This essay explores the role of women in Homer’s Odyssey, James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Derrick Walcott’s Omeros (1990), epics written in very different historical periods. Common to all three epics are women as the transforming figure in a man’s life, both in the capacity of a harlot and as wife.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Kirke, represents the catalyst who encourages Odysseus’s transformation into a mature man. Homer uses Kirke, a godly nymph who displays divine powers, to portray the harlot. After sailing away from the Laistryones, Odysseus and his crew land on Aiaia. They disembark and scavenge the island for food, but instead find the nymph in her palace. Empowered by the gods to bewitch the crew, Kirke turns Odysseus’s men into swine. Homer uses the word swine to describe the soldier’s subconscious state of mind after years at war that involves raping women and plundering towns. “For ten years, [they] had been in Troy, fighting a war in a he-man world, where no dialogue between men and women takes place..” (Campbell 54). Both divine and mortal, the gods immunize Odysseus by sending the messenger, Hermes, with the black root and milky white substance to neutralize Kirke’s power. ‘The Lady Kirke mixed me a golden cup of honey wine, adding in mischief her unholy drug” (Homer 175). Casting her spell and thinking it took, Kirke sends Odysseus to lie with his crew in the sty. “Down in the sty and snore among the rest!” (Homer 175). Kirke’s brew failing, Odysseus draws his sharpened sword and in one bound places it against her throat. Kirke asserts her power and Odysseus subverts it, a tryst the gods deploy to rid Odysseus of his rogue and a…
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…racelets. Smelling her aroma, feeling the air stir from her passing, mesmerized by the serpentine grace of her body, he could do nothing but acknowledge her power. When Maud dies, Major Plunkett makes his home on the island where he commemorates the life of the woman he loves, Helen.
Campbell, Joseph. Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.
Mamner, Robert D. Epic of the Dispossessed: Derek Walcott’s Omeros. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.
Hexter, Ralph. A Guide to The Odyssey: A Commentary on the English Translation of Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Random House, 1993.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Random House, 1990.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Random House, 1986.
Walcott, Derek. Omeros. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.
Free Essays on Homer’s Odyssey: Powerful Women of Homer’s Odyssey
The Powerful Women of Homer’s Odyssey
There is really no way to generalize the women in Homer’s Odyssey because they all have their own distinct traits that make each of them great, strong, and powerful women. A very powerful woman is Arete. She is as powerful as the king, Alcinous. Her daughter Nausicaa is an amazing woman, even though she is so young. She displays great intelligence in handling Odysseus. These women I speak of above are great women in a good sort of way but there are also some very bad women that still have some amazing qualities. For instance Clytemnestra who has great vengeance and deceit. Another Homeric women that breaks the mold is Helen. She is so independent and headstrong it’s almost scary. These qualities I’m applying to all these women are not their only but they are the most memorable. In fact some of them share the traits I have already laid out. One other thing I would like to mention before I go on is how different these women are from what I expected. I thought they would all be weak and completely under the control of the heroic men but all the ones I’ve mentioned are very powerful and could probably do with out their men. I know Helen would be all right with out Menelaus.
Helen is extremely independent and fairly evil. For the most part only does what she wants to do. First off she ran away with Paris and started the Trojan war. Now I know it’s said that Paris took her but I would beg to differ. The best example I have is the horse story Menelaus tells Telemecus. It begins with the men in the Trojan horse waiting to ambush the city, and Helen walked around it “Three times….. / feeling, and stroking its flanks, / challenging all the fighters, calling each by name -” (Hom. 4. 310-312). What Helen wanted to do was blow the Greeks cover and help the Trojans win the war. This also shows how smart she is because the Greeks had been away from there wives for ten years and were getting a little lonely. Homer tells us that Anticlus “was hot to salute” her, but of course Odysseus had to save everyone from her (Hom. 4.320). This whole story gives a lot of insight to Helen and what she wanted.