The Portrayal Of Women In Homer's Odyssey

1887 words - 8 pages

Does Homer exhibit gender bias in the Odyssey?  Is the nature of woman as depicted in the Odyssey in any way revealing? Upon examining the text of the Odyssey for differential treatment on men and women, it becomes necessary to distinguish between three possible conclusions.  One, differences in treatment reflect the underlying Homeric thesis that  women are "different but equal in nature,"  Two, different treatment  of men and women in the text reflect a thesis that women are "different and unequal in nature" -- arguments about misogyny fall in here but a host of other interpretive possibilities are possible too. Three, the different treatment reflects simple ignorance. How much do we attribute what we discover to male authorship -- or female authorship?

In beginning, we might look to the gods for a clue. The adultery between Ares and Aphrodite for example is evenly represented -- both parties are to blame -- both are shamed -- both are banished. Although there is some "locker room talk" between two of the male gods that they would willingly lie in chains several layers thick to be beside Aphrodite. 

Sexuality among mortals is another key to this poem and this question. Women and men are represented differentially in this regard -- The herdsman Eumaios -- Odysseus brother by "adoption" recounts how he came to Ithaka a captive of a slave woman Phoinikia -- a woman who had been seduced by a roving seafarer who, "...made such love to her as women in their frailty are confused by, even the best of them." The god Artemis later kills Phoinikia for her "treachery?"  I think this example speaks volumes about male and female sexuality. Male seducers are represented as boys sowing their oats -- part of normal living. Seduced females are viewed as weak and treacherous --  a treachery that woman in her "frailty" is unable to avoid. This is a very bizarre message.

The overt and easy emotional character of men and women is possibly one of the reasons many find this poem so enduringly human. Whatever our weaknesses and failings as humans men and women both are deeply moved by thoughts of home; memories of old love; lost friends; lost youth; and death. Men weep -- Odysseus prodigiously throughout the poem -- the poem is drenched in tears (squeeze text)-- and laughter too. The emotional overtones here are easy and free -- it's an attractive and I think healthy world in that regard.  there are contemporary understandings of human nature that view the capacity for easy emotional discharge as a key to thinking well, thinking rationally. Our intellectual capacities can be stopped up, occluded by, unfinished emotional work. A good cry, a good laugh, a good scream, is just what the doctor ordered. Retentive individuals, cultures, genders, tend to act differently -- irrationally in some areas.

An alternate tack is to confront the "unequal in nature charge" -- misogynist in particular  claim head on.  Far from evil -- women in the Odyssey -- Penelope...

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