14 March 2012
Heroines in The Odyssey
Homer’s Odyssey is most recognized for its main character, Odysseus, who is the father of all future epic heroes. He is strong, brave, and clever, and demonstrates these qualities throughout the epic plot of this 1000 page tale. While Odysseus’s heroism against terrible monsters is a main part of the story, other characters deserve some notice. The women in The Odyssey are essential to Odysseus’s survival and eventual return to Ithaca. The women in The Odyssey are not dependent females, but strong people, capable of making decisions and offering essential advice and support to Odysseus.
One of the best examples of strong women in The Odyssey is Penelope. Penelope is Odysseus’s wife. Odysseus left Penelope for 20 years on Ithaca while he went to Troy. Penelope had to raise Odysseus’s son, and refused to marry the 100 suitors. The suitors commandeered their home and constantly tried to marry Penelope, while planning to kill her son, Telemachus. Penelope at last creates an impossible task for the suitors, proposing that she will marry the winner. oHoH However, her feelings and loyalty for Odysseus are shown in “Book 21: The Test of the Bow” where Penelope cries as she holds her husband’s bow. “Now Penelope sank down, holding the weapon on her knees, and drew her husband’s great bow out, and sobbed and bit her lip and let the salt tears flow” (lines 16-18, 1150). Despite that Odysseus has been gone for 20 years, Penelope still cries and demonstrates her loyalty to him.
Another woman deserving of notice is Circe, the charming witch from Book 10 and 12. Circe easily tricks at least 20 members of Odyseuss’s crew and turns them into pigs. “On thrones she seated them, and lounging chairs, while she prepared a meal of cheese and barley and amber honey mixed with Pramnian wine…Scarce had they drunk when she flew after them with her long stick and shut them in a pigsty…”(lines 27- 33, 1125). While Circe changes them back to men when Odysseus asks, she puts the men in a trance for a year and requires Odysseus to visit the Land of the Dead and meet with Tiresias before he continues his journey. Tiresias provided Odysseus with important warnings about future obstacles. Circe’s request was cleverly designed to assist Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca.
Perhaps most importantly, Athena’s presence and help is essential to Odysseus’s survival. She appears at key moments and offers Odysseus sleep, disguises, and power to defeat an overwhelming enemy, in Books 5, 16, and 22, respectively. In Book 22, Odysseus, Telemachus, and two trusted servants face 100 men who have taken over Odysseus’s home. Despite that they are outnumbered, Athena makes it possible for this foursome to kill every suitor, which is described in “Book 22: Death in the Great Hall”. “At last Athena’s presence becomes known to all, as the shape of her shield becomes visible above the hall” (1160). Athena helps Odysseus many times, but her assistance in this battle is paramount to Odysseus’s ability to destroy the suitors and remain alive.
The women in The Odyssey are strong characters whose decisions and support help Odysseus survive his journey. While Odysseus usually gets most of the credit, Penelope, Circe, and Athena’s qualities should be praised, particularly since Odysseus success is dependent on their decisions. Unfortunately, society today still tends to focus on male heroes and political figures, while there are many deserving women standing right behind them.