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Homer: Women

3. Helen in the Iliad

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about Helen’s representation in the Iliad, focusing in particular on: (i) the key questions surrounding Helen – e.g. did she leave Menelaus voluntarily or did Paris force her? Why is Helen given so much more air-time than other women in the Iliad?, etc.; (ii) the importance of the first time we see Helen, when she is weaving a great tapestry depicting “the many trials of the Trojan horse-breakers and bronze-clad Achaeans” (Il. 3.125-8); (iii) the comments of the old men of Troy when they see Helen (“Small wonder that the Trojans and bronze-greaved Greeks have suffered for such a woman”, Il. 3.154-7); (iv) the ending of Book 3, where Helen rebukes her husband for being a lesser man than Menelaus – but then goes to bed with him; (v) Helen’s meeting with Hector in Book 6, where she appears to blame herself for the war; and (vi) Helen’s lament for Hector in Book 24, which is just as self-deprecating as her speech in Book 6.


In this course, Dr Emily Hauser (University of Exeter) explores the status and role of women in the Iliad and the Odyssey. In the first module, we think about why women matter in Homer, and the difficulty of recovering the experience of ancient women from the literary and archaeological record. In the second module, we think about the lives and experience of women as they are presented in the Homeric epics – including the centrality of marriage and childbirth, their dependence on their male relatives, and the behaviours expected of them in public and in private. In the third module, we think about the role of Helen in the Iliad, before turning in the fourth module to the role of Helen in the Odyssey. Finally, in the fifth module, we turn the role of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, in the Odyssey.

Note: Translations of Homer are taken from Richmond Lattimore's Iliad of Homer (1951) and Odyssey of Homer (1967), unless otherwise specified.


Dr Emily Hauser is Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter, and the author of an acclaimed trilogy of novels reworking the women of Greek myth, including For the Most Beautiful (2016, Penguin Random House). She has written articles on gender in Homer, women poets in antiquity and their reception in contemporary women’s writing; she also co-edited Reading Poetry, Writing Genre: English Poetry and Literary Criticism in Dialogue with Classical Scholarship (2018, Bloomsbury). Her latest books are Ancient Love Stories (2023, Bonnier) and How Women Became Poets: A Gender History of Greek Literature (2023, Princeton).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Hauser, E. (2019, December 02). Homer: Women - Helen in the Iliad [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Hauser, E. "Homer: Women – Helen in the Iliad." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Dec 2019,