Female Archetypes in Odyssey

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A Plotting Princess:
Female Roles in The Odyssey and Antigonê
Karen Rustad
The fairy tale Snow White is a story about two women. One, the evil stepmother, schemes against her stepdaughter in order to assuage her envy and increase her power. She, of course, is thwarted by the end of the story. The other, Snow White, is a pure, innocent damsel entirely devoid of will. Nevertheless, by the end her prince saves her and she lives happily ever after. While Snow White is a European fairy tale, its dichotomy of female roles is a common theme in literature. In Homer’s Odyssey, the female characters are either powerful devils or passive angels. During the four hundred years of Greek civilization between The Odyssey and Sophocles’ Antigonê, however, there is evidence of social progression beyond Homer’s constraining archetypes. Antigonê is a strong-willed woman, committing civil disobedience against a male sovereign, yet uniquely she is portrayed as virtuous. Antigonê’s character represents a social leap forward from the time of The Odyssey as Antigonê breaks down Homer’s dichotomy of female roles.

Homer’s Klytaimnestra represents the scheming devil archetype. As is recapitulated in The Odyssey, Klytaimnestra’s husband, Agamemnon, is gone for years fighting the Trojan War, while Klytaimnestra sits alone at home, bored. She is expected to be chaste and perfectly faithful to her husband for all those years, even though Agamemnon is socially permitted to take a mistress, Kassandra, without any sort of uproar. Klytaimnestra, however, has sexual needs which Agamemnon’s absence has left unfulfilled. Thus, she breaks the social taboo on extramarital affairs and her lover, Aigisthos, "[takes] her home, as he and she desired" (43). When Agamemnon returns home, however, Klytaimnestra and Aigisthos are faced with a difficult problem. Klytaimnestra likes her new lover, and she is also inclined to punish Agamemnon for sacrificing her daughter, Iphigenia, at the beginning of the war....
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