsea, whom her father adored. Bill had a roving eye, and from time to time was attracted to women with whom he had sexual liaisons. Though Hillary publicly pretended to ignore these episodes, the ever vigilant media, including a T.V. network which is symbolized by the peacock, kept eyes on Bill’s transgressions and reported them to the world.
Pythia, oracle at Delphi , was considered by countless seekers of truth to be the authority on all matters. Though she usually spoke in riddles, her predictions were invariably true. Pythia sat on a tripod in a small temple in Delphi which had been constructed over a fissure in the earth from which emanated a vapor which put her into a trance. She was accompanied by a sacred python.
Ann, advice columnist for 47 years, received thousands of letters from supplicants who asked for guidance. She sat in an office, surrounded by the many letters sent to her. The fumes from the mug on her desk led to the often stated admonition “wake up and smell the coffee”.
Niobe was the mother of a large and attractive family. She insisted that her six sons and six daughters were the most beautiful and the smartest ever. Her urge to brag on them was irresistible. Though the excessive flaunting of her pride gave her great pleasure, it engendered anger in others. She made the mistake of boasting about her numerous and gifted offspring to the powerful Leto, mother of twins–Apollo and Artemis. In reaction to their mother’s subsequent anger, Apollo shot all of Niobe’s sons and Artemis killed the daughters. Niobe was driven to insane despair from which she never recovered. The powerful Leto had the final word for, eventually, Zeus changed Niobe into a stone in which she remains imprisoned.
Martha is the founder of a vast and successful media empire. With an irresistibly insatiable quest for success, she became America ‘s first self-made female stock market billionaire. Because her wealth was derived from providing resources which made women feel good about their domestic role she was subjected to condescension from the male-dominated media industry who made no secret of wanting to see her fall on her face. When, in her prideful arrogance, she lied about receiving inside information on a stock deal, it was easy for the financial world to vilify her and rejoice when she was convicted and sentenced to prison.
Atalanta has been called “one of the most interesting women in mythology.” A stunning beauty, she possessed both physical and moral strength. Abandoned by her father, who wanted a son, she was rescued and suckled by a she bear. Atalanta became an accomplished huntress and was able to outrun all contenders. Reluctant to marry, she finally agreed to accept any man who could beat her in a foot race. Many lost until the clever Meilanion tossed golden apples on the running path, slowing the curious maiden who paused to gather them. He won the race, her hand and her heart. Atalanta epitomizes the woman who maintains her independence while living gracefully and successfully.
Gloria is one of the most interesting women of the 20th Century. A stunning beauty, she became a prominent spokesperson for feminism. Her unconventional childhood, spent caring for an ill mother, nurtured fierce independence and unshakable self-confidence. After living in India for two years, she took a job as an investigative reporter, donning a bunny outfit to infiltrate the Playboy empire, exposing its exploitative sexism. Founder of Ms Magazine, breast cancer survivor, married and widowed, Gloria demonstrates how to live life gracefully and successfully, while maintaining her independence.
As goddess of the hearth, Hestia ruled over domestic activities. She was stately but not formidable, attractive but not beautiful, and few public temples or monuments were created in her honor. Yet a special shrine to her was set up in nearly every household where women worshipped her and relied on her for guidance and support as they performed their daily household tasks.
As the “French Chef” who introduced thousands to the culinary customs of France, Julia changed the way Americans cook and eat. Large and voluble, she whipped up sauces and baked tartes demonstrating her methods on wildly popular television shows which were religiously watched in thousands of households. Cooks relied on her for guidance and support as they explored dishes and mastered new techniques.
Helen’s stunning beauty is legendary. Her “face that launched a thousand ships” attracted countless suitors. Abducted by Theseus and later rescued by her Spartan countrymen, she subsequently married the wealthy but prosaic Menelaus. With the assistance of Aphrodite, the dashingly handsome Paris , prince of Troy , seduced her away from her husband and transported her to his homeland, setting into motion the ten years of war between the Greeks and Trojans
Elizabeth’s stunning beauty is legendary. With a flawless complexion, exquisite features and an elegant body, her luminous beauty has attracted countless fans whose fantasies are nourished by her roles in films. She has been an extraordinarily successful Hollywood movie star. Married eight times, husbands include the heir of a hotel empire, a British actor and a United States Senator. A connoisseur of jewelry, Elizabeth has created a fragrance which she calls “White Diamonds”.
Penelope fell in love with Odysseus when they were young, they married and had a son. Odysseus reluctantly left his family, joining fellow Greeks to fight in Troy.
Penelope waited while Odysseus defeated the Trojans.
Penelope waited while Odysseus escaped the cave of the blinded Cyclops.
Penelope waited while Odysseus was tempted by the music of the sirens.
Penelope waited while Odysseus evaded the teeming whirlpool.
Penelope waited while Odysseus was seduced by Circe.
Penelope waited while she fought off the unwelcome courtship of suitors.
Penelope waited while she wove, ripped out, and then rewove a shroud for her father-in-law. After twenty years Odysseus returned, and the waiting ended.
Camilla fell in love with Charles when she was a young woman and, although they did not marry, they moved in the same circles.
Camilla waited while Charles sailed in the Royal Navy.
Camilla waited while she married Andrew, and Charles married Diana.
Camilla waited while Diana gave birth to Charles’ sons.
Camilla waited while she divorced Andrew, and Charles divorced Diana.
Camilla waited while Diana was mourned by a grief stricken world after she died in an automobile accident.
Camilla waited until she was accepted by Charles’ mother, the Queen. After thirty-five years they were married and the waiting ended.