Women In Odyssey Essay, Research Paper
In the Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, there are many themes that serve to make a comment about the meanings of the story. The theme of women in the poem serves to make these comments but also establishes a point of view on women in the reader. From this point of view, a perspective is developed into the “best” and “worst” in women. Achievement of this is through the characterization of many women with single notable evil qualities. Similar to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Eve like the many women in the Odyssey brings about pain and suffering for mankind. Contrary to the depicting of women as roots of evil, the reader sees the other traits of women that are most desirable. The roles of these women are achieved by their portrayal throughout the poem. This in return has a significant affect on how the poem and the message that is conveyed.
Women are important in life and act in many different ways, this poem portray them in the many roles they play in life. The portrayal is a generalization on all that women are capable of being and doing. Faithfulness is the quality in Odysseus that is his motivation to return to his wife who is in different ways even more faithful. Penelope represents the “best of women” in the poem. Penelope along with other characters like Nausicaa and Arete that fall under this category represents ideals for marriage. Penelope’s role in the poem is the reward and prize to Odysseus’ suffering but it is her virtue, which make the sufferings worthwhile. The one important role of Penelope that makes her a desirable wife aside from her beauty and faithfulness is that she anchors the kingship of Ithaka. The suitors saw that the one who married Penelope would be king and hoped she would betray Odysseus. If Penelope were to have been unfaithful, she would have been caught with a different lover much like Haephaistos caught his wife in a web of deceit. Her loyalty is unquestionable, as her anguish is true. She holds on to her moral positions and cares for her husband. Athena, a symbol of female virtue and feminism herself would see these deceptions and evil but saw none in Penelope. In addition, her love for Odysseus was genuine as their intimacy allowed her to know things about Odysseus that others did not. Penelope’s contest with the bow was not to find the best among the suitors but proved to find Odysseus. This reinforced that there is faithfulness and good in women. When a man meets this with the same qualities, then things will work out for the best. However, contrary to this is Penelope’s counterpart Klytemnestra in story. Klytemnestra represents the “worst of women” as she had “defiled herself and all her sex”(XI line 502-3). In the same category as Klytemnestra are opposites of Queen Arete. Queen Arete holds the role of looking kindly upon Odysseus and listening to his prayers. Women who do not look upon him kindly are Kalypso, Kirke, the Sirens, Skylla and Kharybdis. These women along with other served to oppose Odysseus and also test him. They each represent the modern message of women as a femme fatale. Their combinations of lust, love, pleasure and danger make them something to fear. Kalypso and Kirke seduce and bewitch. Sirens lure. Skylla and Kharybdis devour and destroy. Kalypso serves as a temptress who is a fantasy and pleasure on an island but would not be an ideal wife. Her test for Odysseus is to see if he would give in to her feminine charms and accept the immortality she offered. Kirke is a witch with manipulative powers and her skills of craft, deception, and sexuality. Kirke and Kalypso demonstrate that sex is a powerful weapon in a woman’s arsenal but this generalization does not make them the only guilty party. Men like the suitors who choose to be with women because of what they have to offer are also at fault. Sexuality among mortals and immortals is another essential portrayal of women. Women and men are represented differently in this regard. Eumaios recounts that he had come to Ithaka as a captive of Phoinikia who was seduced by a roving seafarer. The seafarer had “? [made] such love to her as women in their frailty are confused by?”(XV line511-12). Artemis eventually killed Phoinikia for her treachery but there is no mention of her twin brother acting the same way towards the seafarer. This gives a generalization that male seducers are acting out on what is normal living but seduced females is seen as weak and treacherous. The treachery that women with lack of morals are unable to avoid exists even in the gods. Aphrodite shamed all the other goddesses by taking Ares to bed to the point where they did not come to see her caught in Haepaistos’ web. However, the gods came to see the results of their adultery and even sympathized with Ares as Hermes said he would lie in several layers of chains to lie beside Aphrodite. Most treacherous of all is Klytemnestra whose seduction would give all womankind a bad name. Another portrayal of women is through the destructive natures of Kharybdis and Skylla and the hardships Odysseus is put through indicate women as the sources of evil and suffering in life and in the poem. This holds true not only to the monsters that offer Odysseus a choice between painful progress and ultimate destruction but includes almost all women. The greatest cause of suffering and destruction is by Helen who was seduced by the Trojan Paris that led to war. Although Helen is influenced to be seduced, it is the goddess Aphrodite who causes the war over a contest among the goddesses. The Trojan War led to many deaths of men and the painful journey of Odysseus to return home to his wife. On this journey, even Penelope is in part the reason for his Odysseus’ troubles. His desire to be with his desirable wife costs him his crew and ship and puts him up against mortal dangers that nearly cost him his life and eventually cost the suitors lives. In addition, Klytemnestra unfaithfulness led to Agamemnon’s death. These many depictions of women have a profound affect on the poem and the reader.
