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The Women Behind Ancient Greek Myths

From marrying legendary heroes to giving birth to some of the most famous offspring in Greek myths, women play a significant role in ancient storytelling and history. While many take the backseat to the males, others have been at the center of infamous wars , in the case of Helen of Troy. In this article, you will learn of three women you may encounter when reading Greek mythology.

Penelope

The strength and faithfulness of a woman is certainly exemplified in the love that Penelope felt for her husband, Odysseus. While he was away fighting at Troy, she successfully kept would-be suitors away as Odysseus battled the wrath of Poseidon as he battled his way back home. While she waited for his return, Penelope spent her time raising their son Telemachus until he reached adulthood.

Clytaemnestra

After killing her first husband and her child, King Agamemnon of Mycenae took Clytaemnestra as his wife. It would be years later that the king decided that the daughter that he had with Clytaemnestra (Iphigenia) should become a victim of sacrifice. Throughout her marriage to Agamemnon, his wife grew increasingly upset with his treatment of her and other criminal acts that involved her. Because of this, she planned on taking the life of her husband , with the assistance of her lover, Aegisthus. Together, they were able to kill him, as well as his new concubine Cassandra. In the end, Orestes (one of Agamemnon’s sons that he had with Clytaemnestra) exacted his revenge by killing his own mother and her lover.

Atalanta

When it comes to Greek heroes, there is a woman who has earned a place amongst well-known historical characteristics, Atalanta, who accompanied Jason on his journey in search of the Golden Fleece. She is also credited with being the first person to draw first blood on the Calydonian Boar.

Atalanta is believed to be the daughter of a king who ruled over Arcadia or Boeotia. Amongst the crew of the Argo, Atalanta is considered as being the only woman. It was the Argo that served as the ship that the Argonauts sailed when Jason went to capture the Golden Fleece from Colchis. However, Atalanta does not appear on the list that identifies the Argonauts. When she is mentioned, Atalanta is included because she possesses great skill as a runner.

Other instances that mentions Atalanta in Greek myths includes:

One of the well-known tales involving Atalanta sees her losing a footrace because her opponent used a strategy of dropping the Golden Apples of the Hesperides as a way to break her concentration , thanks to Aphrodite (the goddess of love). Losing the race meant that she would have to become the wife of her competitor, who was also a suitor. Conflicting texts state that the suitor was either Melanion or Hippomenes. If he had lost the race, he would have given up his life. After he won, the suitor did not pay homage to the goddess and as a punishment, Aphrodite transformed he and Atalanta into lions.