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The images of women in western and eastern epic literature : an analysis in three major epics, The Shahnameh, The Iliad and The Odyssey

McGill University
Publication Date
  • Women In Literature
  • Epic Literature -- History And Criticism
  • Literature


The central thesis of this work is twofold: (1) contrary to the images perpetuated in works of criticism, there exists no sustained misogyny in the text of exemplar epics by Ferdowsi and Homer, or antagonism toward women rooted in the poets' attitude, and (2) using the principle of androcentric (rather than gynocentric) feminist literary theory we have tried to prove the existence of a "systematic inconsistency" in the roles and images assigned to the women of The Shahnameh, the Iliad, and Odyssey. We have identified the presence of a double structure concerning the question of women. Instead of endlessly praising the female characters, or fully condemning the portrayal of such figures, we have instead tried to turn the issues around and examined opposed aspects in female roles and images. We have examined the conflict of opposites and the systematic inconsistency within each text in which a double structure splits the female image in two directions: one force is represented by exalted, praiseworthy, and positive images endowing women with powerful characteristics such as prowess, courage, wisdom, insight, fearlessness, and a host of other attributes. Yet within the same text, the same woman, through another force, is not only relegated to a subservient role, but also finds imposed upon her the condition of not being taken seriously, severe handicaps regarding her full integration in the social fabric of the story, and not being allowed to use her considerable abilities. Within this paradoxical double structure, it is not that one structure eventually cancels out the other, rather the coexistence of both structures in the same work results in the readers' suspension between the conclusions each of them separately urges.

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