Women in The Iliad and The Odyssey
Dr. Sunni Thibodeau
World Literature to 1650
15 February 2013
Women in The Iliad and The Odyssey
The Iliad and The Odyssey are both very popular epics. Each has been made into other media like movies or plays. The males are obviously very popular, powerful, and strong characters in the stories. So in Homer’s epics, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, what are the women characters? The women in Homers epics appear in several ways through several characters, each having their own importance. It is not only the characters that play a role in how the women are in the epic, but also how the women in the Greek times were.
Looking into the past culture and society of Greece is a good way to get a nice view of how the women were. It is not uncommon for the environment around the author to influence the way he or she writes. That being said, it is not improbable that the same thing would happen to Homer. In the ancient Greek society, women were quite submissive. Women in that time did not have as much right as they do in this time. Marriage for instance, was fairly different from how people view it today. Women in Greece back then did not have much choice in who the married. The males in the family were the ones to give away the females into the marriage that she was getting into.
Not only was marriage an object of unfairness, but so was ownership and property. Inheritance was very different then. Women had very little options to acquire property and inheritance. The bulk of everything instead, went to the husband. The head male was the person that everything ended up going to. This in turn, shows how hard it was for women to get steps up in the Greek society.
Another very important aspect of how the women were treated submissively in the Greek society was what they were allowed to do and not allowed to do. Taking the Olympics into consideration, only the males were allowed to enter. There were no female competitions. Naturally the women were the ones who were the main nurturing caregiver for the children of the household. Having children and taking care of the children was a large part of their lives. Women were not always permitted to do many outside activities. It was the husband who allowed the women to socialize outside of the home.
The women in Homers epics, though, show a few different qualities between them. One of the females in the tales is Penelope. Penelope is one of the nicer views of women in the epics. She is quaint and respectable. Not only that, but Penelope is also faithful. Faithfulness is another aspect that shows a significant difference between men and women. It has always been easier to accept male infidelities rather then female infidelities. It shows a prominent difference between the two. No matter what, though, Odysseus and Penelope still love each other.
Another woman that has a large role in the stories is Helen. Some might view Helen as one of the reasons for the war with Troy. In this part, women seemed to be viewed as a trophy. Sometimes that may have been how wives were chosen. The gods also ended up playing a role with Helen. The whole back story of Helen and how the war came to be was interesting. She was either viewed as stolen, or left with Paris. The problem was however, that she was with another guy. Helens role can be seen as a trophy, an instigator, a seductress, and a lover. Several female roles come out in Helens persona.
Not all the women are meant to be seen as sweet or loving. Calypso and Circe did many things to be viewed to play for the role of seductresses. Not only that, but obsession comes into play as well. They try to capture the men in the epics. They use their goddess like prowess as well as their female attributes to seduce. They might be able to be viewed as the succumbed female desires of Greek society. When something is being more and more compressed, sooner or later the object will explode. Calypso and Circe may be viewed as the feelings women have after some oppression from society. They may also be considered the darker part of females.
Another important female in the epics is Athena. Athena is always viewed as a powerful woman. In society women do not have much power. Women in that time did have to deal with a lot. They had to deal with the men of that time and the submissiveness that was pressed down on them. Some might view it strong of women to be able to endure. Athena is shown several times helping several characters like Telemachos and Odysseus. She can be seen as a caretaker as well as powerful.
Women in The Iliad and The Odyssey are shown in several different lights. Women can be faithful, loving, a trophy, a lover, seductresses, helpers, powerful, and more. It shows that the epics are not just about the main characters or the men. It also shows that there are more sides to women in life as well as tales. The society in Greece at that time might have had something to do with how the women were portrayed, but Homer might have viewed women as not just simple submissive people.