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Roles of Women in “The Odyssey” by Homer Essay

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Updated: Sep 2nd, 2021


The Odyssey was written at a time when men played a key role in society. During this period of civilization, men controlled society. Women, on the other hand, were identified to hold inferior positions in the community compared to men. Women had no opportunity to comment on the daily activities of the society. It was left for men to dictate what was to be done, and women would follow.

However, according to Greek society, women were valued but were not given responsibility roles and could not make decisions. It is on this point that Homer puts women into roles that had not been expected in society. This paper discusses several roles women could take in the Ancient Greek society, as shown in The Odyssey.


The significant role of women in the story is seduction. This can be seen in the episode when Odysseus and his men come to Circe’s Island and get attracted by the goddess’s enchanting voice.

Although the goddess was rather dangerous and treacherous, Odysseus and his men lost their prudence and could not resist her when she invited them into the house for a feast. The story shows that the voice of the goddess was sweet and lovely. It attracted men to visit her in her house.

Men desired to be with Circe, which allowed the goddess to take advantage of their weakness to keep them under her subjection (Homer 211). She was able to trick the men, and through magical power, she was able to turn them into swine. From this information, Circe has been used to portray the power of women in manipulating men. Men fell for the sweet and lovely voice of the monster.

Further Research

Women, in this epic, play seductive roles, where men are attracted by the singing of a monster which seduces them to admire the goddess (Homer line 221). The singing seduced men to admire the goddess and made them forget about the danger that lay ahead of them.

It shows the power of women in influencing men. Although men are shown to be strong in society, a little persuasion from a woman can make him change his mind. The goddess was able to trick men because of her lovely and sweet singing.

Odysseus makes the goddess swear that he did not have an evil intention against him. This reflects how an appeal by a woman can make a man lose his dominance in society. Although Odysseus had been warned of the seductive intentions of the goddess on the island, he still fell for her. He remained on the island for a year, forgetting about his home coming.

Therefore, the goddess seduced him to stay on the island and forget that his wife was waiting for him back home. Lack of desire for his wife, which would have made him go back home, was created by the goddess through her seductive ways. She influenced Odyssey’s disregard for his family back home. This is a clear indication that women are portrayed as seductive creatures in The Odyssey.

In the history of human civilization, women were shown as weak vessels in society. Decision making was left to men. Women were not given any responsibility in society. However, the author gives them roles that manipulate men, hence portraying them as seductive. It makes society open its eyes to see the power of women in society. Their sexuality is a power of influence that denies even the mightiest of men his dominance.

More about This Topic

The story indicates that Odyssey lived with Kalypso on her island for seven years. According to Homer (line153), the persona indicates that the nymph was no longer pleasing to him. It suggests that Odyssey had spent enough time with the goddess and did not want her anymore. The story indicates that when Odyssey wanted to return home, the goddess convinced him to stay with her.

The process of being convinced by Kalypso shows seductress roles of women in the story. Women having control over men with the power of their sexuality describes a change of the guard in society. Those who were seen as weak and inferior have turned into powerful and superior characters in the story. Another item of seduction is shown through Penelope, who has been identified as a faithful woman to her husband (Homer 109).

Her husband is seen having affairs with other women. However, Penelope waits for her husband, even when other suitors are asking for her hand in marriage. She shows her manipulative skills when she tricks men who want to marry her in several incidents knowing well that she was not ready to marry any of them.


As has been mentioned above, Ancient Greece was a patriarchal society where men ruled, and women obeyed. However, Homer shows that when there is no man, a woman can become a master who is taking care of a household or even a country and a master of people’s lives. Thus, Homer shows how powerful it can be under certain circumstances.

Penelope loses her master, and she has to become a master of the land until her son, a man, is mature enough to become the master. Circe, “the bewitching queen of Aeaea,” is ruling an entire island, and she is even able to rule some supernatural forces (Homer 212).

Of course, she is not a mortal woman as she is a nymph and is beyond the laws of human society. Finally, it is possible to mention the most powerful female character, Athena, “daughter of Zeus whose shield is thunder – tireless one” (Homer 148). She helps mortals and, of course, she is a daughter of the mightiest god.

