Female Characters In Homer's Well-Known Poem The Odyssey

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The Odyssey is a well-known poem written by a Greek writer Homer and is considered as one of the most ancient masterpieces of literature. The story of the poem takes place when Odysseus, the brave and strategic warrior fought in the Trojan War in Troy for ten years in Ancient Greece. While away, Odysseus faced many challenges at sea. He went through a lot including being held captive for many years by the gods, especially by Calypso, a charming goddess who in the hopes of marrying Odysseus offers him immortality but he declines “even so, I wish you well. If you could see it all, before you go, all the adversity you face at sea, you would stay here, and guard this house, and be immortal” (book 5). It took him another ten years to get back home. The key theme in this classic piece of work is a determination which is demonstrated by several characters such as Odysseus, Athena and Penelope. Other themes present in the book are power, revenge and wisdom. Each of these characters has an objective that they need to work on. This writing aims to discuss the role of females and their portrayal in the Odyssey.

During the tenth year of the war of Trojan, the Greeks deceived the enemy by bringing an enormous horse of wood in the walls of Troy. The Trojans did not know of the hidden Greek presence. As a result, Troy was destroyed. Odysseus and his Greek army returned to their territories across the sea. That is the beginning of the story of the Odyssey which is sung by the blind poet Homer. In terms of the setting, various locations in the story are physical and actual which are shaped by the events of gender dynamics, religious beliefs and social customs of the time. It is true that that Odyssey is a perfect example that the Ancient Greeks esteemed which is known as the sense of hospitality towards others. In fact, the Greeks considered the war of Trojan as the defining moment of their culture due to the reason of Homer’s poetry which set the importance of Homeric poems in the Greek culture.

The story tails the renowned golden hero Odysseus as he get caught up in obstacles during his come back home after the war of Troy. It took a decade for him to return to his home and family; the Greek gods did support and impeded Odysseus at the same time. Homer ensured to depict the comprises among the gods during Odysseus hardship in and after the war. There are several times when the influence of the gods are meant to impede Odysseus. Particularly, the god Poseidon explicitly impeding the journey of Odyssey. Similarly, the god of sea annoyed when Odysseus injured the Cyclops who was the child of god Poseidon. The god Poseidon is an actual opponent of Odysseus who continuously crashed his plans to come back home and was oddly cruel towards Odysseus and always interfere in his matters with the intention to give him the hardest time possible. Another god, Calypso who was really in love with Odysseus held him imprisoned for almost seven years and tried her best to stop Odysseus from his return to home. Odysseus made the decision to leave and also with the help of the god Hermes. The story of this epic hero continues to be an important one among several cultures, the Greeks in particular (Victor, 41). These stories of brave men entertain as well as teach people regarding the values and morals that many classic heroes illustrate, like bravery, intelligence and strategy.

During the story, there are many people that helped Odysseus at many times. One example of this is that Athena often disguised in order to help Odysseus throughout the story, in book 1 when she disguised as Mentes, a trusted family friend; appearing in his wife Penelope dreams; disguising as Telemachus’ mentor; also, when Odysseus first returned, she transformed him into a beggar in order to hide his identity. She even begged the gods to help Odysseus. Another god character who helped Odysseus was Aeolus. Aeolus provided him with a bag of magical winds. Ironically, Aeolus refused to help him later on when Odysseus was in much more need. In short, the role of different gods in The Odyssey is influential and strong but with compromises. They possess of real powers that are present in the creatures that help in changing the course of Odyssey’s.

However, there are several situations in which women are demonstrated as empowered, strong and dominant. For example, Penelope, Arete and Helen actively supported the efficiency of their communities by ensuring the continuity of their cultural and social heritage beliefs in the Ancient Greek society.

Although women are engaged in an entirely different position in the society as compared to men, there were several important women in Homer’s Odyssey who possesses a certain power and influence, particularly in peace weaving. The women are significant to the plot and the overall theme of the Odyssey. The plot would not be a complex without the presence of these brave females in the poem. It is evident that women play a range of roles in the Greek society such as mothers, herons and other strong and vital roles while despite they are regarded as less important and are made to be loyal and submissive to men. By analyzing the female characters in The Odyssey, the readers can recognize the role of women in this artwork (Helene, 68). Having known the fact that women have a very little role in the Greek society, the females characters portrayed in this book show certain behaviors that could not be shown by men.

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Indeed, the male characters played the most important parts in this poem, but without the backbone and struggle of the women in the book, either the story would have a different meaning or there wouldn’t be a much story to tell at all.

