Women In The Odyssey Essay

1506 words - 7 pages

Women play an influential role in The Odyssey. Women appear throughout the story, as goddesses, wives, princesses, or servants. The nymph Calypso enslaves Odysseus for many years. Odysseus desires to reach home and his wife Penelope. It is the goddess Athena who sets the action of The Odyssey rolling; she also guides and orchestrates everything to Odysseus’ good. Women in The Odyssey are divided into two classes: seductresses and helpmeets. By doing so, Homer demonstrates that women have the power to either hinder of help men. Only one woman is able to successfully combine elements of both classes: Penelope. She serves as a role model of virtue and craftiness. All the other women are ...view middle of the document...

She forces Odysseus to stay with her as her lover for many years. Odysseus was able to escape from the Cyclops’ cave. However, neither his strength nor his cunning can free him from Calypso. He is doomed to remain there until the gods intervene. Women’s irresistible charm leads Odysseus to disaster.

These temptresses who hinder Odysseus are contrasted with the women who help Odysseus in his journey homeward. One example is Nausicaa, the Phaeacian princess. The shipwrecked Odysseus washes up on the Phaeacian shore. He comes across Nausicaa and her maids washing clothes. He beseeches her for help. Nausicaa kindly helps Odysseus by providing him with a bath, clothing, and food. She then advises Odysseus to enter the palace and ask for help from her mother, Queen Arete. Arete also wields much influence. Nausicaa tells Odysseus that if the queen “take[s] [him] to her heart”, then there is “hope” that he will return home (278). Nausicaa and Arete are instrumental in bringing about Odysseus’ homecoming.

The most powerful female force in The Odyssey is the goddess Athena. She, more than anyone else, brings about Odysseus’ homecoming. The poem opens with her pleading with Zeus to take pity on Odysseus. Zeus issues the command to Calypso to free Odysseus. Athena guides Odysseus every step of his voyage to Ithaca. She tells Odysseus that it is she “who always stands beside [him], shields [him] in every exploit” (362). She moves Nausicaa to go down to the river to wash her clothes. She prompts Telemachus to search for his father and keeps him safe from the plotting suitors. She strengthens Odysseus and Telemachus in their revenge upon the suitors. Athena is the one who makes the story happen; she creates the plot. She orchestrates all the events, moving and directing people to act in accordance to her plan. Athena is Odysseus’ most powerful ally.
Penelope is set forth as a woman to be emulated, especially as she is contrasted with Helen and Clytemnestra. The story of Helen is the background story of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Helen was one of the most beautiful women of ancient Greece. Though married to Menelaus, she fell in love with Paris, and ran away with him to Troy. The result was the Trojan War. Helen, in The Odyssey, looks back upon that time and realizes that it was “madness” for her to forsake her husband for Paris (245). Helen succumbed to her lover, Paris, and her sin of adultery led to ten long years of fighting. It was because of Helen that Odysseus had to leave his home to fight in the war. Helen’s beauty became an instrument of bereavement and destruction.
Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, serves as the greatest foil to Penelope. Both of them are wives of warriors fighting at Troy. Penelope is surrounded with suitors. Clytemnestra is pursued by Aegisthus, who stayed in Sparta, “luring, enticing [the queen] with talk” (235). Initially Clytemnestra “spurned” him (235). However, she eventually gave in and became his lover....

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