The theme of women is deeply woven into the Odyssey that it has an affect on the reader’s feelings as the plot develops and on the two sexes. A main purpose of women in the poem is to define the characters of Odysseus and Penelope. Women’s seductive natures serve as a test of character for Odysseus. His choice to leave the sexual pleasures of Kirke and Calypso is proof of his virtue and desirability as a husband. The same depiction causes the virtuous Penelope to stand out in the large pool of vileness as a desirable wife. The contradictions also have a significant affect on the poem and the reader. The main suspense that is built throughout the poem is whether Penelope will remain loyal to Odysseus. Another man had seduced Klytemnestra while her husband was at war. Anxiety is developed as to whether the poem will turn out differently or the fate of Agamemnon would also be that of Odysseus. However, this is not the only source of the anxiety, even the gods for whom the mortals pay tribute is capable of adultery. The affair between Ares and Aphrodite poses the question of whether Odysseus will return home to find Penelope with another man. The story of Klytemnestra and Agamemnon is a theme itself throughout most of the poem. Therefore its is hard to ignore it as both hold the same story with different outcomes. In addition, the level of anxiety builds through Penelope’s actions and the contradicting traits of different women. Penelope exhibited traits of being deceptive and crafty, traits that belonged to the “worst of women”. It shows her potential to be deceptive nature towards men although she seems faithful, this causes distrust in the woman and unease. A remedy to this feeling of anxiety is Penelope’s nearest counterpart Helen. Helen is depicted as wise and intelligent and represents the best in women but like Penelope also has traits contained by the worst of women. She had powers in interpreting omens and secret mind altering recipes. Helen and Kirke have much in common whose powers are both respected and feared. The remedy is knowing Helen had ended up with Menalaos rather than Paris. Along with an affect on the reader’s feelings on the story that unfolds, the constant contradicting of the “best in women” and the “worst in women” create a paradoxical message in the poem. Women are portrayed as having the capacity to do evil upon men but in trusting them, one could see the good that is in them. Through the story the dishonouring of marriages, destruction and suffering and use of sex as a weapon build up fear and hatred towards women by males. The fear is in trusting a women who lures them with sex or other offerings that their intent is to do harm. There is also hatred because the women hold such power and the suffering that they can cause. The dishonouring of marriages shows this suffering, which is another paradox. Men who avoid marriage avoid the evil in women as “The day of faithful wives is gone forever”(XI line 534), however, they end up dying without a partner. The adultery of men and women in the poem is what fuels the hatred between one another. Portrayal of women being more treacherous than men in matters of adultery and seduction builds on this hate towards men. Kirke would be a favorite of women as she turned men into the pigs they seemingly are. Related to adultery is the understanding of genders in the poem. The women is seen as treacherous when two parties commit adultery but from a modern perspective it is an unfair judgement as both are at fault. This establishes that at the time, women are the weaker of the two sexes. Women are slaves and spoils of war, if they are valued for sex they are used for sex. The universal portrayal of women causes a reevaluation of modern day gender balances by the reader.
The theme of women in the Odyssey is essential in establishing one of the if not the main message in the poem. The paradoxical messages give insights into the lives of the characters and generalizations into the reader’s lives. Although this theme would have a noticeable affect on the poem in its absence, it is odd that in a story about war and adventure that they hold such dominating roles. In the setting of the Odyssey, women did not have a status that measured up to that of a man. However, whether seen as demonic or angelic they still hold in the example of Odysseus a significant role in the determination of the final fate of a man.