From the role of the wily seductress, to the submissive housewife, to the raging warrior, women were a focal point of Ancient Greek works. Although they are often looked over and considered, the roles they played in their culture were undeniably important. Women may have been thought to have far less worth than a man, however, their undeniable power and influence in Greek society cannot be overlooked. The substantial position they held is verified in numerous texts of the era, including the works of Homer, Virgil, and Ovid.
Throughout Homer’s work, The Odyssey, the roles of both men and women are extremely prevalent. The women are expected to perform the duties of the homemaker and family caretaker while the men are sent out to fight and defend their pride and honor, both very important facets of Greek society. Though the women may appear as insignificant to readers at first, their true power over the men in the work cannot be ignored.
From book one of The Odyssey Homer makes the expected duties of women in society very apparent. However, it is not until the second book of the poem that Homer addresses the ultimate power and influence that the women hold. The first woman whose role is explicitly evident is Penelope. Telemachus’ comment to her in book one begins this evidence.
back to your quarters. Tend to your own tasks,
the distaff and the loom, and keep the women
working hard as well. As for giving orders,
men will see to that, but most of all:
I hold the reins of power in this house” (1. 409-414. 89).
Telemachus’ first comment demands that Penelope must go back to her weaving, which suggests that women may only complete household duties. Though she may disagree with her orders, she must obey; “Penelope is surprised by her son’s sudden assertiveness but immediately goes up to her chamber” (Fletcher 79).
Though Penelope’s weaving seems a meager task, she uses her abilities as an outlet for her hidden skill and power. As Homer begins acknowledging her skills as a weaver, the womens’ power is exemplified. Penelope used her weaving to trick her suitors into waiting around for her to marry one of them. Penelope has been weaving a funeral shroud for King Laertes and has promised the suitors that she will marry one of them when it is completed. Penelope’s trick is to undo all of the progress she had made on the shroud at night when no one was watching her complete her work. Through destroying her progress, she her bought herself time before having to marry, as promised. Due to the way that she uses her weaving, Penelope is referred to as “the matchless queen of cunning” (Odyssey 96). Men in the Odyssey, mainly Odysseus, are often described as cunning. Since Penelope has the same trait as the men in the story, she can be qualified as equal with them in this asset. Penelope’s power is exemplified again in book nineteen. “The figure of Penelope represents extremes of ignorance and knowledge, vulnerability and...