The relationships between men and women vary in literature. While generally men dominate women, events that take place can cause the roles to reverse. Ancient stories such as Metamorphoses and the book of Genesis show the relationships and roles men and women play can differ depending on the situation. When comparing the stories to situations taking place today, one can see the relationships between men and women have generally stayed the same.
The role of man as the dominating sex goes back as far as the creation. However, the relationship between Adam and Eve did not begin this way. The roles between them shift due to the situation. After God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, Adam sees Eve as a part of him. Eve comes into the world as Adam’s equal. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Lawall 58). The roles do not change until Eve eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and convinces Adam to do the same. God then places Adam over Eve. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Lawall 59).
God placed Eve in this role due to her choice to do what was wrong. Up until this point, things were going as God planned. Adam and Eve shared everything in the garden and followed God’s rules. The change occurs when Eve chooses her wants over the rules God has set. Her decision caused distrust to form between man and God.
The rape of Io by Jove in Book I of Metamorphoses portrays women as victims. Like Tereus in Book VI, Jove rapes Io because he is in love with her. When it is time to cover his tracks, he turns Io into a young cow. This puts her at a disadvantage and leaves her escape in the hands others. She does not have much control. “…when she tried to lift her arms to plead with Argus, found she had no arms to stretch; and when she tried to utter some lament, nothing but lowings issued from her lips, a sound that she was frightened to emit…”(Lawall 1144). Io becomes a weak character. Her evolvement into a weak character is not so much a true portrayal of who she is, but rather a result of the circumstances.
A change in roles takes place in Book VI of Metamorphoses. The story revolves around Tereus, his wife Procne, and her sister Philomena. The townspeople see Tereus as a brave warrior. “Tereus of Thrace, brave, and inur’d to war, had quite defeated, and obtain’d a name. The warrior’s due, among the sons of Fame. This, with his wealth, and pow’r, and ancient line…”(Ovid). He later falls in love with and rapes his sister in law Philomela. Philomela stands up to Tereus after the rape. “My self, abandon’d, and devoid of shame, Thro’ the wide world your actions will proclaim; Or tho’ I’m prison’d in this lonely den, Obscur’d, and bury’d from the sight of men, My mournful voice the pitying rocks shall move, And my complainings echo thro’ the grove..”(Ovid) This results in Tereus cutting off her tongue.
Tereus and Philomena reverse roles in the story. Others view Tereus as brave and admirable, but in actuality he is a coward. The raping of Philomena displays the first sign of Tereus’s cowardliness. His fear later surfaces when he cuts of Philomena’s tongue and locks her away. Although a victim, Philomena is a strong character. She becomes a hero in her own right by standing up to Tereus and getting revenge on him. Regardless of the situation, she always fought back. The story shows that even the most heroic men are flawed.
The current relationships between males and females mirror the relationships portrayed in ancient literature. However, the relationships may vary depending on the situation. While it often appears one sex dominates another, the roles we play in life are a big factor in the relationships we encounter. As the events around us change, the roles we play change also. This causes males and females to switch roles. This may come about from the choices we make ourselves or sometimes from choices beyond our control.
Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Beginnings to A.D. 100. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002.
Ovid. Metamorphoses. The Internet Classics Archive. 1994-200.