ENGL 2111 – E
Unit 1: Oedipus the King
The story of Oedipus the King is set in the kingdoms of Thebes, in the city of Athens. The dominant female character in the story is Jocasta, Oedipus’ mother. According to the culture in Athens at the time, women had limited rights and freedoms. They were not formally educated and often got married early to older men. Their primary role was childbearing and taking care of the home. The story of Oedipus the King was written by a man named Sophocles.
“And as for this marriage with your mother—have no fear. Many a man before you, in his dreams, has shared his mother’s bed. Take such things for shadows, nothing at all— Live, Oedipus, as if there’s no tomorrow! (Sophocles, 1071–1078)
These are the words spoken to Jocasta when Oedipus recalls the oracle’s prophecy that he would cause the death of his parents and wed his mother. Jocasta brushed away Oedipus’ fear urging him to live fearlessly. As a woman, Jocasta was concerned with protecting her marriage to Oedipus, and she did not want to believe that he might be her son. Her words are ironic as the prophecy comes to pass; Oedipus is the son that Jocasta abandoned many years before.
Unit 2: The Book of Ruth
The story of Ruth is set in takes place in Bethlehem and Moab. Women in ancient Jewish culture were viewed mainly as being wives and mothers. The the story focuses mainly on Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah. Naomi was married to Elimelech, and they lived in the country of Bethlehem. Together with their children; Mahlon and his brother Chilion, they relocated to Moab because of a drought that struck their home of Bethlehem. Their sons married two Moabite girls, Ruth and Orpah. After some time, Elimelech and his sons passed away leaving the women alone. After the deaths, Naomi resolves to move back to Bethlehem, and her daughters-in-law insisted on leaving with her. She refused, urging them to stay. Ruth refused, saying “Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.” (Ruth, 1:17) The quote shows the loyalty and friendship that Ruth shared with Naomi after the death of their husbands. It also signifies that women’s position in society depended on their marital status; without their husbands, the women preferred to be in their homelands, and that is why Naomi wanted to return to Bethlehem.
Unit 3: The epic of Gilgamesh
The epic of Gilgamesh is set in the kingdom of Mesopotamia during the reign of Gilgamesh, the king of the kingdom of Uruk. He was not completely human but two-thirds of him were god and the remaining third was human; therefore he possessed great physical strength. He raped any women who caught his fancy in the kingdom. Such actions show that in ancient Mesopotamia, women were used primarily for the sexual pleasure of men. The subjects of Gilgamesh begged the gods to save them from the tyranny of Gilgamesh, and the gods decided to make a wild man named Enkidu to save them. To save the wild man, a hunter sent a prostitute because it was believed that sex calmed wild men like him. “He will give you the harlot Shamhat, take her with you……have her take off her robe and expose her sex. When he sees her, he will draw near to her.”(Epic of Gilgamesh, 124-127) Enkidu would be overcome when he saw the prostitute and afterward he would become tame like other human men. Sex was a weapon that could b used by women to overpower their men and also as a means to any end the women wanted to achieve.
The Book of Songs
The book of songs in the Bible was written by King Solomon of Israel. Solomon is famous for having hundreds of wives and concubines. From this, we can conclude that women at the time were considered sexual beings, a source of pleasure for men. The women did not hold any important positions but were mainly wives and mothers.
King Solomon writes, “Ah, you are beautiful, my love; ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.” (Solomon, 1: 15) The author of the book describes the women that he loves as being very beautiful. This shows that women were often judged by their appearance. The book of Songs contains many other descriptions of Solomon about his beloved, all of them expressing her beauty and his sexual desire for her. These passages give s glimpse of the view of women during King Solomon’s time, they were created to be a source of pleasure to their men, and no other attributes apart from the physical had much importance.
Beattie, Derek Robert George. Jewish Exegesis of the Book of Ruth. Department of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield, 1977.
Fox, Michael V. The Song of Songs and the ancient Egyptian love songs. Vol. 276. Madison^ eWI WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
George, Andrew. “The epic of Gilgamesh. A new translation.” (1999).
Sophocles, E. A. Oedipus the king. Classic Productions, 1994.