Women in the Odyssey
How it works
“The Odyssey by Homer, written towards the end of the 8th century B.C.E., is an ancient Greek epic poem. It follows the main character, Odysseus’s journey back to his home, Ithaca. As an epic poem, the story is made to reflect society and culture at the time of its writing. The story includes several women, Athena, Circe, and Calypso. Throughout the novel, these women possess unique roles, unlike those of most other ancient Greek stories. In “The Odyssey” women are seen as nearly equal to men because they exhibit complicated emotions, have relationships with others, and are dynamic.
One of the story’s first examples is Calypso, the goddess-nymph who keeps Odysseus on her island for seven years. She shows from the beginning, she stands up for what she wants, which is love from Odysseus. Her obsessive feelings towards him She is also described as beautiful, but not as an object to Odysseus, who wants to return to his wife, Penelope. We learn this on page 212 when Odysseus refers to Calypso as “the lustrous goddess” (Homer 212). She is a dynamic character, as shown in Book 5. Hermes approaches her after Athena requests for Odysseus to be free. Calypso is initially pensive and remains slightly upset afterwards. Despite this, she declares that as much as she loves Odysseus, she will no longer force him to stay with her. She learns that she can show compassion and love by letting him go, allowing him to be home with his wife. She is still sad to see him go, but she shows character development by learning to let Odysseus go, and shows the somewhat invalid type of love that contrasts with Odysseus and Penelope’s pure love for each other. This makes her a static character that stands out from the others with her unique traits.
How it works
The goddess Athena is another strong female character. From the beginning, she helps Odysseus return home. Unlike Calypso, she does not love him but wants what she believes is right for him. In book 5, Athena is the one who requests for Zeus to help Odysseus return to Ithaca. She continues to help Odysseus in book 13 when he finally returns to Ithaca. She also first shrouds the land in a mist, making it unrecognizable for him, but helps him by calling Telemachus home and disguising Odysseus an old man before he goes to overthrow the suitors with Penelope. Athena contrasts with Calypso because she represents female strength without love as an incentive. She also differs with Calypso and Circe in the sense that she only wants to help Odysseus throughout the story, never causing any harm to him.
Circe is a nymph who gets in Odysseus’s way as he attempts to return to Ithaca, by turning his men into animals, resulting in him staying on the island for a year. Hermes helps Odysseus defeat Circe, and Odysseus temporarily remains on the island as her lover. Eventually, she allows him and his men to return to Ithaca, but unlike Calypso, she does everything in her power to help him after this. She gives detailed instructions about how they must travel to the House of Death and speak to the Theban prophet, Tiresias. When Odysseus and his men return to bury Elpenor, also in Book 12, Circe does not cause any trouble for them, and once again allows them to leave peacefully. She contrasts mainly with Calypso, who also held Odysseus on an island. Unlike Calypso, she was not bitter about Odysseus going and genuinely wanted to help him.
The women of “The Odyssey” are all written in different ways when it comes to how they handle their emotions and treat Odysseus. Calypso is more egotistical while Athena wants Odysseus to succeed, and Circe represents a space between the two, being the most dynamic character with a change in how she treats Odysseus after they interact. Overall, Homer’s “The Odyssey” portrays women in a sophisticated way in which no two are the same, and they are seen as people just as much as the male characters.