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Feminism and Gender in the Odyssey

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Macy Karpa

on 16 February 2015

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Transcript of Feminism and Gender in the Odyssey

Charybdis, Scylla, and the Sirens
Athena, Circe, and Calypso
Stereotypes in the Odyssey
Circe and Calypso defy gender expectations in the ancient time that the Odyssey was written by making their own decisions, like wanting and basically forcing Odysseus to say with them. This could also apply to being able to live by themselves. Athena can also make most of her own decisions, but sometimes she asks the other gods first. Unlike Athena, Circe and Calypso are punished for defying the gender expectations by having to live on their own islands alone. Also, the people that they fall in love with (Odysseus and others) leave them alone. Circe tries to reconcile for defying gender expectations by giving Odysseus advice when he leaves Aeaea. Calypso still wanted Odysseus to stay with her, but reluctantly let him leave. She didn't really reconcile for defying the gender expectations. Athena always has acceptance from mortals and immortals alike because she's a high up and respected goddess in Greek life and around immortals in myths.
In the Odyssey, there is the obvious stereotype of women being weaker than men. Some might say that Penelope was weak because she wished for Odysseus to come back and wept for him every night. Also, there is the stereotype that women should take care of the house and men should deal with outside threats. This is exemplified by Telemachus telling Penelope to let him deal with the suitors.

Overall though, most of the women the Odyssey are portrayed as people most of the time and not stereotypes.
Friday, February 13, 2015
Vol XCIII, No. 311
The Odyssey Analysis
by: Macy Karpa
Variety of Women in the Odyssey
Author and Women in Greek Society
Women in the Odyssey
The Sirens
Penelope's maids
other royalty
Homer is the author of both epic poems the Illiad and the Odyssey. He lived in ancient Greece and wrote the poems between 800 and 700 BC. It's hard to say where he was from or when he was even around because of how little we actually know about Homer. Some scholars even say that Homer didn't even exist and others believe he could have been a woman.
Women in Greek Society
Women in ancient Greece as non-citizens. They were expected to run and take care of the household They were under the legal control of their parents when unmarried and under their husband's control when married. Women were restricted in recreation outside the house as well, except for religious festivals. Still, there were many celebrated goddesses such as Athena and Aphrodite and women who worked as priestesses.
All of these monsters bring sailors to their doom.
Charybdis was a whirlpool that swallowed sailors that got stuck in it and Scylla was a sea monster with six heads that ate sailors that got too close. They worked together to attack sailors in the Strait of Messina.
The Sirens lived on an island that Odysseus sailed past. They would sing their songs and lure sailors to their doom on the rocky shore of the island.

These monsters all defy gender expectations by standing their ground and being stronger than the men (sailors) that come near them. Scylla was turned into a monster by Circe for being the apple of the man's eye that Circe loved. So in this way, Scylla was punished socially (even though those events were before the Odyssey). The rest of these monsters are punished socially for their decisions of killing sailors because many are warned before they go past them. None of these monsters achieve acceptance or reconcile for their decisions.

Penelope's Maids
Penelope's maids are a mixed jumble.

She's the head nurse that makes her own decisions but has to run them by Penelope or Telemachus first. She's faithful to her masters and is not punished at the end of the poem.

Unfaithful Maids
They defy gender expectations by deciding who they want to be with. They have a large range of options without Odysseus being there and Telemachus having to deal with the suitors.
Their punishment for being in relationship with suitors is being killed at the end of the poem after the slaughter in Odysseus' palace.
They achieve no acceptance.
How Does the Patriarchy Function in the Odyssey

The patriarchy in the Odyssey functions just like the patriarchy anywhere else. Men have power, men receive power, and men use that power to their advantage. The Odyssey has a few exceptions to these norms: Penelope, Clytemnestra, Circe, and Calypso. Penelope arguably has the power in Ithaca, but Telemachus can make decisions as well. Clytemnestra basically punched the patriarchy in the face and killed her own husband to be with another guy after successfully ruling Argos for ten years. Circe and Calypso don't have any patriarchal figure to even listen to.
Are their roles three dimensional?
Functionality of Female Characters
Are their roles functional?
Point of View of the Odyssey
The Odyssey is told in third person throughout all of the books except books nine through twelve. In nine through twelve, the books are in first person because Odysseus is telling his own story.

