Female Characters in The Odyssey: Lower Ranking Position of Women in the Ancient Times


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Homer wrote the epic, The Odyssey a long time ago. At this time the men were portrayed as more dominant. Women played a more submissive and lower-ranking position and role. Women were appreciated but they were expected to have certain traits. Homer recognized the belief of Greece dealing with the women by treating the female characters like Penelope, Calypso, Circe, and Athena from The Odyssey differently than male characters.

In Homer’s, The Odyssey, Odysseus’ traits are used as an example of a respected man in ancient Greece. One researcher stated, “Homer portrayed Odysseus as a man of outstanding wisdom and shrewdness, eloquence, resourcefulness, courage, and endurance.” (“Odysseus” Britannica School). This shows that he was very respected. Most of his knowledge is discovered by his journey, using his surroundings as a ‘map’. He was distinguished and a warrior; perhaps one of the best heroes of all time.

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Through Penelopes’ actions, she is proven to be a good hostess and faithful wife. Even after 20 years of Odysseus being gone, she stayed faithful to her husband by stalling the men. “Every night for three years, until one of her maids reveals the secret, she unravels the piece that she has woven by day so that she will not have to give up hope for the return of her beloved husband and remarry” (“Penelope” Britannica School). This is devious and this is unlike the other women of ancient Greek mythology. While Odysseus is supposedly not doing anything wrong when he knew that his wife was alive, he cheats on Penelope with two women. However, if Penelope had been unfaithful and remarried, not knowing whether if Odysseus was alive or not, it would most likely have been ‘unforgivable’. However, like the ancient Greek traditions of social statuses between men and women. Telemachus told his mom, Penelope, to go to her room. Without any confrontation, she left and went to her room. This shows that she is different than the other women in The Odyssey, because she is like the ancient Greek social classes, while Athena, Calypso, and Circe are not.

Athena is one of the more powerful goddesses in Greek mythology. In The Odyssey, she feels bad for Odysseus, although the men were supposedly stronger. She used her character traits such as her ability to coax the gods to set Odysseus free from Calypsos’ island. She changes his outlook on the whole journey.

Calypso saves Odysseus when he washed up on the shore of her island and keeps him as a prisoner for 7 years. “She entertained the Greek hero Odysseus for seven years, but she could not overcome his longing for home even by promising him immortality.” (“Calypso” Britannica School). She is an example of how women can be powerful against men, but still be overruled. When she kept him, prisoner, he had no power to do anything. But. Zeus decides that he should be released from his imprisonment on her island, and he sends Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to do so. Both of these men are telling her to do something that she might not want to do, but she obeys them, which shows the ancient Greek society.

Also a seductress and enchantress, Circe is portrayed as deceitful and cunning. She lures Odysseus and his crew into her house before turning them into pigs. Her tricking the men symbolizes her being headstrong, although she is weaker than the men when Odysseus comes. Britannica School shows Circe using her beauty to turn Odysseus’s men into animals:

She was able to use drugs and incantations to change humans into wolves, lions, and swine. The Greek hero Odysseus visited her island, Aeaea, with his companions, whom she changed into swine. But Odysseus, protected by the herb moly (which was a gift from Hermes), compelled her to restore them to their original shape. He stayed with her for one year before resuming his journey.

Circe displays cowardice when confronted by Odysseus after he had eaten the ‘drug of real virtue’ from Hermes to protect him from the enchantresses. Circe tries to seduce Odysseus, but he doesn’t give in till he can make a deal between him and Circe. Circe ignores the deal with the men and turns them into pigs, then putting her wishes before the mens’ freedom. This shows that Circe has personality traits that are unlike some from ancient Greek women. On the contrary, when Odysseus pulls out his sword to demonstrate his power, Circe falls onto her knees and starts crying, showing that Odysseus has the power.

Social statuses and classes from ancient Greece have played a big role in Greek mythology and The Odyssey. Homer recognized this through characters like Odysseus, being the male heroic character, Penelope, Calypso, Circe, and Athena. Men in society were more dominant throughout ancient Greece. While the females are ‘supposed to be more submissive according to the males. Penelope showed that she could be more opinionated and headstrong but is submissive when told to do something by a male. Calypso and Circe sometimes are in control but do comply with the Greek social statuses when acted on. Athena is very strong-willed and cunning and is a very powerful goddess. All of these women and men such as Odysseus, Athena, Penelope, Calypso, and Circe show the roles in Greek mythology and ancient Greece.   

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