Literary Legislation (Part 2)

Moving toward the acceptable end of the spectrum mentioned in my last post, I would like to consider female characters who are part human and part divine. Typically, they are the products of unions between gods and mortals. That the vast majority of ancient offspring from such unions were men should not surprise us, given the historical context. Whether male or female, such children often did not turn out well. Take, for example, Helen of Troy (also called Helen of Sparta). Though accounts vary, she is sometimes said to be a daughter of Zeus and Leda. The circumstances of her conception are at least slightly disturbing, her immortal father taking the form of a swan before procreating with her mother.

Leda and the Swan by Cesare da Sesto, c. 1506-1510
Leda and the Swan by Cesare da Sesto, c. 1506-1510

Her life from there does not particularly take to higher moral ground. Helen’s main (and perhaps only) attribute is her beauty, and throughout her life she is good chiefly for… well, you guessed it.

Helen of Troy by Evelyn Morgan, 1898.
Helen of Troy by Evelyn Morgan, 1898.

So how, exactly, does this qualify her as a positive example for the role of women in mythology? Uh, good point. Actually, it underscores another point I made last week. Older mythologies show a paucity of female role models, and newer constructions can be used to fill the social void. Jumping back into our own century, consider the title character from Ponyo by Hayao Miyazaki. She is the daughter of a wizard and a sea goddess and is stubborn and strong-willed. Her devotion to Sosuke is pivotal to the plot and to a touching depiction of friendship between young children of opposite sexes.

Still shot from Ponyo, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2008.
Still shot from Ponyo, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2008.

Another compelling example from animation is Saoirse, the daughter of a selkie and a lighthouse keeper in Song of the Sea by Tomm Moore. This is a truly admirable character who is redemptive to those around her, especially after her transformation.

From Song of the Sea, directed by Tomm Moore, 2014
From Song of the Sea, directed by Tomm Moore, 2014

Next week, I need to take on what could turn out to be a tougher assignment: finding positive examples of “normal” women in mythology.

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