Clearly, Homer shows that women could exercise authority and be powerful in the absence of a man. Importantly, the woman has to be privileged to exercise authority. Thus, Penelope is a righteous wife. Athena and Circe are goddesses.

Insidiousness and Trouble-Making

An example of a woman who is not privileged and, hence, cannot be in power is Clytemnestra. The woman betrayed her husband and killed him. Of course, this woman could not possibly exercise any authority. Homer presents Clytemnestra as a “denied voice” (McDermott 2).

This woman has no right to rule or even speak as she has a stigma. She dared to break the rules of the patriarchal world, and she is regarded as a trouble-maker in The Odyssey. She reveals another behavioral pattern which is very different from that of a righteous wife, Penelope. Clytemnestra serves to show another kind of a female in Greek society.

More on the Topic

Of course, it is impossible to omit Helen in this list of trouble-makers. Though Helen is a central character in the epic, Homer uses this female character to show what grief and suffering can be caused by a woman, “What armies of us died for the sake of Helen” (Homer 263).

Of course, Helen is also a kind of antipode to Penelope as the latter is always faithful and trying to bring peace while the former is the reason for the horrible war. Again, this can be regarded as an example of the way the woman was treated in the society of that time. For Ancient Greeks, women were often a cause of some trouble and, hence, they were seen as inferior. Women were to be controlled to keep them away from dangerous situations.

Loyal Partner

It is also important to mention that the characters of Helen and Penelope are also different in terms of their loyalty. Penelope is loyal to her husband in all respects while Helen ran away with another man. Penelope is a faithful partner who can be trusted and who can support her husband and their child. Odyssey is afraid of possible infidelity of Penelope, but it is clear that he believes in her chastity.

She hates her suitors and is “worn with pain and sobbing, / further spells of grief and storms of tears” (Homer 150). Therefore, loyalty is an assigned quality any righteous woman has to possess, according to Homer and the rest of the Ancient Greek society.

Everybody is bound to shed “tears of grief” while listening about “the loyal wife’s way when her husband’s died abroad” (Homer 305). Van Oenen claims that this quality is developing throughout the entire story, and each event makes Penelope stronger and more loyal (222). Ancient Greeks valued this quality above all the rest.


Notably, Penelope loves and respects her husband. She calls him her “lionhearted husband” and “a great man whose fame resounds through Hellas / right to the depths of Argos” (Homer 88). There is only one human being she loves apart from Odyssey. This person is their son. Of course, the woman is meant to be devoted to her husband and her son.

Apparently, in Ancient Greece, it was a norm for a woman to live for a man, to be absorbed by the world of her beloved. Thus, even when Penelope has to remarry to save her son from a horrible death, she can make this sacrifice as she does not belong to herself.

She is ready to get married as she says, “Whatever glow I had died long ago” (Homer 381). She does not care about herself as she is concerned with her son’s future. Hence, in The Odyssey, it is postulated that the woman has to live her husband’s life and be ready to make sacrifices.


Women have been shown as objects of beauty that use manipulation and trickery to get what they want from men and society. The author portrays them as making use of their intelligence and female strength to achieve their desired goals. It is indeed true that the author of The Odyssey depicts all female characters in the epic as seductive creatures in society.

More about The Odyssey

At the same time, the author reveals other roles assigned to women in Ancient Greek society. Thus, the woman can be a powerful leader if she is a righteous and privileged female, of course. It is also shown that the woman has to be loyal and devoted to her man. Otherwise, a woman is regarded as a trouble-maker who is to be controlled and even oppressed.

Works Cited

Homer. The Odyssey. New York, NY: Penguin, 1997. Print.

McDermott, J.R. “Transgendering Clytemnestra.” The McGill Journal of Classical Studies 2.1 (2002): 1-8. Print.

Van Oenen, Gijs. “Fabrications of Self: Identity Formation in the Odyssey.” Cultural Values 5.2 (2001): 221-244. Print.

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