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Women in Greek Stories: The Odyssey by Homer

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Women living in Ancient Greece had limited rights, if any, and were treated as property, owned by either their father or husband. They were never allowed to enter battle and their job was to keep to household in order. However, in Greek stories, women were given a major role and showed strength, wit, and cunning unusual to the stereotypical woman of the time. The Greek writers used women who possessed these traits to progress the plot and evoke the emotions famous in Greek drama and tragedies.
In Homer’s “The Odyssey” Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, plays a pivotal role in advancing the plot through her mental strength and wit. While Odysseus is away, Penelope is bombarded by suitors wishing to take his as her husband. Penelope is forced to use her wit in order to ward off the will of the suitors. For example Penelope said that she would choose a suitor after weaving a shroud for her supposedly dead husband. Then, “Every day she would weave at the great loom/and every night she would unweave by torchlight.” (ii. 105-106) This use of wit by Penelope would have been unusual to come across in traditional Ancient Greek women. Homer uses this particular display of wit to cover four years of Odysseus’s absence in Ithaca, and establishes Penelope as a major character in “The Odyssey.”
Later in “The Odyssey,” Penelope issues a contest to shoot Odysseus’s bow through twelve axe heads, as Odysseus was able to do. The winner would be the man that she takes as her husband. This is another display of Penelope’s wit, as she is aware that only Odysseus can string the bow, and then shoot through the twelve axe heads. Penelope believes that this contest will be able to hold the suitors at bay, and allow Odysseus more time to come h...

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...playwrights of Ancient Greece understood that women played a pivotal role in human society, despite the way they were treated. As such, women were given important roles to play in their respective tales, and displayed unusual strength, wit, or cunning. Even though the development of women’s rights would take several more millennia, these storytellers were among the first to show that women can be just a powerful as men.

Works Cited

Euripides. Medea. Trans. Diane Svarlien. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Ed Peter Simon. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2014. 745-781
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Ed Peter Simon. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2014. 291-581
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Trans. Robert Bagg. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Ed Peter Simon. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2014. 666-706
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