The Women in the Odyssey

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The Odyssey is an adventurous, magical, and heroic story based on a mans will to fight his way back home to his family. But, if you ask me, it is the women who support this story in a significant way. From the devoted nurse, Eurycleia, who helped raise Odysseus and his son Telemachus since they were babies to Calypso, a pretty sprite who holds Odysseus prisoner for many years. These women are strong willed and have their own minds that are strategic, smart and have purpose.

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This is especially true for three women named Athena, Penelope, and Helen as they show loyalty to their loved ones and adding surprise and havoc.

Helen, Queen of Sparta, is the reason Odysseus left his family to begin his travels to Troy to participate in the Trojan War. She is a royal Queen that stands by her husband, Menelaus, and holds great dignity over her country despite being taken by the Trojans. It seems that she was overcome by love caused by the goddess Aphrodite that lead to her capture by the Trojans as quoted, “I wished that Aphrodite had not made me go crazy when she took me from my country, and made me leave my daughter and the bed I shared with my fine, handsome, clever husband (Homer, 362). Sparta receives a visit from Telemachus as he wishes to find out if Odysseus is still alive and Helen took notice right away to how much Telemachus looked like his father. She addressed suddenly as she spoke up by saying, “I never saw two people so alike as this boy and Telemachus, the son of spirited Odysseus, the child he left behind (Homer, 359).” In addition, Hellen stated, “a little newborn baby, the day the Greeks marched off to Troy, their minds fixated on the war and violence, they made my face the cause that hounded them (Homer, 359).” Helen most significant role is how she expressed her gratitude for Odysseus’s courage when she told Telemachus about his father portraying a beggar that would provide him with important information on what the Trojans were planning during the war. Hellen kept quiet about his findings as she was aware of his presence while in Troy. She confirms by saying, “He crept through Troy like that, and no one knew him except for me. I swore an oath that I would not reveal him to the Trojans before he had got back to his own camp (Homer, 362).” This is important to the story as it illustrates and prepares us for the kind of man Odysseus is.

The second woman who plays an important role in the story is Odysseus’s wife, Penelope. She strongly believes and hopes her beloved husband will return after being away for 20 years. She does not allow herself to be bullied or forced into marriage by the suitors who overpower her home, Ithaca, ever since the disappearance of her husband in hopes to gain kingship. Although, she is portrayed as lonely and sad, she is smart when it comes to stalling the suitors with her hand in marriage. She reveals that she will remarry when she finishes making a shroud for her father in law and later states that she will remarry the suitor who will bring her the most gifts. This continues and all a while dragging the suitors along that lead to a failed plot to have her son killed upon his return from Sparta. However, this eventually helps with a final straw to get rid of the suitors who betrayed their country and leave them in a happily ever after ending. She makes a final oath to marry the man who can string a bow that is owned by Odysseus and shoot it through 12 axes. She addresses the men as follows, “Now listen, lords. You keep on coming to this house every day, to eat and drink, wasting the wealth of someone who has been away too ling. Your motives are no secret. You want to marry me, so I will set a contest. This great bow belonged to godlike King Odysseus. If anyone can grasp it in his hands and string it easily, and shoot through all twelve axes, I will marry him, and leave this beautiful rich house, so full of life, my lovely bridal home (Homer, 560).”

The most significant woman character in my opinion is Athena. She is the daughter of Zeus and the Greek goddess of wisdom and battle. Her role is to help the brave Odysseus home and disguises herself to both Odysseus and Telemachus as a family friend, Mentor. She guides Telemachus to Pylos and Sparta in order to help him make a mark for himself and urges him to stand up and speak to the suitors that have taken over his home. Even though she helped with the Odysseus and his men to crash at sea on their way home, she still helps him by putting in a good word at the council meeting between the gods that would release him from the capture of the goddess, Calypso. Athena tells the council, “Odysseus ruled gently, like a father, but no one even thinks about him now. The wretched man is stranded on an island; Calypso forces him to stay with her. He cannot make his way back t his country. He has no ships, no oars and no companions to help him sail across the wide-backed sea. His son has gone for news of his lost father, in sandy Pylos and in splendid Sparta; they plot to kill the boy when he returns (Homer, 375).” Athena is most relevant in the end when she puts the idea into Penelope’s mind to have a contest among the suitors for her hand in marriage. Athena also speaks to Zeus about stopping the family members of the dead suitors killed by Odysseus and his son to leave them in peace. She pleads, “Father Zeus, highest of powers! Tell what hidden thoughts lie in you. Will you now make yet more ware and bitter strife, or join the sides in friendship (Homer, 601)?” When the last battle begins, Odysseus obeys Athena and stops the war as she addressed in the following way, “Ithacans! Stop this destructive war; shed no more blood, and go your separate ways, at once (Homer, 602)!”

The men in the Odyssey are courageous and willing to do anything for their countries and family. However, without the unselfishness that Athena brought through out the story by caring what happens to Odysseus and with no mind to receive recognition for brings a successful outcome in Ithaca. The women behind a good man such as Penelope and Helen, are essential to showing how important it is not to turn your back on family and friends. Also, to have enough strength and smarts to push through any obstacle handed to people in life. Not to mention to give loyalty where it belongs, such as when Helen helped the Greeks and Odysseus to defeat the Trojans by keeping his secret.

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The Women in the Odyssey. (2021, Mar 18). Retrieved from