The Role of Women in the Odyessey

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“There are about ten female characters in Homer’s The Odyssey. Many are goddesses and nymphs, and then there is Odysseus’s mother, and Penelope, his wife. “Once through the straight, nine days I drifted until I made shore, buoyed up by the gods upon Ogygia Isle. The dangerous nymph Calypso lives and sings there, in her beauty, and she rescued me, loved me.” Calypso and Circe are similar in that they both try to seduce Odysseus, but one loves him, and the other doesn’t.

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What effect does Calypso’s love have on Odysseus? She rescues him from the ocean and wrath of Poseidon, but for what? She makes him her husband, and he stays with her against his will.
It is hard to figure out Odysseus’ feelings at this point. Obviously, he is sad about his home, and being unfaithful to his wife, but calypso is a beautiful nymph, and he has all he wants. Sure, he is a hero, but he has his flaws. Why isn’t this one of them? It is to portray calypso as the bad manipulative captor here. If Odysseus were to give into temptation, the bad focus would be on him as well. But he doesn’t, so Calypso gets the blame, even though she helped him get off the island eventually.

Circe is all about womanly power, and she certainly uses her skills to get what she wants. She is presented as the witch, but in several rewrites she is the radical feminist who turns men into pigs. (haven’t we all wanted to do that a few times?) I definitely think she is the epitome of what men say women should not be; powerful, above men, skillful, unmarried, angry. She gives Odysseus ultimatums, but with all being the villain, Circe also gives him important information regarding the land of the dead and the rest of his journey. Each goddess was smart, beautiful (like all the women with names here are) and used her power to advantage, though they were seen as obstacles. Without them, Odysseus would have been dead at the bottom of the ocean, or circling the globe aimlessly and (probably) also dead at the bottom of the ocean.

“Eurymachos, all my excellence, my beauty, and figure, were ruined by the immortals at that time when the Argives took ship for Ilion, and with them went my husband, Odysseus. If he were to come back to me and take care of my life, then my reputation would be more great and splendid.” Penelope, loving mother, loyal wife, beautiful queen. The perfect example of what a woman should aspire to be at the time; married, loyal, good, pretty, good at chores, hospitable, kind. She handled suitors with grace and care while Odysseus was away, raised his son by herself, and I assume, ran the kingdom. In this quote, her self worth is tied to her husband. Reputation is just as important to women here as it is to men, though perhaps not in the same way. A good reputation meant she would be respected. But I find it hard to believe she was so good and pious the entire twenty years. Did she not think Odysseus had abandoned her? She was heartbroken when Telemachus went to find him, she was all alone, Odysseus gone, her son gone, mother-in-law dead. She probably endured a lot of pressure from the suitors and the other women (because she was being improper) while Odysseus was away.

I highly doubt that Penelope never thought once that Odysseus was dead. His mother certainly thought he was. I will also point out that she never received any help or hindrance from the gods in her part of the world. She wished for death, and spent many days crying according to Swineherd Eumaios. Penelope is seen here as the homely woman, weaving, crying, etc. But she does keep those suitors at bay. I think she is a interesting character, because she tells the suitors that she will choose when the shroud is woven, but she unweaves it every night. Isn’t that trickery? Lying? For all that stuff about how she is portrayed as good, she also does this. She lies to wait out for Odysseus, the same way that Odysseus must be unfaithful to get his information. Are their shortcomings even here?”

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The Role of Women in the Odyessey. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved from