Loyalty Towards Women in The Odyssey

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Men can get away with behaving disloyal towards their wife more than a woman can. This idea reoccurs multiple times throughout Homer’s book, The Odyssey. The epic poem is a story of Odysseus’s life. Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, leaves his wife Penelope, and very young child, Telemachus, to go fight in the Trojan War which lasts ten years. Another decade is added toward his journey home. Many dangers threaten Odysseus’s voyage home, and he is waylayed by Gods, monsters, nymphs, and men. Although Odysseus claims he wants to get back to his wife, he is very disloyal to her by making unnecessary lingering trips, having inappropriate relationships with other women, and distrusting her. Odysseus is not loyal to his wife because of the myriad number of unnecessary quests he chooses to undertake that delay his return home.

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On multiple occasions, Odysseus chooses food, wine, and relaxation over his wife that he claims he can not wait to get home to. To illustrate, Odysseus and his men stop at a small island off of a large one home to Cyclops’. There is food, shelter, and places to rest on the island. Instead of staying on one island, Odysseus talks to his men, I’ll go across with my own ship and crew and probe the natives living over there. What are they- violent, savage, lawless? or friendly to strangers, god-fearing men? (9.193-196). Odysseus does not know who is living on the other island at that time, and what the possible consequences are. At this point, he is thinking about himself instead of getting home to his family. When Odysseus takes his ship and his group to the other island, he meets Polyphemus, a cyclops, who ends up eating two of his men and holding them captive in his cave. Odysseus decides to stab his eye while he is sleeping. Traveling to the other island endangers both Odysseus and his crew, risking it all, and the pay off of such danger is tiny. If he is truly loyal to Penelope, he would have stayed on the island, starting his journey back home to his family. After his crew gets away from Polyphemus, they sail to the Aeaea. Odysseus decides to feed his men, then sends the group out to scout the area. He orders the other men to go, leaving him behind (10.169-170). This put his crew’s lives in danger and costs Odysseus more time away from his wife. Odysseus is perfectly content right where he is and he has food and water. There is no need to send his crew out to scout the area and it costs more time in the end.

At another time, Odysseus chooses to stay at Circe’s palace for a year. He has the option to come home at any given time, but he simply prefers the easy life where he sits back, relaxes, drinks wine, and has a relationship with another woman instead of fighting to get back to his wife. Finally, after his men beg him to leave, he agrees to go back to their adventure of getting home (10.514-517). Odysseus raves about how much he misses his wife and how he wants to get back to her numerous times throughout the book, however, he makes no effort to try and make that happen. He never stops to think about how his wife does not even know if he is still alive. Some might say that Odysseus needs to stay at places to get food or rest because they have been traveling for so long, which is hard on their bodies. Odysseus often spends one or two days places to rest and to rebuild his strength, but when he stays places for longer than a couple of weeks, it is unnecessary. At Aeolus's Island, Odysseus states, “To this city of their we came, their splendid place, and Aeolus hosted me one month” (10. 16-17). Once again, Odysseus chooses to stay away from his wife for longer amounts of time then needed. Odysseus is ready to go, but he chooses to stay with the hosts drinking, eating, and receive gifts. This supports that Odysseus unmistakably shows his disloyalty to Penelope over and over throughout the book. Having inappropriate relationships with women other than your wife is a sheer example of disloyalty.

For instance, Odysseus has an intimate relationship with Calypso. Calypso is a nymph who holds Odysseus on her island for seven years. She rapes Odysseus, but he also chooses to sleep with her. The author describes the romantic relationship and he adds that they made love to each other (5.170-171). Sleeping with someone other than your wife is not acceptable and is not healthy in a marriage. Odysseus should be fighting to get home for his wife, instead of sleeping with other women. A shipwreck strands Odysseus naked, without food and clothes on the island of Phaeacia. On the island, Odysseus has an inappropriate relationship with girls on the island. Odysseus hides in a bush when he sees people walking because he is naked and he does not want to scare them away. Odysseus moves out of the bush that he was hiding in and is about “mingle” with the pretty ladies, “for the need drove him on” (6.147-149). This quote shows disloyalty because he is about to go talk to pretty girls, while he is naked, instead of getting help. Odysseus is naked and he should be finding clothes to wear or someone to help him instead of going up to a gorup of girls with only a leaf to shield yourself. Going up to a group of girls while naked is disloyal to Penelope.

