A high school English essay on how women are portrayed in the Odyssey.
Bad Girls Have Equally Little Fun
In Homer’s Odyssey, women are portrayed as either being faithful, honest, and virtuous, or being none of these. Though they vary in metis, kleos, and power, they indubitably have some sort of male master whom they do not rival in any aspect—save perhaps beauty. But while men spend their lives trying to add to their time, spread their kleos, or improve their arête, everything that women do is dictated by either tradition or feminine emotions like love and petty jealousy.
Athena, Eurykleia, Klytaimnestra, and Kirke are examples of Homeric women. As such, they are either good—faithful, honest, and virtuous—or bad—unfaithful, dishonest, and virtue-less. Athena remains faithful to Odysseus during his whole voyage home, only lies to protect her identity, and tries to minimize bloodshed. This is exemplified when Odysseus is about to massacre a mob of indignant Ithacans and she says, “Call off this battle now, or Zeus who views the wide world will be angry” (24.608-9). Eurykleia faithfully waits for Odysseus—remaining chaste and never abandoning her duties—and, when asked to, tattles on the maids who slept with Penelope’s suitors. And now for the bad girls.
Remember; they can be none of the following things: faithful, honest, virtuous. Klytaimnestra cheats on her husband, lies about it to her husband, and then kills her husband in cold blood. Kirke lures innocent men into her house with deceit and maliciously turns them into farm animals.
Women, good and bad, have a number of similarities, too—namely, their subordination to men and their reliance on girly emotionality or tradition in decision making. Eurykleia and Klytaimnestra are both manifestly ruled by kings. Klytaimnestra kills hers only to be ruled by another. After Odysseus stays unaffected by what seem to be the only form of magic Kirke can perform, she immediately “[cries] out, then [slides] under to take [his] knees” (10.363-4), a powerful witch offering her body because she fears the wrath of a single mortal man. Eurykleia waits twenty years for Odysseus because tradition dictates she should. In her excitement upon recognizing him, she nearly blows his cover. Klytaimnestra kills Agamennon only because she is blinded by anger, stemming from his sacrifice of her beloved daughter. Illogical feminist rage is Kirke’s motivation for turning all men into farm animals. Athena, as an androgynous virgin goddess, strikingly defies these female stereotypes. She makes her decisions based on logic, doesn’t completely bow to Zeus, and is not surpassed in metis by anybody. Save for Athena, this story has no heroine. Although he credits female Muses with inspiring his epics, Homer’s women are unimportant and secondary.