The Odyssey Role of Women Essay

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The roles, ideals, views of men in the ancient civilization have been explored extensively in literature from the famous Kings of Israel to the mathematicians and philosophers of Greece. In contrast, the history entails limited literature of women in the ancient civilization. However, several masterpieces such as the Homeric poem, the Odyssey and the Iliad provides a glimpse of ideals, position, and role of women in the ancient civilization. Women play a fundamental role in life by taking multiple responsibilities as portrayed in the epic poem Odyssey. The epic poem presents the role of women in the facet of power, sexuality, and interaction with men.

An analysis of the women in the poem demonstrates a challenge of the space of women as traditionally defined by the patriarchal Greek society. The Homeric poem has a distinct feminist message of the struggle women endure as they try to extricate themselves from a patriarchal society. Throughout the poem, women are generalized in diverse lenses including evil, good, slavery and sexual qualities. The difference between the women in the Odysseus and the Iliad is succinctly illustrated by their passivity in war. The Odysseus and the Iliad illustrate women as victors and victims of war respectively. Unlike the Iliad where the women play a passive role, the women in the Odyssey’s plan an exceptionally large role irrespective of their lack of status to match with the men.

The Role of Women in the Odyssey

Women in the Odyssey portray a nurturing character on one side and a monster character on another side. Homer reflects the influential role women have in society throughout the Odyssey. The poem characterizes women with diverse qualities. Notwithstanding the evil qualities by goddesses such as Circe and Poseidon, the poem displays desirable qualities of a woman through goddess Athena. While the poem portrays Athena as a virgin goddess, the poem reveals portrays Circe as a witch and goddess engaging in sexual adventures.

Athena, the daughter of Zeus assumes peacemaking and assisting role throughout the plot. Athena is the mighty Goddess of strategy and wisdom playing an imperative role in the Odyssey. In the epic poem, Athena assumes the role of protection and wisdom by fighting alongside both Odysseus and his son Telemachus. Athena consistently provides strength and protection to other characters in the Odyssey plot. Through Athena’s divine interventions, Telemachus and his father Odysseus are reunited. By instilling strength and confidence in Telemachus, Athena assists Telemachus’ path to reconnect with the father as well as the journey to manhood. “I meanwhile will go to Ithaca, approach his son, put more strength in his heart, give him courage …”[footnoteRef:1] As Odysseus and son embark home, he faces much tribulation, which through the assistance and advice of Athena, Odysseus is able to overcome and emerge as the hero. Trip planning, divine inspiration, and social advice are the gifts offered by Athena to Telemachus, son of Odysseus, a war strategist. Athena persuades the Olympian court and Zeus to free Odysseus and reunite him with the family demonstrating an act of loyalty and care to the Odysseus family. Athena strategically presents her plea and plans her activity when goddess Poseidon who held wrath against Odysseus had taken a trip to Ethiopia. “All the gods felt pity for him except for Poseidon, who still nursed unabated wrath against godlike Odysseus ...”[footnoteRef:2] Using her skills of wisdom and strategy, Athena using disguise to inspire Prince Telemachus to embark on a search for his father Odysseus. [1: (Green 2018)] [2: (Green 2018)]

The plot entails several instances of disguise by Athena including disguise as a family friend, advisor, and mentor. Athena disguises herself as Odysseus old friend Mentes predicting that Odysseus returns to Ithaca. Similarly, she disguises herself as prince Telemachus to get the crewmembers to Telemachus ship for the voyage. Athena’s move to influence Telemachus to find his father shapes Telemachus journey to manhood.
Not only does Athena’s use of her power of transformation and disguise inspire Telemachus journey to finding the father, but as well, she brings together multiple people on the journey and keeps strong throughout the voyage irrespective of their doubt for the successful finding of Odysseus. Athena’s mission concludes with the restoration of peace in Odysseus palace. “…..she directs Odysseus’s triumph, causing the suitor’s spears to go astray and finally imposing on them a wild mania ….”[footnoteRef:3] Disguised as a mentor, Athena leads the triumph of Odysseus over his palace, a plot that demonstrates the strategizing skill and resourcefulness associated with women. As Athena assumes a supervisory role and guides the reunification of the Odysseus family, she challenges the Olympian and mortal social structures that are male domineering. The plot demonstrates explicitly the significance of women without deviating from a patriarchal ideology. [3: (Cohen 1995)]

Contrary to the good and informed qualities demonstrated by goddess Athena, goddess Circe demonstrates…

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…weigh on Helen resulting in her indifferent, hostile and antagonistic attitude to Paris. Helen wishes that her former husband had killed Paris as she challenges Paris to fight back Menelaus. The new challenging character demonstrates progressing assertiveness yielding from the constraint experiences by Helen. The challenging character of Helen to Paris is contrary to the obedient character of Andromache to Hector in the Iliad. Both the narrative, of Helen and Briseis, portray women not only as instigators of war but an invaluable asset that could result in the seizure of war.


In the Iliad, Homer accentuates the ineffectuality and helplessness of women characters. On the contrary, the Odysseus demonstrates a successful endeavor of women in influencing men in a patriarchal society. While the voice of women in the Odysseus is actively accepted and adhered to, silencing of women’s voice persists among the three women characters in the Iliad.

The Homeric poem displays the depth of women emotions and feelings through characters women characters in Iliad and Odysseus. The three characters in Iliad, Andromache Helen, and Briseis, experience loss of loved ones from war leaving them with sorrow and distress. While Andromache struggles with husband courage and desire, Helen struggles with her husband’s lack of it, but the two women unsuccessful convinces and shapes their husband’s opinion. The events illustrate women helplessness and struggle to shape the course of events in a patriarchal society. The men dismissal of women counsel and guidance in the Iliad is a reverse of the men responsible in the Odysseys where the women not only provide direction (Circe) but as well lead and triumph in war (Athena).

Disguise is a prevalent phenomenon in the two epics. Goddess Iris disguised as Aphrodite summons Helen, she involuntarily gets in bed with Paris. The scene is contrary to the scene by Odysseus and Circe where their intimacy is consensual. The difference in sexual independence for women is displayed in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Homer portrays three women characters, Circe, Helen and Briseis as seductive, loving but as instigators of evil. The three are characterized as using their feminine attributes to win over the women, which would be considered as the oppressive character of females.

The two plots characterize women in several lights including powerful, loving, helpers, trophies, and lovers among other attributes. However, a recurrent theme in the poem is the perceived passive role of women in society. The tragedies….....

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Brown, Peter. 2015. The Iliad: A New Translation . Oakland: University of California.

Cohen, Beth. 1995. 'The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer's Odyssey . New York : Oxford University Press .

Farron, Steven, and Acta Classica. 1979. "The Potrayal of Women in the Iliad." Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa 22 (1): 15-32.

Green, Peter. 2018. The Odyssey: A New Translation by Peter Green. Berkeley : University of California Press.

Lefkowittz, Mary:. 1987. "The Heroic Wommen of Greek Epic." The American Scholar 56 (4): 503-518.

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