The Role of Women and Stereotypes in the Greek Society in the Odyssey by Homer
The Odyssey is a classic poem by Homer ha revolves around the narrative of Odysseus an ancient Greek hero. Homer describes a full twenty-year journey that Odysseus spends fighting the Trojan War and traveling back to his family. The most significant theme is the nature and the role of women in Greek society. According to the story, men during the period were dominant and made most of the rules. However, Homer defies and illustrates the disparity in the role of women through different characters that highlight the stereotypes in the Greek society.
Homer wrote the Odyssey during the Bronze era that started in the 1600 and ended in 1100BCE. The Greeks tradition states that in that period the gods still had access to earth that why the narrative contains allusions to different gods and goddesses. Additionally, Homer also incorporates some cultural elements from the Iron Age. The Greeks believed that the gods controlled most of the natural phenomena. For example, Athena was a god of war, cities, wisdom, and justice. The Ancient Greece culture was thoroughly patriarchal, and men and women had a different status in the society (Zajko 308). In addition, the community did not only stereotype women based on their beauty but also the status and wealth of their husbands and fathers immersed. The culture constructs dictated that women should marry, have children, and maintain their homes. The rules do not favor their desires in succession since the social norms deem them as weak and entirely dependent on their husbands or guardians (Fant and Lefkowitz). Contrastingly, Homer portrays some women as wise and strong, independent and free to make their decisions.
Penelope is a wise woman, but her gender confines her to stay at home and obey the men in the presence (Smith). Homer at first portrays Penelope as a woman mourning the death of her husband Penelope overhears one of the bards in the in the palace singing about the battles. Hearing the song, she assumes that her husband is dead and breaks down to publicly weep for her husband. However, her son commands her to stop mourning and return to her duties. Telemachus states, Odysseus is not the only man who never came back from Troy, but many another went down as well as he. Go, then, within the house and busy yourself with your daily duties, your loom, your distaff, and the ordering of your servants; for speech is man’s matter, and mine above all others- for it is I who am master here (Homer ). The statement indicates that Telemachus is now in control of home affairs since his father is not present. In addition, he tells Penelope that speech is a man’s matter and most importantly his problems duties since he is the master. Telemachus affirms that his mother does not need to speak to men indicating the social constraints about what a woman could and could not do. Penelope does not have any right to chose what to do with life even after the death of her husband, Odysseus. In the poem, even in her husband absence, the men expect her to pick a suitor so that she can remain under the male control. The men affirm that without the presence of a male figure handle situations, women are inconsolable and lost. Telemachus uses the opportunity to ward off the suitors who want their wealth by establishing himself as the new command and the next in line to succeed his father (Homer).
Even though Penelope does like the ideas, she is still afraid to say it in the open. Instead, she devises a smart way to fool the men that she will marry them and keep the suitors away from forcing her to choose a mate. Homer asserts that Penelope, began weaving a large and delicate piece of workfor Lord Laertesby day she used to weave at the great web, but every night had torches set beside it and undid the work” (Homer). Despite her clever schemes, Penelope is the woman that needs to respect the decision of the men in the society, and cannot stand up against the injustices and state her wants. She instead resolves to use smart plans to avoid choosing a husband.
On the other hand, homer outlines unique female characters that defy the societal expectations of Greece. Athena is a Greek goddess known for wisdom showing that her status is entirely different from that of other women. Despite her gender, Athena has the freedom of addressing the men, the gods, and her father completely degrading the traditions. While most of the women depended on men to make their decisions and save them, Athena uses her status to try to change Odysseus fate and help him find his way home. She pleads to the gods of Greece to change the course of his destiny and set him free form Calypsos’ island. Athena has the power to stir thought is Odysseus as well as other people in the poem. First, she interrupts the negative thoughts that Odysseus has and guides him to think that holding onto the rocks will save his life (Homer). Second, Athena papers in the dream of Nausicaa, and persuades her to go and wash at the riverbanks, an act that leads to the rescue of Odysseus (Homer). Athena is a powerful woman who has the authority to control anyone around her. Her character is entirely different from Penelope, she does not submit to the traditions but transcends against female stereotypes.
Similar to Athena, Nymph Calypso is a strong but a sly woman who uses her power to imprison Odysseus for seven years. Calypso’s actions are against the Greek traditions where men dictated and made decisions for the women. In this instance, Calypso chooses Odysseus fate including the fact that his sex slave. Additionally, women in Greek society were expected to be morally upright and contain their sexual urges. Penelope besides losing her husband a long time ago is a woman of great character, she does not agree to choose for a suitor but remains loyal until her husband gets back. Smith asserts that men have the liberty to roam and stay with other women while the women have to conform to strict social codes of conduct. Penelope observes the social systems and instead of choosing anther husband decides to remain loyal to Odysseus even though she is not sure that he will return. Calypso defies the norms and uses her sexuality to trap men. The society views Calypso as an immoral woman who traps married men to become her sexual slaves. Women in the Greek community have no autonomy of their body and their sexual freedom. The society dictates the men they should marry, and how to use their sexual freedom. Men, on the other hand, can do whatever they want with their bodies and marry whom they please. The men pressure Penelope to choose a husband with the aim of controlling her sexual freedom.
In conclusion, even though some women in the Odyssey possess immortal characteristics, their ability strength realize in their ability to rise above the stereotypes in the period. Homer clearly illustrates that ancient Greek was a patriarchal nation. The society referred to women as weak individuals who depended on the guidance of the male figures to achieve some sense of direction and control over their lives. While some women appeared weak, others lie Penelope silently used their wisdom to challenge the power structures and reject demeaning traditions. Women like Calypso were not meek, but powerful women who controlled men using their power and charm, making them their subjects. Homer also outlines the degree in which mortal women earned respect in the society. They had the freedom to act and assume the masculine traits and behavior without question while ordinary women still had to maintain their demeaning roles in the community. The portrayal of women in Ancient Greek was different based on one’s relationship with the gods.