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Aspects of Effeminacy and Masculinity in the Iliad*

  • Christopher Ransom (a1)

This paper considers the figure of the realised or hypothetical effeminised male in Homer's Iliad, and discusses the impact of effeminacy upon idealised masculine identity in the epic. The idea of effeminacy in the Iliad is explored alongside several related but distinct concepts, such as cowardice, childishness, dress, physical appearance and battle-field rebukes and insults. The second half of this paper addresses more specifically the figure of Paris and the comparisons drawn between Paris and his brother Hektor. I argue that actualised or hypothetical effeminacy is constructed in the Iliad in order to define, by contrast, a ‘proper’ masculinity, founded on concepts of martial fortitude and civic responsibility, thoroughly antithetical to the ‘other’ which the effeminised male symbolises.

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I would like to thank Elizabeth Minchin and Claire Jamset for their guidance on earlier versions of this article. Later drafts were read by Paul Roche, Lindsay Watson and Elizabeth Minchin, and their input is greatly appreciated. I would also like to thank Antichthon's anonymous readers for their very useful comments and suggestions. For all remaining deficiencies, I alone am to blame.

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1 For the purposes of this article, I define effeminacy as the concept of a male being, acting, speaking or seeming feminine or womanlike.

2 Minchin, E., Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory and Gender (Oxford 2007) 151, gives a useful table of the 35 occurrences of rebukes she identifies in the Iliad.

3 All translations are my own. The text is Monro, and Allen's, 1920 3rd edn of the OCT. The fact that it is Thersites leveling these charges against the Achaians complicates any interpretation of the significance of the scene as a whole; however, that it is a rebuke which levels a charge of effeminacy is my only concern here.

4 Cf. Il. 7.235, where cowardice is also associated with effeminacy: on which, see below.

5 On the concept of shame in the Iliad and its implications for characterisation and Homeric (heroic) psychology, see Cairns, D.L., Aidös: the Psychology and Ethics of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greek Literature (Oxford 1993).

6 See Kirk, G.S., The Iliad: A Commentary (vol. II: books 5-8) (Cambridge 1990) 266 on Il. 7.236–41. ‘the woman who does not know about martial matters is a convenient foil for Hektor's recital of all he knows.’ See also Hektor's words to Achilles at Il. 20.431–3: here Hektor presents himself as separate from the child frightened by words in order to define himself. Note that Il. 20.431–3 = 20.200-2: see below.

7 See Kirk (n. 6) 310 on Il. 8.161–2.

8 Vermeule, E., Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry (Berkeley 1979) 101. On this theme, see also Schein, S.L., The Mortal Hero (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1984) 77: ‘a warrior who is killed has become in effect a subdued animal or subjugated woman.’

9 There are, however, parallels between this notion and the passivity/activity model used for describing Greek and Roman sexual politics: see Halperin's, David entry in Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. (eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edn (Oxford 2003) 721, s.v. ‘homosexuality’. On the active/passive distinction in the discourse of ancient Greek homosexuality, see Dover, K.J., Greek Homosexuality (London 1978) 16.

10 Note that Il. 20.200–2 ≈ 20.431-3 (see n. 6 above).

11 See Edwards, M.W., The Iliad : A Commentary (vol. V: books 17-20) (Cambridge 1991) 313, ad loc.

12 Cf. Il. 13.292–3 (note that 13.292 = 20.244).

13 Redfield, J.M., Nature and Culture in the Iliad: The Tragedy of Hector (Chicago 1975) 14.

14 As Bowra, C.M., Heroic Poetry (London 1952) 4, writes: ‘ … it is not enough for [the epic hero] to possess superior qualities; he must realise them in action.’ The figure of Achilles complicates this preoccupation with masculine activity. After all, the very subject of the poem is Achilles' withdrawal from the war, the μῆνις which precipitated it, and the inactivity which this initiates (I thank one of Antichthon's anonymous readers for pointing this out to me). While an extensive examination of Achilles' complex masculine identity is beyond the scope of this paper, I would argue that any attempt to associate Achilles' withdrawal from the war with effeminacy would be made difficult by other considerations, such as the possibility that Achilles' actions could be interpreted as (at first, at least) motivated by a conventional masculine desire for τιμή, and the way in which he perceives that his right to attain it has been transgressed. It is also important to note that, in stark contrast with Paris, for example, Achilles is never explicitly described in effeminate terms, nor are any accusations of effeminacy levelled against him by other characters. For more on Achilles' relationship with the terms of my argument, see n. 24 below.