We are given a lot of insight to other characters' emotions and thoughts like Penelope's mental journey or showing a council with the gods.
How well is a woman's point of view represented?
The point of view of a woman in the Odyssey is quite limited. The points of view of smart women are represented much more than the points of view of non-functioning women. This is a given, really. We see some of Athena's point of view, and also some of Penelope's, by seeing their emotions and just plain what they're doing. So basically only a few out of a lot of women in the Odyssey are given a just point of view.
Point of View of Women in the Odyssey
Penelope, Helen, and other women of royalty
Throughout the whole Odyssey, Homer seems to be fascinated with taking awesome female characters and turning them into seductresses. The fact that women want Odysseus to stay with them is what causes the biggest delay in his journey.

Basically, women in the poem that want Odysseus to stay with them are shot down while when Odysseus agrees to stay, he's manly.
Penelope is the only character in the whole Odyssey with actual backstory and complete functionality. Athena is also a functional female throughout the whole poem. Circe is a functional character, but pretty much only in the part of the poem that she is in. Although many of the female characters are intelligent and have personalities, their roles are small and only there to propel the plot forward. Good examples of this are Nausicaa, Queen Arete, Helen, Penelope's maids and Calypso. Nausicaa is smart and comes up with a plan to get Odysseus to talk with Alcinous, but other than that she isn't seen much more. Calypso seems like her only role is to keep Odysseus for seven years and then ship him off to the next place. Helen is there to be the pretty queen.
Penelope on the other hand has her backstory (from after the Trojan War) with the suitors. She is also smart and can make decisions and tests for herself and the suitors. She deceived the suitors for three years with her weaving. She made the tests for the suitors to see which one she would marry. She also came up with the test to see if Odysseus was the real deal. Along with having to think up tests for the men, she was going through her own mental battle wanting for Odysseus to come home.
The only real three dimensional female characters are Penelope, Athena, and Circe. Penelope with her smarts and having to make decisions make her very three dimensional. We see her emotions more than the other female characters and we know she has high and low points. Circe is listed because even though she only functions in a small part of the poem, she also rounds out her wrong of turning Odysseus' men to pigs by turning them back and giving them advice. Athena is already expected to be known. Her actions of helping out Odysseus and interacting with other gods and humans alike make Athena three dimensional.
In the Odyssey, women with the potential to be strong and powerful characters are stripped down to be one-dimensional and just move the plot forward.
Works Consulted
Krentz, Peter. "World Book Online Reference Center | Online Reference Book| Online Encyclopedia." World Book. World Book Advanced, 2015. Web. 09 Feb. 2015. <http://www.worldbookonline.com/advanced/article?id=ar234900&st=greek%2Bwomen>.

Shelmerdine, Cynthia W. "Scylla." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

Shelmerdine, Cynthia W. "Sirens." World Book. World Book Advanced, 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

Shelmerdine, Cynthia W. "World Book Online Reference Center." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 09 Feb. 2015. <http://www.worldbookonline.com/advanced/article?id=ar260640&st=homer>.
The expectation that women cannot be powerful or run things themselves limits Penelope's range of options significantly
She makes her own decisions all the time in the poem, especially with the tests for the suitors
A punishment for this could be the mental journey she undergoes or the fact that she can't do anything to help Odysseus when he's on his journey.
She achieves acceptance when Odysseus finally returns.

Other Royal Women
The other royal women are mainly one dimensional characters that follow along with ancient Greek gender norms. Helen is there as a figure of beauty and even through she is smart, she is not very three dimensional.
Clytemnestra defies gender expectations by successfully ruling Argos for ten years and then killing her husband so that she could rule with her new lover. Her price is everyone spreading that around making her look bad. She doesn't achieve acceptance.
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