Women form an important part of each society, however their role and importance to its function are often times overlooked. Society is/was organized and directed by men. All of the most important positions and purposes within it`s routine were filled by males. This societal organization is often times reflected in many pieces of literature of various time periods, however there are texts in which contrary to the patriarchal society models, women are given substantial importance within the plot. Homer`s The Odyssey, Heart of Darnkness by Joseph Conrad and Aeschylus`s Oresteia each demonstrate or conceal female importance in a given society.
The Odyssey was written in a time when men played the dominant role. In ancient Greece, women occupied a subservant position. Women were valued, but vastly for their sex appeal, beauty or ability to continue their husbands` legacy by birthing an heir. Homer, however, defies these standards by giving women power equal to men in his literature as well as well-defined personalities, nevertheless, females are still classified into specific categories. The very first book of The Odyssey and the very first stanza even, demonstrate the driving force women are in the epic: "Sing to me of the man, Muse... daughter of Zeus, start from where you will..."(1.1-12). The narrator asks a woman, to inspire him to tell the whole story of Odysseus and gives her the freedom to begin wherever she desires, this foreshadows the importance of a woman throughout the text.
There are three basic types of women in the The Odyssey; there is the "goddess", the "example/good wife", and the "seductress/whore". The role of a goddess is of a supernatural woman, she is above men, however she concerns herself with Odyseeus` fate and assists him all along his nostos. This shows Athena`s high stature as a goddess, but at the same time belittles her status because she takes so much interest in Odysseus` mortal affairs. Athena is the driving force behind Odysseus` successful return home, which exemplifies her importance in the plot, and is especially significant because she is a female.
Penelope is undoubtfully classified as the "good wife". She is unbroken by the suitor`s desires "...to lie beside her, share her bed.." (1. 420-21) offers of marriage and happiness. She does not dare to deny them stay in her home, drink her wine and spend her husband`s forturne because she is a woman and cannot outwardly refuse a man. Homer gives her power to rebell quietly instead; she devises tricks to delay her suitors, one of which is pretending to weave a burial shroud for Odysseus' elderly father Laertes and claiming she will choose one suitor when she has finished. Every night for three years she undoes part of the shroud, until the suitors discover her trickery. Homer gifts Penelope`s character with intelligence and whit, and diminishes the suitors in the eyes of a reader because they are deceived by Penelope and are unable to win her hand in marriage.
The last type of a woman reperesented in the The Odyssey , the direct opposite of "good wife", is the "seductress". This is a woman who poses as a challenge to the epic hero. He must resist her or it will lead him to his downfall. Calypso is the most powerful of the seductresses in the epic because Odysseus does not even possess the power to escape her. Odysseus falls into the trap of the "great goddess" (5.236-37), given no other choice, and emotionally betrays Penelope, who in his words "...falls short of you [Calypso], your beauty, stature. She is mortal after all and you never age of die..." Through Odysseus` affair with Calypso, and Penelope`s ability to stay faithful, the two characters are contrasted in their strength to stay loyal to the other. Odysseus, a man, fails.
Quite similar to the portrayal of women in The Odyssey, Aeschylus` Oresteia empowers females and moves away from the traditional "passive woman" character. Even though the women of Oresteia are evil and...
Cited: Aeschylus. Oresteia. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1953
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and the Secret Sharer. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1997
Homer. The Odyssey. Tras. Robert Fagles.New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. 1996
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