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Important Role of Women in Homer’s Odyssey

For the Greeks, Homer’s Odyssey was much more than just an entertaining tale of gods, monsters, and men, it served as cultural paradigm from which every important role and relationship could be defined. This book, much more so than its counter part The Iliad, gives an eclectic view of the Achean’s peacetime civilization. Through Odyssey, we gain an understanding of what is proper or improper in relationships between father and son, god and mortal, servant and master, guest and host, and–importantly–man and woman. Women play a vital role in the movement of this narrative. Unlike in The Iliad, where they are chiefly prizes to be won, bereft of identity, the women of Odyssey are unique in their personality, intentions, and relationship towards men. Yet, despite the fact that no two women in this epic are alike, each–through her vices or virtues– helps to delineate the role of the ideal woman. Below, we will show the importance of Circe, Calypso, Nausicaa, Clytaemestra, and Penelope in terms of the movement of the narrative and in defining social roles for the Ancient Greeks.

Before we delve into the traits of individual characters, it is important to understand certain assumptions about women that prevailed in the Homeric Age. By modern standards, the Ancient Greeks would be considered a rabidly misogynistic culture. Indeed, the notoriously sour Boetian playwright Hesiod– who wrote about fifty years before Homer– proclaimed “Zeus who thunders on high made women to be an evil to mortal men, with a nature to do evil (Theogony 600).” While this view may have been extreme even for the Greeks, they were convinced of the physical and intellectual inferiority of women. Thus, they believed that it was better for all–…

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…ocial structure of a defunct culture that was just as complex, if not more complex, than our own. It defined and sustained Greek society for hundreds of years; much like the Bible once did in Christian nations. Yet, despite its archaic nature, The Odyssey remains fresh two and a half millennia after its conception. Homer’s world has woven the fantastic together with the ordinary in such a way that it will never fall apart. In a significant sense, The Odyssey is immortal.

Works Cited:

Fagles, Robert. The Odyssey. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1996.

Katz, Marilyn. Penelope’s Renown. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991

Hesiod. “Theogony.” Perseus. Web. 24 Mar. 2015

Morford, Mark. Classical Mythology. 5th edition. White Plains, NY: Logman, 1995.

Penelope, Clytaemestra, Athena, and Helen of Homer’s Odyssey

The Ideal Women of Homer’s Odyssey

Ancient Greek society treated women as secondary citizens. Restrictions were placed on the social and domestic actions of many aristocratic women in ancient Athens. The women depicted in Homer’s Odyssey, on the other hand, are the ideal. Penelope, Clytaemestra, Athena, and Helen are all women with exceptional liberty and power.

Before comparing the women of the Odyssey to those of Athens, it is beneficial to take a look into the lives of the latter. A respected woman was to have characteristics including obedience, virtue, refinement, productivity, honor, beauty, talent and intelligence (social consciousness). Sarah B. Pomeroy has studied this aspect of ancient life and discusses it in her book, Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece. She states that women from this Athenian polis (city-state) are part of their husbands’ oikos. Though, these women have some power within the oikos, their primary responsibility was the procreation of sons. They held very little and most likely no political power. They lived by guidelines set by society which were fairly restrictive. They must not do tasks out of doors, for then they would become “the potential prey of rapists and seducers” (Pomeroy 21). The wife must be kept chaste and pure, and so there was a need for a slave-woman. Not only were the women not allowed outdoors, but they were not to come into contact with strangers, particularly men. For, men would vie “to win honour for themselves at the expense of other men’s honour, and wives were often mere adolescents” (Pomeroy 21). These “mere adolescent” wives were not only confined in their roles as women, they were also physically confined within the walls of …

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…ncient times. Perhaps the men were in fear that the women, were they in the position of power, would be as repressive as men. For whatever the many reasons for the situation in which the women lived, the truth holds that they are invaluable to society. There may not be a female president for some years to come, but without women in modern society, there would be no male presidents either.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. “Agamemnon.” Greek Tragedies. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1953. 1-61.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Pomeroy: Pomeroy, Sarah B. Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Representations and Realities. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.

Pomeroy2: Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Oxford UP.

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