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The Treatment of Women by Men in Homer's the Odyssey

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The Treatment of Women by Men in Homer's The Odyssey

Women in Homer's The Odyssey are judged mainly by looks. If important men and gods consider a woman beautiful, or if her son is a hero or important king the woman is successful. The way women in The Odyssey are treated is based on appearance, the things men want from them, and whether the woman has any power over men.

During Odysseus' journey to the underworld he sees the shades of many prominent women. We hear about their beauty, their important sons, or their affairs with gods. We hear nothing about these women's accomplishments in their lifetime. Odysseus tells how Antiope could "boast a god for a lover,"(193) as could Tyro and many other women. Epikaste was called "that prize"(195) her own son unwittingly married. Some women are known for the deeds of their sons, but never for a heroic deed of their own, their personalities, who they are, and what they do independent of males. It seems the only accomplishment women could achieve was being beautiful. Theseus "had no joy of"(195) the princess Ariadne because she died before this was possible. Homer makes it sound as if Ariadne's life was useless because she did not give Theseus pleasure. The only woman we hear of for a different reason is Klymene, and we only hear of her because she "betrayed her lord for gold."(195) This is the only time we hear of a woman for something she did, and once we do, it is a negative remark.

Penelope, Odysseus' queen, is paid attention to only because of her position. Because she has a kingdom, she has suitors crowding around her day and night. Being a woman, Penelope has no control over what the suitors do and cannot get rid of them. The suitors want her wealth and her kingdom. They do not respect her enough to stop feeding on Odysseus' wealth; they feel she owes them something because she won't marry one of them. One of the suitors, Antinoos, tells Telemakhos "...but you should know the suitors are not to blame- it is your own incomparably cunning mother."(21)

Even Telemakhos doesn't respect his mother as he should. When the song of a minstrel makes her sad and Penelope requests him to stop playing, Telemakhos intervenes and says to her "Mother, why do you grudge our own dear minstrel joy of song, wherever his thought may lead." (12) If Telemakhos respected his mother he would have asked the minstrel to cease playing the song that made her upset. Telemakhos has no use for Penelope's beauty or position; he regards her as someone who causes a problem, but whom he must love anyway.

Through Penelope Homer shows how an ideal wife should feel toward her husband. Penelope remembers Odysseus as a great king and husband even though

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