Women's Roles in Homer's 'the Odyssey'

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Women's Roles in Homer's 'the Odyssey'

By | May 2006
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Homer's epic The Odyssey provides readers with an intimate look into the world of women in Dark Age Greece, revealing apparent social dynamics, roles, and views held of the second sex. Written at a time when women were known to take a subservient position among men; holding inferior roles limited to that of childbirth and domestic duties, the sheer intricacy of this poem enables readings that support as well as refute this common belief of a women's reality in Ancient Greece. Although The Odyssey cannot possibly paint an exact, unbiased portrait of Homeric women, the author does manage to illustrate how most men probably perceived them, shown through the representation of particular female characters. The most memorable mortal women in the poem are Penelope, wife of Odysseus; Naussica, a young innocent maiden; and Anticleia, Odysseus' grieving mother who dwells in the Land of the Dead. It is through these women the reader gains insight into the degree mortal women were respected and regarded in Ancient Greece.

Penelope proves to be a central character throughout The Odyssey and by examining the roles of her as the wife of Odysseus and how she is represented reveals how a wife may have been treated in Homeric Greece. She proves to contain a complex, contradictory character, layered with meekness, submission and frailty, yet later on found to be framed with strength, independence and cunning. But firstly, Penelope appears to possess all the man-made ingredients for an ideal Greek woman: loyalty, submission and fertility. Penelope is shown to pine for Odysseus' return, even after he is missing for years and seemingly dead. At times these concerns make her flighty and restless (19.515) and sometimes Telemachus and Athene do not wish to reveal plans that may upset her. It is often read that Penelope lays on her bed of sorrows; weeping for Odysseus (19.595) till Athene sheds sweet sleep on her eyelids. (19.600) Penelope's tendency to weep and be sorrowful indicates...

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