Women of the Odyssey

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The Women of the Odyssey
Many people regard Homer's epics as war stories—stories about men; those people often overlook the important roles that women play in the Odyssey. While there are not many female characters in the Odyssey, the few that there are, play pivotal roles in the story and one can gain a lot of insight by analyzing how those women are portrayed. Homer portrays the females in contradictory ways: the characters of Athena and Eurykleia are given strong, admirable roles while Melantho, the Sirens and Circe are depicted in a much more negative way. Penelope—the central female character—is given both negative and positive attributes.

Athena, the grey-eyed goddess of wisdom and battle, has a soft spot for Odysseus and Telemachos. The action begins with a meeting of the gods, where Athena makes a plea on behalf of Odysseus, asking her father, "Why, Zeus, are you now so harsh with him?" (I, 62). This action, paired with another intervention into a meeting of the gods, shows Athena's initiative and nerve, two traits which would have been greatly admired by Homer's audience. Athena also shows cleverness and ingenuity when she disguises herself and others on several occasions: The goddess first appears as Mentes, and then later as Mentor, Telemachos himself, Penelope's sister, a friend of Nausikaa's, and various servants. Not only is she a master of disguises, but Athena has an incredible sense of when it is necessary to appear as someone else in order to achieve her goals. While possibly just a product of Athena's goddess status, her ability to view the "big picture" is quite a highly regarded trait. Athena also has the virtue of restraint which she demonstrates when she does not take part in the final battle between Odysseus and Telemachos and the suitors.

In addition to Athena's abilities and traits, the traits which she herself values give great insight into her own virtues. For example, she considers hospitality to be of great...
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