15 See Long, A.A., ‘Morals and Values in Homer’, JHS 90 (1970) 121–39.

16 Thalmann, W.G., ‘Thersites: Comedy, Scapegoats, and Heroic Ideology in the Iliad’, TAPA 118 (1988) 1. On the other hand, see Kirk, G.S., The Iliad: A Commentary (vol. I: books 1-4) (Cambridge 1985) 138–9, who argues that Thersites may not necessarily be a common soldier. Addressing Kirk's misgivings, see Thalmann, 1 n. 1 and passim.

17 On the possible pathology of Thersites' appearance, see Simms, R.C., ‘The Missing Bones of Thersites: A Note on Iliad 2.212-19’, AJP 126 (2005) 3340; Beasley, A.W., ‘Homer and Orthopaedies’, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research 89 (1972) 1016; and Altschuler, E.L., ‘Cleidocranial Dysostosis and the Unity of the Homeric Epics: An Essay’, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research 383 (2001) 286–92.

18 Hainsworth, J.B., The Iliad: A Commentary (vol. III: books 9-12) (Cambridge 1993) 186(ad loc.). Hainsworth also points out the aptness of this ‘obviously invented’ name, meaning ‘sneaky’. On the meaning and symbolism of Thersites' name, see Nagy, G., The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry, rev. edn (Baltimore 1999) 259–61. and Kirk (n. 16) 138-9.

19 Kirk (n. 16) 139.

20 See Wees, H. van, Status Warriors: War, Violence and Society in Homer and History (Amsterdam 1992) 78–9: ‘It is not just that [Homer] ignores the bravery, beauty and other qualities of everyone but princes. He denies that anyone but princes possesses these qualities. Princes in general are said to have physical beauty that sets them apart from others.’

21 See Cunliffe, R.J., A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect, 2nd edn (Norman 1968) s.v. ἀγητός, ‘εἶδος ἀΥητοί (i.e., in that only)’, citing Il. 5.787 and 8.228; see also LSJ s.v. ἀγητός, ‘wonderful in form only, as a reproach’, also citing both occurrences.

22 Which, of course, offers a pleasing symmetry. Helen, his wife, is surely the epitome of the danger of feminine beauty.

23 Hektor will repeat when he rebukes Paris later at Il. 13.769.

24 The reader's mind may well be drawn to the beautiful, lyre-playing, battle-shirking Achilles at this point. It is worth noting that when the poet depicts Achilles playing the lyre (Il. 9.185–9), the hero has withdrawn from the world of war. Thus, his association with this non-martial occupation, despite the fact that battle is taking place, does not necessarily lead to a suggestion of effeminacy. Rather, I interpret the representation of Achilles' lyre playing as further emphasising his separation from the other Achaians. The irony is, of course, that the hero's subject for song is (‘the glorious deeds of men’), the core material of epic, and that Achilles is thus simultaneously removed from and engaging in the generation of epic material. On Achilles and effeminacy, see also n. 14 above.

25 In much the same way, dancing is characterised as antithetical to the martial world throughout the epic; see Il. 13.729–31. 15.506-8, 16.617, 24.260-2.

26 Helen too will blame the war on Paris' at Il. 6.356; on this passage, see below. On the implications of μαΧλοσύνην, see Macleod, C.W., Homer, Iliad Book XXIV (Cambridge 1982) 89.

27 Griffin, J., Homer on Life and Death (Cambridge 1980) 5. Paris changes into proper armour: Il.3.326–39.

28 Griffin (n. 27) 83.

29 It is unclear whether the description refers to Amphimachos or Nastes. Kirk (n. 16) 261 refers to Aristarchus' view from the scholia that Amphimachos is ‘grammatically more likely since his was the last name to be mentioned.’ Griffin (n. 27) hedges his bets, calling him Nastes at 4 and Amphimachos at 115.

30 See Edwards (n. 11) 68.

31 See Griffin (n. 27) 4: ‘… this single allusion characterizes him with deadly finality.’ The death of Amphimachos/Nastes is not mentioned in Book 21; we do not find the name in the catalogue of men slain by Achilles in the river. Likewise, the death of the Trojan seer Ennomos, referred to several lines earlier, is also not mentioned in Book 21: , ‘but he was brought down under the hand of swift-footed Aiakides in the river’ (Il. 2.860–1 = 2.874).

32 See Cunliffe (n. 21) s.v. νήπιος §3, who counts this usage under the meanings ‘childish, foolish, thoughtless, senseless’.

33 For example, cf. Hektor's death at Il. 22.401-3.

34 Scodel, R., Listening to Homer: Tradition, Narrative, and Audience (Ann Arbor 2002) 96. Scodel goes on to suggest that Euphorbos is a ‘doublet of Paris’.