The most important and memorable females in the poem are Penelope, the wife of the Odysseus; Anticlea, Odysseus’ heartbroken mother and Nausicaa who was a young and innocent and is the daughter of King Alcinous. Other female characters such as Arete, Calypso, Circe and Athena are also fascinating. These characters help to recognize the degree worldly women were regarded and respected in Ancient Greece. All female characters in this epic story are unique. The role of goddesses is very demanding and dominating throughout the story. The most influential is Athena, as she has the power to make things happen throughout the book. She plays a big role in the story and is determined of being supernatural, reflecting passion, pity and assist the mortals which appears to be more important. For example, Athena was the goddess of wisdom and appears to be the most prominent example of the role. She has an idea about the struggle which Odysseus has made and understands him. Therefore, she made efforts to help Odysseus in several situations. Athena is the goddess who is a master of disguise by her given powers and possesses lots of courage, and good judgement. Moreover, she seems to be a great leader and a strong decision maker. Readers can clearly understand that she is the key reason behind the safe return of Odysseus to home. Calypso, another goddess and extremely powerful who succeeds to hold Odysseus imprisoned for several years. Calypso fell in love with Odysseus and wanted to make him immortal as a bribery so that Odysseus can stay with her. The honest anguish in her speech depicts the submissive position of women in this male-dominated world. Odysseus and his army deal with Circe after Calypso, who was another seductress and drugs men to turn them into swine. Odysseus stayed with her for a year by using the attitude of a supplicant and then escaped to continue his journey. He then encountered Sirens, who have a seductive strength over men. They do it by luring Odysseus’ men with their charming voices.

There were mortal and immortal females in the book. The mortals just like the immortals are strong and wise women characters. Naussicaa is the young and sweet girl who appears to be a conventional woman (Paul, 115). She is the daughter of a king with desires of her wedding and other fantasies. Her mother was Arete who was an independent and intelligent woman in naturally. The other main character throughout the story beside Odysseus proves to be Penelope. Odysseus’s wife. She was depicted to show the true meaning of loyalty, bravery and patience. In the story, she is a character which is a more understandable with little to no form of weakness and uncertainty which turned into the ultimate power of strength that kept her going. She waited for her husband for several years but she seems to be very clever and string. She has been rejecting the admirers while deceiving the wits of an entire nation. She had to deceive all the admirers by making the excuse that she had to weave a burial shroud for Laertes in book 2. Penelope demonstrated cleverness and wisdom in the entire poem. In addition, she was cautious enough and did not run right to him with open arms thinking in case he was an impostor after the Odysseus comes home.

The Odyssey determination followed by hard work which always results in the accomplishment of goals being achieved which can be witnessed through Odysseus, Penelope and Athena (Norman, 97). While these characters have a certain goal to accomplish, each character is determined and put all the hard work in order to produce a successful outcome. It can be observed from the story that Odysseus is quick and is always working on the accomplishment of his end goal and make right decisions in terms of his journey home. The Odysseus displays various example of determination through a range of characters.

Women portrayal in The Odyssey can be seen as almost accurate as it was back in the ancient Greek. Penelope endured almost the same pain as her husband, Odysseus. During his stay with Circe and Calypso, Odysseus was determined fully and never lose sight of the goal of his return to his home and family and continue his life as it was before he left. Be a father, a husband and a king to the people of Ithaca. Penelope personal strength was patience and Odysseus’ was intelligence.

By contrast to all these women characters, the most substantial types of women in the Ancient Greek is portrayed in this poem which possesses the qualities of being intelligent, good and faithful. They all played major roles at their own very best whether evil or good with their own agendas. Amongst the mortal women, some of the women who display this type are Arete and Penelope. From Athena’s help in disguising, to Calypso holding Odysseus captive. And from the Sirens luring men to their deaths, to the poor Mother Anticlea who died of constant worrying about his son and loss of hope. Nonetheless, the women were still regarded as inferior to the men and even though their roles were very limited, they have done more that enough to bring back the hero home. At the end of the day, when you reanalyze the book, it mainly was desires and compromise. There was no specific punishment when a woman steps over her boundaries.

In conclusion, this masterpiece written by Homer shed a lot of light on the lives of men and women in the ancient Greek lived. Even in modern days, men are still looked or referred to as the superior power, where as for women, despite the gender equality, certain things still aren’t permissible for women. It took a lot of changes to get to where the world stands today on women and there are still more room for changes. Penelope, Athena and the sirens definitely added more flavor the book in regard to their actions, without forgetting the other females who contributed as well. From one physical war to another, Odysseus shared the same loads as these women in general and too bad for his men as they had no choice but to commit the act they had committed because they were starving.

Sources cited

  1. The Odyssey, Homer
  2. Kangayo 7
  3. Ehrenberg, Victor. From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization during the 6th and 5th Centuries BC. Routledge, 2010.
  4. Foley, Helene. Reflections of women in antiquity. Routledge, 2013.
  5. Chrystal, Paul. Women in Ancient Greece. Fonthill Media, 2017.
  6. Fischer, Norman. Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls. North Atlantic Books, 2011.  
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