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Essay on A Comparison of the Role of Women in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad

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The Role of Women in Odyssey and The Iliad


The Iliad and Odyssey present different ideals of women, and the goddesses, who are presented as ideal women, differ between the two epics. The difference in roles is largely dependent on power, and relations to men, as well as sexual desirability and activity.

The goddesses have a major role in both epics as Helpers of men. They have varied reasons for this.  One is a maternal instinct. This is displayed in the literal mother-son relationships of Aphrodite and Aeneas, Thetis and Achilles, and the protective instinct that Athene displays in Book 3 of the Iliad when Pandarus arrow shot an arrow at Menelaus and she "took her stand in front and warded off the piercing dart, turning it just a little from the flesh, like a mother driving a fly away from her gently sleeping child" [p80]. Another motive of the goddesses is revenge. Athene and Hera are determined to destroy Troy to repay Paris for his Judgement when he "fell into the fatal error of humiliating the two goddesses... by his preference for [Aphrodite], who offered him the pleasures and penalties of love" [p438]. In the Odyssey, Athene's major motive for helping Odysseus often seems to simply be pity - such as in the speech she gives to Zeus at the beginning of book 5, p88. Some goddesses only help heroes because they have been ordered to do so by more powerful gods. Calypso agrees to let Odysseus go only when she is asked to by Hermes on behalf of Zeus. Goddesses might also help humans out of love, or sexual desire for them, as with Calypso and Circe. In the Iliad, Aphrodite who personifies sexual desire helps Paris, her favourite, so he can get back to Helen's bed and Aphrodite can revel in their lovemaking, which is an h...


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... Odyssey," by Seth Schein, pp. 17-27.

Griffin, Jasper. Homer on Life and Death, 1980, Clarendon Press.

Richard Brilliant, "Kirke's Men: Swine and Sweethearts," pp. 165-73.

Helene Foley, "Penelope as Moral Agent," in Beth Cohen, ed., The Distaff Side (Oxford 1995), pp. 93-115.

Homer. The Iliad trans E V Rieu, 1950, Penguin Books.

"The Odyssey, History, and Women," by A. J. Graham, pp. 3-16, and

Jennifer Neils, "Les Femmes Fatales: Skylla and the Sirens in Greek Art," pp. 175-84.

Lillian Doherty, Siren Songs: Gender, Audiences, and Narrators in the Odyssey (Ann Arbor 1995), esp. chapter 1.

Mary Lefkowitz, "Seduction and Rape in Greek Myth," 17-37.

Marilyn Arthur Katz, Penelope's Renown: Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey (Princeton 1991).

Nancy Felson-Rubin, Regarding Penelope: From Courtship to Poetics (Princeton 1994).


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