The Role Of Women In Homer
’s The Odyssey Essay, Research Paper
The Role of Women in The Odyssey
Women form an important part of the folk epic, The Odyssey. Within the story there are three basic types of women: the goddess, the seductress, and the good hostess/wife. Each role adds a different element and is essential to the telling of the story.
The role of the goddess is one of a supernatural being, but more importantly one in a position to pity and help mortals. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is the most prominent example of the role; in the very beginning of the story she is seen making a plea for Odysseus’ return home, and throughout the first half of the book she assists him in his journey. She is the driving force behind arranging Odysseus’ return home from getting Kalypso to release him to making sure Nausikaa found him on Skheria. In books 1-4 she helps Telemakhos, Odysseus’ son, gather the courage to go out and get news about his father. Other than Athena, there are many examples of goddesses taking pity on a mortal, usually Odysseus, and helping him out. When Odysseus is suffering in a storm that Poseidon sent for him, Ino, a Nereid, gives him an immortal veil that saves his life. Even Kirke and Kalypso help Odysseus tremendously with information and supplies. It is the role of the woman goddess and not the male god to pity and proffer help to the suffering mortal.
The next and less benevolent role is that of the seductress. Two stories about such women referred to in The Odyssey are those of the half-sisters Helen and Klytaimnestra. The entire Trojan War was caused by Helen’s unfaithfulness to Menelaos; her affair caused many deaths and Odysseus would not have had to leave home if she had not run away with Paris. The other sister also caused pain and suffering by having an affair and then killing her husband, Agamemnon, with her lover on his homecoming day. The seductress is always looked upon as dangerous and harmful to mankind. The Seirenes symbolize this role; their song seduces and compels anyone listening to linger until death. Kirke tries to seduce Odysseus before she helps him, and the beautiful Kalypso entices him with sex and immortality and will not release him to go home. It is the hero’s job to resist the temptation of the seductress or it will lead to his downfall.
In direct contrast with the seductress is the good hostess or wife. Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, is the most important of these characters. She is the image of steadfastness, waiting and hoping for years for Odysseus’ return. Even the intimidating suitors do not bend her from her constancy. Along with Penelope is Eurykleia who matches Penelope in steadfastness to her job as Telemakhos’ nurse. Nausikaa is a good example of a girl who is an excellent hostess to Odysseus (she provides him a bath, clothing, food, and advice), and also cares about her image as a virtuous woman. Her mother, Queen Arete, is good hostess as well, and it was said that her favor would assure Odysseus a ship ride home. The role of the hostess is similar to that of goddess because they are both assisting those in need, Odysseus. More significantly the role of the good woman is to provide a model that makes up for the seductresses. They are there to show that Agamemnon’s statement about his women, “that woman (Klytaimnestra) plotting a thing so low, defiled herself and all her sex, all women yet to come, even those few who may be virtuous,” is untrue.
The women in all three of these roles embody an essential part of the events of the story. The hero is helped by the goddess and the good woman, and must overcome her opposite, the seductress. The relationship between the hero and the women, in fact, forms the majority of the story.