women have had to fight hard for respect and the rights that come
with it. Many societies have potrayed women as second class citizens,
teaching that they should be subservient to men. There have been
those who have spent entire lifetimes working to break beyond the
traditional concepts of women and power. It is very challenging,
however, for the sex to achieve higher status, when a society teaches
not to speak out or against men’s wishes. How can one try to
express a more enlightened view when he or she is not allowed a voice
with which to make it? In The Odyssey, Homer shows the reader an
ancient Greek society where women are given specific roles and are
often underestimated simply because of gender. Characters, such as
Penelope, who keeps quiet at the epic’s beginning about her wishes
for the suitors to leave, and Odysseus’ nurse, who obediently
washes his feet, are examples of the chauvinist mind set. Despite the
unfairness of the period in which the story takes place, certain
women try in their own way to rise above the binds of tradition and
show feminine power. In The Odyssey, through cunning manipulation and
plotting three women stand their ground in individual protests to get
what they want;
trickery in evading the impatient marriage proposals by suitors,
Helen’s deceit over Menelaos during the Trojan War, and finally the
control that Nausicaa seems have upon first meeting Odysseus each
illustrate power possessed by females of the epic.
At the Epic’s
beginning the reader finds Penelope, Odysseus’ wife in Ithica
facing the pressure of suitors who wish her hand in marriage. Despite
the fact that her husband has been gone for twenty years, she holds
true to her husband’s memory and refuses to remarry. At first
glance her situation seems hopeless. The men have moved into her
home, taking complete advantage of her husband’s land and riches,
eating his prize livestock, and drinking his finest wine. Penelope is
however in control, carefully plotting against her rude guests. It
has been said that one must keep their friends close and their
enemies closer. She does just that, by keeping the suitors in her
home for three years in order to later seek vengeance:
Here is an
instance of her trickery:
she had a great
loom standing in the hall
and the fine
warp of some vast fabric on it;
attending her, and she said to us:
“Young men, my
suitors, now my lord is dead,
let me finish my
weaving before I marry,
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . .
So every day she
wove on the great loom-
But every night
by torchlight she unwove it;
By sneaking to
the loom at night to unweave her threads she is able to stall her
decisions. She further buys time by stating that she needs time to
pick a husband, giving the impression that she is indeed considering
remarriage. Penelope’s devotion in never swayed by the suitor’s
begging, presents, or their threats. It is her trickery that is her
strength, in which capacity she will have victory.
of men is also a source of power for Helen, wife of Menelaos. Helan
has left her husband to be with Paris, upon his death she lives with
Deiphobos for the remainder of the Trojan War, eventually returning
to her husband. Although it is easy to make character judgments on
her, even perhaps blaming her for initial cause of the war, the focus
must remain on her personal strength in achieving her goals. It is
amazing the way that the text depicts her ability to take charge over
her husband, even after all she has done to him. This is shown in
book IV when Odysseus’ son, Telemacchus, goes the great hall of
Menelaos, hiding his identity. With everyone
to eat, Helen takes it upon herself to discover the identity of their
lord, have we yet heard
our new guests
introduce themselves? Shall I
dissemble what I
feel? No, I must say it.
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This boy must be
the son of Odysseus
Helen, not even
waiting for permission from Menelaos, lashes out at Telemakhos. Most
women of this time would have never made such a bold move, especially
without first consulting their husband. Helen is very secure in her
authority using her sex to her benefit rather than as a handicapt.
character of Focus, Nausikaa, seems at the start of book VI to be
helplessly trapped by gender boundaries. The reader sees her supposed
innocence as she waits to be married. She is responsible for her
brothers and for making sure that she gets herself married. The
tables are suddenly changed when she wakes the sleeping Odysseus.
This young woman, having no prier knowledge of the male body is face
with this nude warrior:
Streaked to the
brine, and swollen, he terrified them,
so that they ran
this way and that. Only
daughter stood her ground, being given
a bold heart by
Athena, and steady knees.(146-149,6.4)
The fact that
she stays with the stranger, although all others run displays great
courage on her part. She does not allow fear of this strange man’s
possible motives frighten her, standing her ground. She continues to
show her bravery by providing Odysseus with clothing and a place to
stay, inviting him into her own house. Even by today’s standards,
her assertiveness to remain in control is remarkable.
approaching the twenty first century it is hard to believe that the
simple actions of the women of The Odyssey are to be viewed as acts
of power. It is only when one looks at the society described by Homer
and the time period in which the epic is set, that the defiance of
tradition can truly be respected for what is. Peneope, Helen, and
Nausikaa, lived under strict constraints and were of a gender whose
opinion was neither accepted nor wanted. These women are to be
applauded as revolutionaries for their actions, no matter how small
they may seem, in exercising their natural Feminine power.
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