The Role of Women in Homer's The Odyssey

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Pablo Picasso once said, "There are only two types of women - goddesses and doormats." Picasso's words are completely true in modern society, which often puts women in certain archetypes and forces them to butt heads, as well as applicable Homer's well-known epic the Odyssey. In this epic tale, women are often separated into two main categories and only serve to further embody the archetype they are put into and contrast the opposing one. While some women do play an important role in Homer's poem and can be classified as part of more than one archetype, just as they are in society, they are often limited down into two main categories that have certain characteristics. There are matrons, who are chaste and often display the Greek value of arete, such as Penelope, and there are temptresses like Calypso and Clytemnestra that are considered tainted and often enjoy having sexual encounters with men. The first major category of women that Homer portrays in the Odyssey is the motherly figure. There are two main figures that display motherly characteristics are Penelope and Anticlea, the wife and mother respectively of Odysseus. In the Odyssey, both Penelope and Anticlea mourn for the loss of Odysseus. During his trip to Hades, Anticlea says to Odysseus, "Penelope remains in your halls/Her heart enduring the bitter days and night/But the honor that was yours has not passed/To any man…It was longing for you, my glorious Odysseus/For your gentle heart and your gentle ways/That robbed me of my honey-sweet life".

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Mothers are constant figures throughout the Odyssey, being seen as sorrowful, piteous, and dependent on the men in their life. Without instruction and presence from these men, matrons are considered by the epic to be fragile and distraught. The mothers in the Odyssey only serve to mourn the men they have lost and remain loyal to them until their death. This is especially visible in the cases of Penelope and Anticlea. With Penelope, she continues to mourn her husband and cling onto the hope that he is alive, only keeping him in her heart and remaining loyal to him despite the pestering of the suitors. Penelope displays the Greek value of arete, or moral excellence and virtue, with her behavior as a wife and through her loyalty to Odysseus, while Anticlea cannot even live without the presence of her son, dying after years of waiting for him to come home. The main purpose of these women is to depend on, pine away for, and remain loyal to the men in their livesThe other main archetype for women in the Odyssey is the seductress, which is namely embodied by Circe and Calypso. During Odysseus journey to return home, he encounters many women, and it is during his travels that he meets Circe and Calypso. Both of these women attempt to seduce him, particularly the goddess Calypso. Calypso tries to to marry Odysseus and keep him on Ogygia forever. Before he leaves the island, Calypso entreats, "My wily Odysseus/Do you really want to go home…Stay here with me, deathless…Penelope's not my equal/In beauty…Mortal beauty cannot compare with immortal".

The Odyssey speaks of women in the seductress archetype such as Calypso and Circe negatively, in contrast to motherly figures. Even the Olympians speak badly of and mistreat these women, as seen when Athena sends the messenger-god Hermes to threaten Calypso with the wrath of Zeus so that she will finally release Odysseus and let him return to Ithaca. Homer portrays these women as obstacles to Odysseus returning home whose allure and beauty is the main reason that Odysseus takes so long to return home. The seductress archetype claims that women are evil temptresses that are only there to distract the hero from his goal, and characters such as Circe and Calypso exist to further this category. For Odysseus, overcoming and denying the impure seductresses he encounters play a major part of exemplifying his role as an epic hero, further proving how seductresses exist merely to embody their archetypes as tainted and evil women. While all women in the Odyssey fall into a certain character archetype, some of the fall into multiple categories rather than just one. The greatest example of this is Penelope, who plays the role of both the matron and the seductress. In the Odyssey, Penelope must keeps the suitors at bay while staying loyal to Odysseus. However, she also leads on the suitors like a seductress would. Penelope tells them that she will marry one of them as soon as she is done with Laertes's burial shroud and then unwinds it so that she never finishes, and she asks them to give her gifts so that she can marry whoever gives her the best ones as well. Although this is true, Penelope is the only female character in the Odyssey that falls into more than one archetype, with the rest of the female characters falling into only one of the categories. Despite Penelope's possible classification as both a seductress and a matron, she is best known for being the mother who stays loyal to her husband and is even praised for not exhibiting the traits of a seductress. In Hades, she is known among the dead for being a virtuous wife, with Agamemnon praising Odysseus, "You won a wife of great character/In Icarius' daughter.

What a mind she has,/A woman beyond reproach! How well Penelope/Kept in her heart her husband, Odysseus/And so her virtue's fame will never perish/And the gods will make among men on earth/A song of praise for steadfast Penelope". Penelope portrays and is better known for being a loyal wife and mother rather than a seductress, given praise for being unlike temptresses. In the Odyssey, Penelope is constantly given praise for displaying arete by staying loyal to her husband and not giving into the wants of the suitors. She is directly compared to seductresses like Clytemnestra and Calypso, who are often bad mouthed by the Olympians and by mortals such as Agamemnon, and is considered a woman of great virtue due to the fact that she in exactly unlike these seductresses who are considered vile and impure. Like all women in the Odyssey, Penelope falls into a single character archetype for women. She merely serves to embody her role as a matron and emphasize its traits while directly contrasting the archetype of the seductress.

Women in the Odyssey fall into one of two main archetypes of either mothers or seductresses, and they only serve to further their category or contrast the opposite one. However, women being categorized into certain archetypes and certain women being idealized over others is not just limited to Homeric epics but can be seen in modern society as well. In modern-day society, women are often put into categories like girly-girls, bossy, tomboys, bimbos, promiscuous, and a myriad of other archetypes. On top of that, women are also shamed for being part of a certain archetype like Calypso is, and certain categories of women are pitted against each other just as the matron and seductress archetypes are in the Odyssey. To conclude, women the Odyssey are boxed into certain categories and are often compared to women in opposing categories, just as they are in modern society. As Picasso once said, "There are only two types of women - goddesses and doormats," and Homer's Odyssey epitomizes this statement completely.

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