In Homer’s Odyssey women and goddesses are consistently playing major roles. Whether it be cherishing and taking care of the men, or being the cause disaster. Beauty, wisdom and treachery are features of females and feminine practises that are clearly portrayed in Homer’s Odyssey.
The significance of women in the Odyssey is made clear even from the first page. Calypso is holding Odysseus captive on an island. She is a witch but is still described as a radiant creature (p 3). Although he is on this island alone with this beautiful goddess all he longs for is to get home to his wife. Calypso is described as a radiant and beautiful creature with a lovely voice. Yet she is called a witch and is the one not allowing Odysseus to carry out his wishes. In the house of Alcinoos Odysseus calls Calypso a scheming witch with lovely hair and then goes on to say she is a terrible being. Odysseus again says, “…beautiful Calypso… and a terrible creature she is! She rescued me and treated me kindly loved me and fed me” (p 89). He makes sure to note the beauty of Calypso and of some of her actions but also says some distasteful things about her. She seems to represent temptation and how potentially disastrous elements and situations can seem so inviting and posses such beauty. Although many of the immortals never fail to tempt Odysseus, there is one goddess with her glinting eyes who never fails to watch over him.
Athena’s care for Odysseus is first shown when the gods are gathered in the palace of Zeus. She questions her father saying,
… What about that clever Odysseus? I am anxious about him, poor fellow, kept from his friends all this while, in trouble and sorrow, in that island covered with trees, and nothing but waves all around it, in the very middle of the sea! It is the home of one of ourselves, the daughter of Atlas…She is always coaxing him with soft deceitful words to forget Ithaca; but Odysseus would be happy to see as much as the smoke leaping up from his naïve land, and then to die. And you cannot spare him thought, Olympian. Don’t you owe him something for all those sacrifices which he used to offer in their camp on the plain of Troy? Why have you such an odd grudge against him, Zeus? (p 4).
While one goddess is keeping Odysseus form what he really desires, another is fighting for his cause. Athena becomes a sort of guardian angel for Odysseus and his family. While at the conference with the other gods she uses her cunning and charm to find out where the gods stand with the Odysseus situation and prompts them into action. Zeus ends his reply with,
Come now, let us all try to think how we can persuade Poseidon to abate his anger and let him go home to his native land. Surely he will not be able to stand out against all the immortals, and keep up a quarrel all by himself! (p 5).
Zeus is thinking of pressuring Poseidon into letting go of the resentment he feels towards Odysseus. However as soon as he ends his reply Athena is already pushing for the immortals to make a decision before Poseidon can make his case. This is Athena speaking out against the wishes of another god in the presence of Cronion himself, for the cause of a mere mortal, however great that mortal may be. Feminine strength and wisdom is not only present in the goddess Athena, but is shown by Penelopeia.
On page eight Penelopeia is described as a wise and faithful wife, and a beautiful creature. In his time stranded on the island Odysseus has slept with Calypso a number of times and will again before he bids her farewell. Odysseus caves into the temptation of a beautiful woman. Penelopeia, however, does all she can to stay faithful to her man; using a bit of trickery to keep from taking one of the suitors in marriage for as long as possible. She not only overcomes any temptation, she rejects it so utterly and completely. This shows the fidelity and strength of women as seen by Homer compared to men.
When Odysseus is receiving...
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