eceIn the myths of the Centauromachy and the Amazonomachy, the Greeks found a manuscript for moral and disciplinary guidance in their dealings with the women of the time. By assigning the women of Greece hybris, Greek men targeted the women of Greece to intense programs of subjugation and social retribution in order to prevent the emergence of Centaurian or Amazonian traits, which would destroy the patriarchal nature of Archaic Greek culture. Generally, Greek myths tend to exemplify gender profiling as a way to polarize the sexes in order to maintain a stable and workable patriarchy. This is evidenced in the Centauromachy and Amazonomachy, which identify undesirable and inherent qualities in the women of Greece.
Gender profiling is a common practice and is a consequence of being human. Stereotypical associations are part of the human experience as we are relatively in awe of the diversity around us. Humans tend to group things together based on physical similarities and assign emotional and intellectual labels to those groups. The Greeks were no different and exhibited negative attitudes towards women in everyday life and in their myths. As a result of the evolution of a strongly patriarchal society, Greek culture adapted myths to identify and deal with specific groups. In the case of the women of Greece, the myths of the Centauromachy and the Amazonomachy richly illustrate how men in the Archaic period viewed women. Consequently, Greek society at the time
The Greeks used the story of the Centauromachy to illustrate those qualities, which might eventually lead to the demise of Hellenistic culture. Of note, the Centaurs hybris was their downfall in the battle against the Greeks. The Greeks interpreted their hybris to include affronts into sexual, societal and religious aspects as well (35). Greeks were absolutely concerned with the values of social custom and social order. The idea of moira, the station a person or group is assigned to in life was a staple belief and the backbone of Greek culture. Throughout Castriota’s text, there are comparisons that allude to a relationship between the Greek’s views of the Centaurian’s hybris and the qualities possessed by the women of Hellenistic culture. This comparison will become important in analyzing the usefulness of the myth as a means for gender profiling and societal management.
Closely related to the hybris of the Centaurs, are the qualities associated with the young women of the time. By relating the female gender to the Centauromachy, Greeks identified women as a societal weakness. Castriota states three times, that male characters referred to the rising of the women as hybris. Clearly, the Greeks have given women equine characteristics. According to Castriota, young women were called polos, “young mare” or “filly”. The mere implication that women, as a gender, contained in them the wildness and hybris of the horse was closely reflected in the myth of the Centauromachy. This is a form of gender profiling, which placed women in a position of weakness as to their potential contribution to Greek society.
This weakness, as in a military regime, would have to be monitored and controlled tightly in order to minimize damage done to contemporary Greek society. The Centauromachy myth served as a template for effectively dealing with hybris in culture and society. Women were generally profiled as possessing much hybris and thus, according to the Centauromachy myth, needed to be tightly controlled in order to eliminate the effects of hybris on the framework that governed Greek culture at the time.
Another myth used to illustrate the improper functioning and role of women in society was the Amazonomachy. The Amazonomachy was in full-scale opposition to the patriarchal Greeks of the time. Amazons were closely related to the Centauromachy’s hybris nature. They were equally inclined to make war on horses and engage in confrontations with men. This, of course, was the antithesis of what the patriarchal Greeks viewed as the proper role and functioning of women in society. Castriota rightly points out, “From its inception the Amazon myth probably functioned as a nightmare image of women beyond control, an image designed to justify male supremacy” (46). The Amazonomachy then, was a warning to the men of Greece of what might come if a tight reign was not held on the women of Greece.
The myths of the Amazon women exemplify the inherent characteristics that Greek men attributed to Greek women. Those qualities were hybris and a dominating nature. Castriota suggests that the Amazon myth was specifically designed to give a parallel to the flaws of Asiatic culture, which the Greeks despised and felt was insufficient and ineffective. Similarly, this is how women of the time were viewed. The Amazons embodied those character flaws that Greek men had come to associate with the hybris of the Centaurs and the women of Greece. In paintings and myths involving the Amazons, the Greeks were depicted as triumphant over the Amazons and the Amazons triumphant over certain weaker entities. Though some admirable qualities existed in the Amazons, they lacked the additional characteristics of the Greeks. This made them inferior and due subjugation by the superior patriarchal society.
The importance of identifying the negative traits found in the Centauromachy and the Amazonomachy lies in its effects on the assigning of characteristics toward a group. In the case of the above, it was the women of Greece. The myths involved showed the effects of the hybris of the Centaurs and the similar nature of the Amazons. The attribution of these traits to the women of Greece threatened the stability of the established patriarchy. Consequently, measures were taken to ensure maintenance of the women of Greece. It would be interesting to further explore the myths of Greek culture for examples of rebellious women and how they were dealt with. Also, a look at our own “mythology” might prove to include similar “gender profiling” as negative. I suggest that the ethos portrayed in “Thelma and Louise” by Gena Davis and Susan Sarandon could be easily paralleled to the myth of the Amazonomachy.