Lastly, Odysseus has a romantic relationship with Circe, the nymph. After Odysseus tells Circe that she has to swear an oath that she will never plan to kill him or bring harm to him, this happens: Straight away she began to swear the oath that required-never, she’d never do me harm-and when she’d finished, then, at last, I mounted Circe’s gorgeous bed. (10.383-386) Odysseus sleeps with Circe more than once during the year-long stay at her palace. Instead of trying and fighting to get home to his wife, Odysseus is relaxing and sleeping with another woman which is not fair to Penelope. Some people might say that in this time period, people believed that it was socially acceptable for men to sleep around, but it was not acceptable for women. People believed that men have a higher sex drive. This argument does not give Odysseus a reason that he should be sleeping with other women because Penelope is still his wife and if he is truly in love with her he would not want to sleep with anyone else. Even if the argument is true, Odysseus is still demonstrating disloyalty towards Penelope. He tells Calypso, “don't be angry with me, look at my wife Penelope. She falls far short of you, your beauty, stature, she is mortal after all and you, you never age or die...” (5. 237-241).

Odysseus is talking bad about Penelope and he is telling Calypso how she is so much better than her. This is very faithless to Penelope and it shows that Odysseus finds other women more attractive than his wife. Odysseus should not be having this conversation with a woman other than his wife because this does not show a devotional relationship. Instead, it shows an unhealthy relationship. Having inappropriate relationships with other women is unacceptable and is a major sign of disloyalty towards Penelope. Not trusting your significant other is a red flag symbolizing disloyalty. When Odysseus is in the underworld, he talks to his deceased mother about his life and they end up talking about Penelope. While talking to his mother, Odysseus says, Please, tell me about my wife, her turn of mind, her thoughts... still standing fast beside our son, still guarding our great estates, secure as ever now? Or has she wed some other countryman at least, the finest prince among them?”(11.201-205) Odysseus hesitates before he questions his wife's loyalty shown by the ellipsis which shows that he does not know what to believe. The reader can infer that Odysseus does not want to believe that Penelope has married a new man, but the thought is still in his head questioning her true faith. He starts the sentence by wondering truly how Penelope is doing and her thinking, but then it turns to if she has remained faithful. When Odysseus finally reaches Ithaca, his home, Athena disguises Odysseus into a beggar so no one will know who he is. This is so he has time to plan out how he is going to kill the suiters without them killing him right away. Instead of telling his wife that he is home, he trusts Telemachus more and he tells his son, who he barely knows (16. 211-212).

Odysseus leaves Telemachus for the Trojan war when he is very young. Odysseus does not raise Telemachus to adulthood and for all he knows Telemachus may be a very bad person. However, he still chooses to trust him more than his own wife, who he has known for much longer. Likewise, when Euryclia, the nurse, is giving Odysseus a bath she notices the scar that Odysseus got a long time ago on his leg. Nevertheless, he tells her that she can not tell anyone that he is home otherwise he will kill her when he kills the other suitors and maids (19.550-551). Odysseus threatens Eurycleia’s life to protect his secret. He does not even let her tell Penelope he is home. This shows that he does not trust Penelope at all. Some people might say that his suspicions and mistrust were from a man name named Agamemnon; Odysseus’s friend during the war. Agamemnon’s wife had an affair with another man while he is at war. When he came back, his wife and the new man killed Agamemnon. Listening to this story makes Odysseus more leary about trusting his wife because he knows that 20 years is a very long time to be away from your significant other.

However, this is not an excuse to mistrust his wife. Penelope stayed loyal to him the entire time. For example, Penelope told the suitors that she will marry one of them when she is done weaving, but she each night she unravels all she had done for three years in order to distract the suitors from marrying her. (2.115-118). This shows her loyalty and her nonstop faith towards Odysseus. He had no reason to doubt her because she is his husband and he should have known to trust her. Not trusting your significant other shows disloyalty and is not acceptable in a marriage. Odysseus has the option to trust Penelope and stand loyal to her, but instead, he chooses to be disloyal to her and he chooses relaxation over his wife. Odysseus takes redundant, lengthy, and unneeded trips, mistrusts Penelope, and has inappropriate relationships with other women. Odysseus is not completely devoted to his love for Penelope and it shows when he sleeps with other women. Odysseus is heroic, reckless, arrogant, witty, intelligent, sophisticated, and more. On the other hand, Penelope is sweet, wily, cunning, and devoted to their love for each other. The audience knows that Odysseus is all talk when it comes to his love and devotion to his wife because if someone is truly devoted to another, they do not want to sleep with another person. They do not choose to stay monogamous because they think it is right or they think they have to, instead they do it because they want to and choose to. 

Sexism in the Odyssey is a remorseless obstacle for Penelope because she has significantly higher standards to follow compared to Odysseus. In this time period, it was not considered bad for men to sleep around, however, it was when women chose to. Women were expected to practice monogamy and they were judged if they did not. Men could get away with more than women could in this time period. In the real world, gender roles have changed a huge amount from where they started. In the present day, it is equally as bad when either gender sleeps with anyone other than their significant other. If someone chooses to sleep with someone else, they are looked down upon as it should be.

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