The Odyssey

The Influence of Monotheism and Polytheism on Gender Roles

Throughout western history, enormous gender differences have been evident in both monotheistic and polytheistic cultures. Indeed, the patriarchal hierarchies in both social systems have emphasized the superiority of the male sex; however, greater stress is placed on the worthlessness of women in a monotheistic society. The fact that women in polytheistic worlds such as those found in The Odyssey and Medea are able to command more power than women in monotheistic civilizations such as those found in The Holy Bible and Beowulf suggests that the female image commanded greater respect and was more highly regarded in a polytheistic society. In many ways, this shift in mind-set can be attributed to the religious nature of the culture at that time.

The emphasis placed on female inferiority in a monotheistic society can be seen even in a henotheistic culture. As henotheism is often viewed as a precursor of monotheism, it is beneficial to examine the conditions experienced by women in this type of society. "Genesis" describes a world based on a patriarchy: this is a civilization founded on the idea that the primary deity is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Women are rarely mentioned as having any power over the decisions...

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