35 Edwards (n. 11) 68. See also Fowler, D., ‘Vergil on Killing Virgins’, in Whitby, Michael, Hardie, Philip and Whitby, Mary (eds), Homo Viator: Classical Essays for John Bramble (Bristol 1987) 185–98, at 187-8. Although Fowler reads Eurphorbos as effeminate, he nevertheless views the scene as pathetic and sexually symbolic. He writes that the ‘comparison of Euphorbus’ hair to the Graces … makes Euphorbus like a girl’, and reads the scene as a metaphor for ‘violently pathetic defloration’.

36 Il. 3.39–57; on this rebuke, see above.

37 See on Il. 24.2330, as discussed above.

38 See below.

39 See 77. 15.506-8, 16.617, 24.253-62.

40 Kirk (n. 16) 322.

41 See below my discussion of Helen's comment at Il. 6. 350–1; see also Cairns (n. 5) 77, and Redfield (n. 13) 114-5.

42 See Kirk (n. 16) 328: ‘Paris is evidently unperturbed by his experience and must be complacently aware that it was Aphrodite that spirited him away.’

43 Cf. Il. 6.339, where Paris tells Hektor (‘victory shifts from one man to another’); on this, see Kirk (n. 6) 204: ‘He thus attributes success in battle to more or less random factors, discounting his personal responsibility and performance.’

44 Hooker, J.T., ‘Homeric Society: A Shame-Culture?’, G&R, 34.2 (1987) 121–5, at 122, writes that Hektor ‘… is explicitly contrasted with his brother Paris and implicitly with the warriors on the Achaean side.’ Redfield (n. 13) 113 writes that Homer ‘seems to have intended the contrast between [Paris and Hektor] and to have marked it by certain parallel features … they are introduced as a sort of pair. Their likeness, however, is that of opposites’; at 114-5 he argues that Hektor's keen sense of αίδώς and heroic duty is constructed in direct contrast to Paris’ lack of αίδώς; and at 122 he writes that ‘Hector and Paris are a kind of opposite pair.’ Griffin (n. 27) 6-7 sees the contrast between the Hektor/Andromache and Paris/Helen relationships as indicative of the contrast between the characterisations of Hektor and Paris as individuals. This notion has a long history, and the second century CE philosopher Maximus of Tyre constructed the following antithesis (Max. Tyr. Or. 26.6):

Paris the licentious, Hektor the sensible. Paris the coward, Hektor the hero. You can compare their marriages as well: one worthy of imitation, the other pitiable. One cursed, the other praiseworthy. One adulterous, the other lawful.

I thank Jeroen Lauwers of K.U. Leuven for bringing this passage to my attention. The text is from Trapp's 1994 Teubner edition. On the contrast between Paris and Hektor in ancient scholarship, see also the bT scholia on Il. 6.390.

45 As Hektor and Paris are contrasted most explicitly in Book 6, so too are Andromache and Helen. The difference in the relationships between the two men and their wives serves to reinforce the differences between the characters themselves; see Redfield (n. 13) 122: ‘As Hector and Paris are a kind of opposite pair, so are Helen and Andromache. Andromache is the faithful wife who completes and motivates the hero; Helen is a woman as a source of danger and social disorder …’ See also Griffin, (n. 27) 6, and Nortwick, T. Van, ‘Like a Woman: Hektor and the Boundaries of Masculinity’, Arethusa 34 (2001) 225.

46 See below my discussion of Helen's comment at Il. 6. 350–1 below. See also Cairns (n. 5) 77, and Redfield (n. 13) 114-5.

47 Kirk (n. 6) 164.

48 Hektor will use the phrase also at Il. 8.174, 11.287, 15.487 and 17.185. Others use it at Il. 5.529 (Agamemnon), 15.561 (Aias), 15.661 (Nestor), 15.734 (Aias) and 16.270 (Patroklos).

49 For contemporary theories of gender-as-performance, see Butler, J., Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York 1990) 24-5, 33, 136–7; Gilmore, D.D., Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity (New Haven 1990) 3055; Connell, R.W., Masculinities (Cambridge 1995) 21–7 and passim; Simpson, M., Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity (London 1994)passim; and Woodward, K. (ed.), Identity and Difference (London 1997) 130-1, 219–20. For applications of these contemporary theories to Greek and Roman literature, see Gunderson, E., Staging Masculinity: The Rhetoric of Performance in the Roman World (Ann Arbor 2000)passim and esp. 112-5; Wray, D., Catullus and the Poetics of Roman Manhood (Cambridge 2001) 5763; Gleason, M.W., Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton 1995)passim; and Christ, M.R., The Bad Citizen in Classical Athens (Cambridge 2006) 1544.

