If Godly Odysseus Can’t Handle Women, How Can I?
ENG201 – 0
World Literary Masterpieces I
Dr. Elizabeth S. Oldman
October 10, 2013
Conflict is the cornerstone for every tale, epic and anecdote, and has been even before written word. Without conflict, in essence, there is nothing to talk about, no interest, no engine to drive the characters towards an ending. Said conflict can come from many source; however, the most common conflicts can come from some form of a breach of decorum or propriety. This is defined as “correct or proper behavior that shows respect and good manners” or “behavior that is accepted as socially or morally correct and proper” by Merriam-Webster. In a literary sense, this is when a character doesn’t meet the expectations of their position or role that is considered “normal”. Typical gender roles are a huge standard that is more or less understood by the general population of a culture. There is an idea of how men act in comparison to women and the differences between them. In Homer’s machismo filled, male-centric The Odyssey, basically a Rambo for the 8th century B.C., it is in fact the women he meets along his journey that are the sails of this warship. The two women who really stand out the most to me are Calypso and Circe: both powerful beings and powerful women. They brought about some of the most memorable turning points in the plot for me, mainly because it had the most emotion that was softer, going against the grain of constant battle, conflict, and overall chaos. Because of the powers these two have, they hold the ability to turn the tides of the epic almost as much as any of the gods who interfere with the protagonist, Odysseus. Calypso is the greater example of a break in decorum, because Circe does actually fall back into the weaker role more expected of a woman in the presence of a man of Odysseus’ stature. What’s even more interesting to expand on my aforementioned point, is not just how things go from bad to worse when these women break propriety, but also how things go well when everything is as it’s supposed to be. Circe, the goddess whose home is on the island of Aeaea, starts off by making endless amounts of agony for Odysseus and his crew. As you can guess, she is not acting very lady-like by poisoning the men and turning them into pigs. Circe is a more complicated personality than Calypso because her default position is in a more expected womanly persona, she just has more tendencies to the inappropriate. What I mean by this is when she is alone she is decorous, and only goes away from the matriarchal actions when others are around. When the first team of Odysseus’ men arrive to her house they see her inside: “She moved about weaving a great tapestry, the unfading handiwork of an immortal goddess, finely woven, shimmering with grace and light” (The Odyssey, 10.238-242). So not only does she partake in these womanly pastimes, but she enjoys it and is good at it. It’s only when she finds these ill-fortuned intruders who come about her house, she turns innocent men into helpless beasts. This is actually quite common with a change in dynamic and break of propriety in literature. As one character tries, willingly or otherwise, to disconnect and break ties from their natural role, we find they also view others as other roles or treat them with a different level of respect than is deserved. Victims aren’t always turned into pigs, but they are belittled and made to feel less human. For example, a common theme is an enraged father who has betrothed his daughter to a lover that she doesn’t want to marry. When the daughter shows her unwillingness, the father no longer acts like a father and begins to insult his own daughter as if she was not even worthy to be in his presence. A great example is in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet tries to tell her father Capulet she doesn’t want to marry Paris. He proceeds to...
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