The Odyssey – Role of Women
Although women occupied an entirely different position in society compared to men, they too held a certain sphere of influence and power; they simply exerted it in ways that were distinct from men’s strategies.
By observing the many female characters in The Odyssey, for example; Penelope, Circe, and Calypso, we are able to understand that back then women were inferior to men yet they had power in that they were able to draw men in so quickly and easily (for example sirens, they sing so beautifully that men get drawn in from lust for these things with such beautifull voices, but the sirens are killers and they kill any man on a ship that passes), also they are portrayed as being very wise in The Odyssey, Athena’s appositive most of the time is “bright-eyed Athena” which is portraying that as the godess of wisdom, even in disguise, as mentor etc.
, she still has her bright sparkling eyes which portray her as a very wise woman. This is the same with Penelope as she is portrayed as wise throughout most of The Odyssey. By examining the character of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, one can see just how women exerted their power and influence in The Odyssey and to what ends. Penelope uses clever cunning and sexual charm to toy with men’s emotions and to meet her own needs while she is waiting for her husband to return from battle.
On one hand, she represents motherly characteristics – mothers in The Odyssey are seen as the givers of pity and sorrow rather than true “supporters” of their sons and husbands in terms of military or personal quests. Mothers as seen throughout The Odyssey are women in need of support and guidance as they are weak and fragile, without a steady male hand to guide them, these women apppear to be lost and inconsolable. – but she also has some of the traits associated with the seductresses seen in The Odyssey, such as Circe and Clytemnestra.
Following the role of a mother figure, Penelope mourns her lost love, seemingly oblivious (at first) to the attentions of the suitors. One major role of women in The Odyssey is their roles as seductresses. When Odysseus’ crew arrives on Circe’s island, they are attracted to Circe’s house because of the alluring voice of the beautiful but monstrous goddess. Homer describes her as “singing in a sweet voice as she went up and down a great design on a loom, immortal such as goddesses have, delicate and lovely and glorious in their work. ” (Book 10, Line 221) Odysseus’ men respond to this by calling onto her and entering her house.
The men’s desire for Circe allows the goddess to exploit their weaknesses, trick them, and magically turn them into swine. Odysseus, only, with the help of a protective drug and advice provided by Hermes, goes to rescue his men from Circe’s island. He follows Hermes’ exact instructions and when the goddess attempts to strike him with her sword, he lunges at her. Odysseus draws his sword and says, “Swear me a great oath that there is no other evil hurt you devise against me. ” (Book 10 Line 344) Homer has Odysseus draw his sword at this moment; perhaps he aims to show how a woman’s appeal and sexuality is a threat to male dominance.
Such interactions between men and women add a certain dynamic to the epic and make it more interesting and easier for the reader to identify with the story. Although, Odysseus is very sly and resourceful, many times even he finds himself lost when he is in these types of situations with seductive women. Odysseus was so infatuated with Circe that he remained on her island for a year, completely forgetting about going home until his men convinced him to leave. One other moment when we see the importance of gender in The Odyssey is during Odysseus’ seven-year stay with Calypso on her island.
When Odysseus relays the story of Calypso, he changes the story slightly to give the perception that he was held prisoner and lamented the entire time he was there. However, Homer gives us some insight when he says; “the nymph was no longer pleasing to him. ” (Book 5, Line 153) which implies that at some point Odysseus did enjoy himself with the goddess on the island. Calypso offered him immortality and a life of ease. When Odysseus was exhausted with this lifestyle and longed for his wife and homecoming, Calypso tried to use her wiles to convince him to stay with her.
She compares herself to Odysseus’ wife Penelope saying, “I think I can claim that I am not her inferior either in build or stature, since it is not likely that mortal women can challenge the goddesses for build and beauty. ” (Book 5, Line 211) When Odysseus still longs to return home, Calypso forces him to stay on the island. This is against the ideals of Homeric Greek women. Calypso diplays a dominant and manipulative side, which is another threat against male dominance. Calypso’s ability to impede Odysseus’ voyage for seven years, signifies the belief
that powerful women can create danger. In this situation, Homer tells us, if a woman does not accept her place as an impuissant, she is likely to slow down or prevent a man from reaching his goals. The Homeric Greek men consider women valuable but only to satisfy their physical needs. Zeus eventually sends Hermes as a messenger to command Calypso to allow Odysseus to return home. Calypso complains that the gods are allowed to take mortal lovers while someone always interferes with the affairs of the goddesses. Calypso complains about this double standard but eventually meets Zeus’ request.
This is an excellent example of the male biased Homeric Greek society. This epic is dependant on the role of women. It is difficult to completely judge the beliefs about gender roles in Greek culture based solely on The Odyssey. At times, the roles and actions of women in this poem show the male chauvinist view, that they are objects of beauty and have to succumb to manipulation and trickery to accomplish a goal. There are other times when a woman’s strength and intelligence come through. Homer uses this interplay to make the epic more interesting and develops an underlying theme of a battle of the sexes.