50 In referring to the offers of Hekuba, Helen and Andromache as ‘temptations’, I am in no way suggesting that the women act out of malice. Rather, the offers are made out of goodwill, but the comfort and the prolongation of an absence from the battlefield which the acceptance of these offers entails is a ‘temptation’ to be avoided if Hektor is to maintain his masculine, heroic identity.

51 Hekuba, , Il. 6.258–62. Helen, 6.354-8; Andromache, 6.431-9.

52 On this sequence, see Griffin (n. 27) 6–7.

53 Here I disagree with Kirk (n. 6) 196, who writes that ‘Hektor uses any available excuse, since he is in a hurry.’ I argue that Hektor's response fully encapsulates his heroic ethos and contributes to his characterisation.

54 Of course, he could wash his hands, but in doing so he would be ridding himself of the traces of war and symbolically removing himself even further from the battlefield; see Redfield (n. 13) 121, who writes that ‘although he is present in her home, he still belongs to the battlefield.’

55 Van Nortwick (n. 45) 223.

56 Ibid. 225.

57 Ibid. 223.

58 Ibid. 227.

59 Il. 3.380–2 and 3.391-4; see above.

60 See Kirk (n. 6) 201: ‘… here the great spear is obviously designed, with its gleaming tip and golden ring, to give him a special glow of authority as he confronts his unheroic brother.’ On the symbolism of Hektor's spear, see also Griffin (n. 27) 8, and Van Nortwick (n. 45) 225.

61 Il. 3.380–2; see above.

62 See Griffin (n. 27) 8: ‘… he finds Paris not in a respectable part of the house but in his boudoir among the female servants …’; see also Van Nortwick (n. 45) 231: ‘[Paris] has given himself over to the intimate venue that Hector avoids.’

63 See Griffin (n. 27) 8, and Schein (n. 8) 173.

64 On spears as phallic metaphors in both Greek and Latin poetry, see Adams, J.N., The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore 1982) 1920; in Attic comedy, see Henderson, J., The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy, 2nd edn (Oxford 1991) 44-5, 120–4.

65 Kirk (n. 6) 203 points out that it is perhaps surprising that Hektor blames Paris' shirking on χόλος (‘anger’): ‘… since he might be expected to mention cowardice, slackness or effeminacy as his brother's motive’; on this exchange, see also Collins, L., ‘The Wrath of Paris: Ethical Vocabulary and Ethical Type in the Iliad’, AJPh 108.2 (1987) 220–32.

66 There is an ambiguity here as to whether Τρώων is a subjective or objective genitive; whether the Χόλος and νέμεσις Paris mentions belongs to the Trojans, or is directed at the Trojans. Thus, Paris could be saying either ‘it was not because the Trojans hold Χόλος and νέμεσις towards me’ or ‘it is not because I hold Χόλος and νέμεσις towards the Trojans.’ However, since Hektor has suggested that Paris is holding Χόλος in his heart (Il. 6.335–6, see above), I believe it is more natural for Paris to be referring to his own Χόλος and νέμεσις, rather than that of the Trojans. See Kirk (n. 6) 203.

67 Cf. Il. 3.428–31.

68 On this, see especially Cairns (n. 5).

69 This simile will be repeated, but applied to Hektor at Il. 15.263–8, after Apollo has breathed renewed strength into him.

70 Van Nortwick (n. 45) 229.

71 In Book 11 of the Iliad, we are presented with another side of Paris, one in which he is largely successful in battle. At Il. 11.369–83. Paris shoots Diomedes in the foot with his arrow, but Diomedes' rebuke shows us that the former characterisation of Paris is still not far from the mind of the poet. He addresses Paris in demeaning and effeminising language (Il. 11.385–7) and compares being struck by Paris' arrow to being struck by the arrow of a woman or a witless child (Il. 11.389–90). Still, his shooting does bring about Diomedes' withdrawal from the battle. Likewise, at Il. 11.504–9, Paris shoots Machaon with an arrow, which turns the tide of the battle.

* I would like to thank Elizabeth Minchin and Claire Jamset for their guidance on earlier versions of this article. Later drafts were read by Paul Roche, Lindsay Watson and Elizabeth Minchin, and their input is greatly appreciated. I would also like to thank Antichthon's anonymous readers for their very useful comments and suggestions. For all remaining deficiencies, I alone am to blame.

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