“Odyssey” is the second (after the “Iliad”) Greek epic poem, written by the ancient Greek poet Homer. It was written in the 8th century BC and tells about the adventures of a mythical hero named Odysseus during his trip home after the Trojan War, as well as the adventures of his wife, Penelope, who was waiting for Odysseus on Ithaca.
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For the Greeks, the epic of Homer was more than just an entertaining tale about gods, monsters, and people, but it was some kind of cultural paradigm that showed human relationships. The book gives an eclectic depiction of peacetime civilization of Achean. The Odyssey gives an opportunity to understand what is proper or improper in relationships between god and mortal, father and son, servant and master, guest and host, and man and woman. Women’s role is vital role in the development of this epic. The women in Odyssey are unique in their personality, intentions, and relationship towards men. All women in this epic are different, but all of them help to define the role of the ideal woman.
The “Odyssey” describes the world of women in Dark Age Greece, detecting apparent social dynamics, roles, and views held of the second sex. The epic was written at a time when women were taken a subservient and fawning position among men; their roles were almost limited to childbirth and domestic duties, so the facts of the poem gives and opportunity for readers to support and at the same time to refute that common belief of a women’s reality in Ancient Greece. That times the whole structure of civilization was organized and controlled by men and women held an inferior position in society. As it is known, the society was formed as if women were there only to serve the men and the involvement of women in any circumstance was almost totally dominated by what the men allowed. Those women were certainly valued in society, but they were not given important roles or any decision making power. That is why epic poem Odyssey is so unique; Homer put women into roles that were previously unheard of for women to possess. Unlike in The Iliad, in which women were just objects to men; women in poem Odyssey are distinctive because they possess personality, and have intricate relationships with men.
The author didn’t manage to form an exact, unbiased portrait of Homeric women, but he showed how most men perceived them, shown through the representation of particular female characters.
By analyzing the female characters of “The Odyssey”, readers can understand the role of women in this epic. Along with the belief that women played a secondary role to men in Greek society, the female characters displayed certain traits that could not be shown by the men. Certainly, the male characters play the most significant roles in this poem, but without the support of the females in “The Odyssey”, Odysseus would not have made it through his journey.
The author depicts women as strong subjects; they are real substantive characters. Most women in this epic poem are tough, strong-willed and are treated with the respect and seriousness they deserve. Despite traditions of ancient society, the author characterizes the women as the real counterparts of men: they have real feelings, real plans and are able to accomplish men on their own.
The women form an important part of the folk epic “The Odyssey”. Within the story there are three main types of women: the goddess, the seductress, and the good hostess/wife. Each particular female character adds a different element and is essential to the telling of the story.
The most memorable and important 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. Also such female characters as Arete, Circe, Calypso, Helen and Athena are impressive and intriguing. Characters of there women help to understand the degree mortal women were respected and regarded in Ancient Greece.
All women of the epic poem are unique. The goddesses play very demanding, controlling roles in “The Odyssey”. The most powerful is Athena, as she makes things happen during the entire story. The role of the goddess is one of a supernatural being, but more importantly one in a position to pity and help mortals. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is the most prominent example of the role. As she is the Goddess of war and battle, so she understands Odysseus and the struggle he has been through. She tries the help Odysseus in the most difficult situations. Athena is a Goddess that is confident, practical, intelligent, and very crafty. She is a master of disguise, which is very important in Odysseus’ world. Athena embodies strength, bravery, and justice. She is a strong leader and a very clever decision maker. The reader understands, that she is the major reason that Odysseus was able to return home safely. Athena demonstrated the most intelligence and valor out of all the characters in “The Odyssey”. Another goddess Calypso is also very powerful and she manages to hold Odysseus captive for many years.
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Among the mortal women there are also a lot of wise and strong characters, such as Helen, Arete, and Nausicaa. Nausicaa is a sweet girl, and on the outside she may appear to just be the stereotypical woman, but, in the poem she has much more depth. She is the daughter of a king with dreams of her wedding and other girlish fantasies. She characterizes all that is pure, innocent and righteous in the world. Arete is Nausicaa’s mother is very intelligent and is independent in nature.
Penelope proves to be a central character throughout the poem 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 has all the man-made qualities of an ideal Greek woman: loyalty, submission and fertility.
For many years she waits for her husband to come home. Sometimes, she seem to be rather meek, but in reality she is very string and clever. For all those years she had to fend off the suitors. 'she has been deluding the wits of a whole nation. Hopes for all, promises for every man by special messenger – and what she means is quite different' (Homer, 1997).
Penelopia had to delude all the suitors for a long time by making the excuse that she had to weave a burial shroud for Laertes. All days long she sat weaving, and later at night she pulled her work apart. Penelopia showed her wisdom and cleverness during the whole epic poem. Even after Odysseus came home she was wise enough to be cautious, she did not run right to him with open arms in case he was an impostor. She used her wits to set a trap that would prove if he was really Odysseus. She had him confess the secret of their bed, as soon as she knew it was he.
Summarizing everything that was written above, there is a need to say that women in Ancient Greece were considered inferior to men and they couldn’t mix with men and be part of the action in society. Very few women had important roles, so that world was dominated by men. Yet in “The Odyssey” women played very important roles. Women were not meek little structures blended into the background, they were powerful and wise. They charmed and controlled the men, took care of them; they provided submission, loyalty and advice. Women were very wise in The Odyssey and it was rather different to the roles women most often played in other stories of that time. Characters of women in poem help to understand the degree mortal women were respected and regarded in Ancient Greece.
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