The Role of Women in the Odyssey

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The Role of Women in The Odyssey

Homer wrote the classic epic The Odyssey more than 2,500 years ago. At that time in ancient Greek society, as well as in the whole of the ancient world, the dominant role was played by men. Society was organized, directed, and controlled by men, and it was accepted that women occupied a subservient and inferior position. Women, of course, were valued, but were expected to possess certain traits and perform certain tasks that men demanded of them. Does Homer's writing in The Odyssey support or refute the common belief of his time regarding women? Homer endorsed the dominating belief of his time concerning women by treating the female characters unequally and differently compared to the male characters in The Odyssey.

By examining the women of The Odyssey one comes to one conclusion about women in Homer's epic. Homer's male characters in The Odyssey consistently treated women differently and unequally throughout The Odyssey. Concurrent with the time's belief that women held a subservient position in society to men, the male characters in The Odyssey often expected certain traits and actions that they didn't expect from men. Also all the societies and lands Odysseus visited that were inhabited by mortals were dominated by men.

In The Odyssey women are unequal, treated differently, and are considered inferior to men. Throughout the epic women are not given an appropriate amount of respect by men. The male characters of The Odyssey expect certain traits and characteristics of women that they do not expect of themselves. Men expect that the women in The Odyssey be loyal to them, and not be adulterous or seductive. When Odysseus returns to Ithaca in disguise, he expects Penelope to be faithful and loyal to him. It is doubtful that Odysseus would have stayed with Penelope if he had found her to be unfaithful and adulterous when he was gone. This was while Odysseus had slept with Circe and stayed with her on her island for one year and then slept with Calypso numerous times on the island of Ogygia. What makes this even worse is that Penelope would have had justification to be unfaithful to Odysseus and remarry. As far as Penelope, and almost everyone else on Ithaca, was concerned Odysseus was dead. Penelope had a strong need for a husband, a companion, a strong man to rule Ithaca in Odysseus' place, and a male presence to help ra...

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... All of Odysseus' maidservants exist to first serve Odysseus, then later to serve Telemachus and the suitors. Circe and Calypso exist in the epic to satisfy Odysseus by pleasuring him sexually, pampering him, and treating him like a God. Helen and Arete serve their husbands as loyal wives.

Almost nowhere in The Odyssey can one find a woman doing the same things as a man. No women went off to fight in the Trojan War. There were no female members of Odysseus or Telemachus' crew, nor do any women participate in the battle against the suitors. The character traits that make a man great; strength, courage, and leadership are lacking in female characters of The Odyssey. Throughout The Odyssey women were given a double-standard. They were expected to act a certain way and exhibit certain traits while men had no such limitations. If women did not live up to these standards of behavior, they would be punished. If men broke these same rules nothing would be done. During the time Homer wrote The Odyssey it was the dominant belief that a society should be dominated by men and that women should be subservient to them. This belief is reflected throughout the writing of Homer in The Odyssey.
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