Role of Women in the Odyssey

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The Role of Women in The Odyssey
The Odyssey, by Homer, is an epic poem based on the story of an ancient Greek hero, Odysseus, and his twenty year journey—ten years spent fighting in the Trojan War and the other ten spent traveling home. In the poem, Homer presents the theme of the role and nature of women. Men were the dominant gender in ancient Greece, and women, who were inferior, were only valued for their beauty and their ability to reproduce. However, in this poem, Homer both exemplifies and defies those standards by presenting certain female characters with qualities that show the various stereotypes in ancient Greek society. Through several of the female characters, Homer portrays women in three different ways. The first type of woman is the bad, disloyal woman, such as Cyltemnestra and Melantho the maidservant. Other women are portrayed as the manipulative seductress, such as Calypso and Circe. The third type of women is the good, faithful, intelligent woman. These women include characters such as Queen Arete, Nausicaa and, above all, Odysseus’ wife Penelope. Homer uses these characters to depict the several ways in which women were viewed by society.

The first type of woman, the bad, disrespectful woman is portrayed through two characters. Clytemnestra is the unfaithful wife of Agamemnon, and Melantho, is the disloyal maidservant of Penelope. The story of Clytemnestra is repeated numerous times throughout the poem. When Odysseus travels to the underworld, the Kingdom of the Dead, he meets Agamemnon, the dead husband of Clytemnestra. He is describing his story to Odysseus when he says, “…she turned her back on me, well on my way to Death—she even lacked the heart to seal my eyes with her hand or close my jaws…—what a monstrous thing she plotted, slaughtered her own lawful husband!” (Homer 11. 481-487) Clytemnestra is referred to as a monster, and a woman with no heart, because of her ability to kill her own husband for her own good. Melantho the...
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