For the Greek nation, Homer’s “Odyssey” is not only a story that tells about gods, monsters, and humans. This prominent literature work depicts the cultural pattern of the society and relationships between its members. Homer helps the reader understand the relationship between gods and humans, fathers and sons, and primarily men and women. Although the main idea of the epic is to tell the reader the heroic story of Odysseus, the female characters significantly contribute to the development of his personality. Women play an essential role in the plot of “Odyssey.” Each of them demonstrates the unique personality traits and attitudes toward men. In his work, Homer presents a contrasting viewpoint on the female position in ancient society after the fall of Troy. This epic reveals the different roles of women, describing them as goddesses, faithful wives and caring mothers, and seductresses.
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Ancient Greece has always been depicted in literature and historical works as a patriarchal society. While the social life of that time was under the control of men, women occupied the subordinate position in the community. In fact, their role lay mostly in childbirth and home duties, so their participation in any situation was almost entirely dominated by the men’s decisions. Taking account of this opinion, the events described in the “Odyssey” allow the reader to support and simultaneously to disprove that common point of view concerning the female position in Ancient Greece. The unique nature of this epic poem manifests itself in placing women into positions that were previously not common for women to occupy. Instead of being an object to men, Homer’s female characters are original due to their unique personalities and the complexity of their relations with men.
In addition to the legendary men, Homer reveals the number of strong female personalities within the plotline of the “Odyssey.” The most remarkable and influential female characters in the “Odyssey” are Penelope, the spout of Odysseus; the goddess Athena; Helen, the wife of Menelaus; an innocent young girl Nausicaa; and Arete, the Queen of the Phaeacians. Each of these personalities contributes to the development of the plot and displays specific traits that are not likely to be expressed by men. Most female characters in the “Odyssey” are strong, determined, and perceived with the appropriate respect and importance. In spite of the traditional view of ancient society, Homer shows that women are equal to men in their ability to demonstrate their feelings and to implement their plans. There is no doubt that without the assistance of women Odysseus would hardly complete his journey. The understanding of this makes them become the real substantive personalities in the poem.
Odysseus’ wife Penelope is treated as a central character of the poem by representing the typical image of a wife in Ancient Greece. Within the poem, she stands as a complex, controversial character, which combines obedience, submission, and weakness with the manifestations of strength, self-sufficiency, and stealth. However, this woman possessed all the conventional qualities of a perfect Greek woman, being loyal, submissive, and fertile. Penelope’s heart is full of grieve since she is faithfully waiting for her husband’s return from war for twenty years. However, Penelope’s devotion to the customs and hospitality does not allow her to kick out the suitors without hosting them at her home. Throughout the poem, the narrator calls her “wise Penelope” due to the stealth and intelligence that are inherent in her character. These traits are clearly revealed in her ability to manipulate the suitors by promising to marry one of them after a burial shroud for Laertes and making them present her with furnishing gifts to indemnify the devastation of Ithaca’s wealth. These personal traits make Penelope one of the most outstanding female characters in ancient literature.
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Among the number of demanding and powerful goddesses in the “Odyssey,” the goddess Athena performs the most significant role in the plot of the poem. In spite of being a supernatural being, she does not lose the ability to regret and help humans. Being the goddess of war and battle, she can clearly understand Odysseus and the struggle he is engaged in. These feelings make her use her power to make both the gods and the humans committed to Odysseus. Feeling the similarity of his personality to her own, Athena expresses love for him not in a maternal or romantic way, but as a supreme being that can change his life and make him happy. In addition to this, Athena displays the features of confidence, practicality, craftiness, strength, courage, and equality. Moreover, she is an effective leader and a very skillful decision-maker. Throughout the poem, the reader realizes that Athena is the primary reason for Odysseus’ safe coming back home. Thus, there is no doubt that this goddess is the most intelligent and valuable character in the “Odyssey.”
Another example of a prominent female personality in the poem is Helen, the wife of Menelaus. Being the most beautiful woman in the world, she became the reason for the total ruination of the whole Empire. Obviously, no other woman could become the root of the Trojan War and the consequent fall of Troy. This character proves that most of the prominent achievements and deeds performed by men are influenced by outstanding women.
While reading the poem, the reader will undoubtedly mark the personality of Nausicaa, the daughter of the king. Being described as a nice young girl, she may seem to perform the role of the stereotypical Greek woman. However, throughout the poem, this character seems to have much more depth. Nausicaa’s innocent fantasies and dreams of her wedding characterize her as an embodiment of everything that is pure and moral in the world. This personality serves as a means to display the good side of human nature.
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Together with Nausicaa, Homer reveals the personality of her mother, Arete. This intelligent and independent woman displays leniency and kindness to the stranger and treats him as a guest. Except for being a good hostess, she assists her husband in welcoming Ulysses. Due to her generosity, he goes on a journey on a ship full of splendid riches. In general, Arete is a character that contributes to the theme of a good family woman in Greek society.
To sum up, it is necessary to state that women in Ancient Greece were treated as subordinate to men without any right to be equal members of society. Only a few of them performed significant roles in the world dominated by men. However, in the “Odyssey” women become an essential element of the development of the plot and the description of the cultural paradigm of Ancient Greece. They are not portrayed as weak personalities in the background of men’s heroic victories. On the contrary, Homer’s characters fascinate and control the men, taking care of them and providing a submission, faithfulness, and advice. Women in the “Odyssey” are very intelligent, which makes them occupy a rather contrasting position in comparison with the traditional role of women at that time. In general, female characters in the poem help the reader to understand the attitude towards women in Ancient Greece and to reevaluate their position in the patriarchal society.