The Odyssey : the Role of Women in Society
Throughout ancient history, the role of women in society has been viewed in many different perspectives. Women consider themselves strong, independent, reliable, and most importantly equal to men. However, men consider women weak, heavily reliant on their husband, and housewives. It is prevalent all throughout history that women were never really on the same playing field as men. Yet, over time the roles of women and the position they place in society improved. The portrayal of women in Greek society and the Islamic Golden Age truly show that women are combatting these traditional stereotypes. In the two pieces of literature, The Odyssey and The Thousand and One Nights, the female characters play a significant aspect in the storyline. They are peculiar because of their charisma and strong relationships with others.
In The Odyssey, there are different types of women roles throughout the story. The main types are monsters, motherly figures, enchantress, and goddesses. All these types of women play a vital part in affecting the journey of Odysseus. In Greek society, women pertain to supporting roles rather than independent ones. Supporting roles meaning they appear inferior, pure and are incapable of doing just as much as men. However, in The Odyssey, the positions of women are surely denounced. For example, Scylla, who is a female sea monster with six heads and twelve tentacles-like legs is known to devour shipmates. There is also Charybdis, embodying a female sea monster that is a giant and dangerous whirlpool with teeth that sucks ships and men to their deaths. Sirens are half-women and half-bird creatures who sings beautiful songs as a way to lure men to their deaths. “…shout as you will, begging to be untied, your crew must only twist more line around you, and keep their stroke up, till the singers fade” (Homer, 1997). The characteristics of each monster challenge the idea that women are not powerful when indeed throughout the story, they set up multiple obstacles for the men to face. The caretaking figures who appear are Penelope and Anticleia. Penelope is the wife of Odysseus. While Odysseus is on his journey, Penelope remains at home longing for her husband’s return. Despite the pain and misery she faces, she refuses to be unfaithful to her partner. This shows the idea that women are reliant on their male partners. However, throughout the story, she is found to be very smart, strong-willed, independent, cunning and a leader when she tries to bring home her husband. For example, all through the years without her husband, she had to dodge off the suitors. “She has been deluding the wits of a whole nation. Hopes for all, promises for every man by special messenger – and what she means is quite different” (Homer, 1997).
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Another way she used to dodge off the suitors was when she needed more time for Odysseus to return home without anyone knowing.“So every day she wove on the great loom- but every night by torchlight she unwove it; and so for three years she deceived the Achaeans” (Homer, 1997). In addition, Penelope displayed her prudence and smart judgment even after Odysseus came home. She was extremely cautious when she did not run towards him with open arms in case he was an impersonator. She used her cleverness to test if it was really Odysseus. Anticleia is Odysseus’ grieving mother who dwells in the Land of the Dead after she killed herself longing for her son’s return. The enchantresses are maids, Circe, and Calypso. The maids in the story display their loyalty to the gods, however, many slept with the suitors and thus were killed by Odysseus. Circe is an alluring witch who turns Odysseus’ men to swine and eventually lets Odysseus and his men stay with her for a year. Lastly, Calypso is the woman who tries to make Odysseus marry her and stay with her on her island forever. The enchantresses defy the idea that women are to be pure, rather they are devious and sly who use their beauty to take advantage and get what they want. The goddesses in The Odyssey are ambitious and controlling.
For example, Athena is seen throughout the story who assists Odysseus. “So spoke the Goddess, bright-eyed Athena, and departed, flying upward as a bird; and in his heart, she put strength and courage, and made him think of his father even more than before. And in his mind he marked her and marveled, for he considered that she was a God; and straightway he went among the suitors, a godlike man” (Homer, 1997). She is known as the goddess of wisdom and the goddess of war and battle. She empathizes and guides Odysseus when he is challenged by hardships. For example, since she is a master of disguise, she was able to help Odysseus get by without anyone recognizing him. “But come now, let me make you so that no mortal can recognize you. For I will wither the handsome flesh that is on your flexible limbs, and ruin the brown hair on your head, and about you put on such a clout of cloth any man will loathe when he sees you wearing it; I will dim those eyes, that have been so handsome, so you will be unprepossessing to all the suitors and your wife and child, those whom you left behind in your palace.” (Homer, 1997) Athena also exemplifies fortitude and bravery. “Hold back, men of Ithaka, from the wearisome fighting, so that most soon, and without blood, you can settle everything” (Homer, 1997). Other than helping Odysseus throughout the story, she is also seen helping others.
For example, “at daybreak call the islanders to assembly, and speak your will, and call the gods to witness” (Homer, 1997). She wants to aid Telemachus to get the suitors out of Odysseus’s palace because she knows Odysseus is still alive. Another goddess is Calypso who is also very powerful and demanding when she was able to force Odysseus to stay with her on her island for a long period of time. The strong and demanding female characters play an effective role in Odysseus’ return, whereas the wicked and enchantresses deter his homecoming.