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The Odyssey is an epic depicting the heroic acts and adventures of Odysseus. Flashback to the Trojan War, at the height of the war, Odysseus played a trick on Trojans. For a whole nine years, the Greeks found it difficult to penetrate the heavily fortified walls of Troy. Odysseus devised a plan whereby his army deployed a huge wooden horse within Troy. What the Trojans did not know was that Greek soldiers hid inside the horse - like structure.
As Troy went to sleep, the Greek army under the command of Odysseus crept out of their hiding place. They opened the gates of this great city to admit more men who lay in wait outside. The city’s residents were caught unawares. That night, Troy was conquered. Having completed, this assignment, Odysseus and his troops were now faced with a long journey back home. The Odyssey begins at this point.
Is The Odyssey Biased Towards Women?
To answer this question, it would do justice to the story by looking at a few examples of women characters as depicted by Homer. I think The Odyssey does not give any prominence to women. The main story revolves around Odyssey and his conquering army. Women appear as mothers, mistresses, servants or goddesses. It is the men who conquer kingdoms as well as the women in their lives.
The bias is depicted through mothers. As much as they are persistently portrayed, mothers are seen to be weak and requiring the support of men all the time. For instance, Anticlea died while waiting for her son Ulysses to return home from the war. She was always in agony,
wondering when her son would safely come back to her. Hers was a life of mourning. Every day, these mothers would worry about their children’s lives. They were reduced to pity givers and mourners.
Mothers in The Odyssey, as seen through Anticlea, are portrayed as rudderless and people without control in the absence of important men in their lives. Anticlea’s own statement claimed that her death was caused by the longing for her son’s company not any form of illness (Pomeroy 28). Apart from living in the hope that their sons will eventually come back safe and sound; mothers are not portrayed as morale boosters, a trait The Odyssey lacks.
There is a lot of chauvinism in The Odyssey. Men are depicted as the all conquering humans. All the glory goes to them. While it is true that they deserve the glory, the epic does not signal the important role played by women in all these conquests. It was the women who gave men something to fight for, a sense of a manhood. They were the real supporters and the “fuel” for the fighting men.
Another form of bias towards women is portrayed through wives. This comes out strongly through the life of Penelope, Ulysses wife. She is a motherly wife who is also adept at the seduction. She easily falls into the conniving hands of her suitors. One of the palace bards takes her off balance with a song about death at the battle front. She is overtaken by emotions thinking her husband is dead, a “death” she mourns publicly. It is only through her son’s sense of leadership that she is brought back to reality. Telemachus said that Ulysses was not the only person who had never returned from Troy, but a lot of people had gone down as he had. He ordered them to go home and do their daily grind because it was the men’s matter to raise voices.
Penelope is depicted as a mother and seductress in one. The Antinous remarked that she was a very beautiful woman and for the last three years she had been encouraging each man and had been driving them out of their minds. (Book II). He tells Telemachus how crafty his mother is at seducing men in the absence of her husband.
I cannot blame Penelope and other women who suffered the same fate. Their husbands would be gone for long periods of time. The women were left with no one to gratify them and would give in from time to time to the advances of other men who were not serving in the army. However, one cannot claim that women acted as harlots wholesomely, they were only out to gain the material wealth. Their acts of seduction were not for sexual favors, but going after some material objects that these men possessed. No wonder Penelope would promise to marry a man only to change the intention the next day.
The Sirens in Book XI is another strong indication of how women in The Odyssey are biased. They are portrayed as seductresses. The legend on Clymenestra clearly explains this point. She waited until her husband was away and gave in to temptation from suitors. Then together with her suitor, they connive to kill Clymenestra’s husband when he returns. Agamemnon, before leaving for duty in Troy, had left one poet with the responsibility of keeping watch over his wife. Clymenestra found herself in the same situation as Penelope as it is depicted in the book. The author says that she couldn’t do anything with his wicked scheme, because she was of a good natural disposition. Besides, there was a bard with her, to whom Agamemnon had ordered setting out for Troy and keeping guard over his wife. (Book 3). His delayed return contributed to his wife’s infidelity.
In conclusion, it is evident that The Odyssey does not bring out women for what they were. They appear weak, gullible and full of grief as well as being easily trapped into infidelity. Yet these women lived for their sons and husbands, The Odyssey shows how women were treated unfairly.
Is The Odyssey Bias Towards Another Group, Culture, or a Specific Practice of a Culture?
The Odyssey, in its quest to portray men as strong and undefeatable, fails to give a balanced view on their lives. Manhood has been exonerated from weaknesses. Yet, these men had their own fears. Some were probably afraid of never returning home alive.
Women, from another perspective, were very strong characters. They kept alive the hopes of their men coming back to lead a normal family life. The acts that some of them engaged in, overshadowed the love which they had. A further review of Homer’s epic would probably reveal that women in “The Odyssey” were of a much stronger character. The bias, with which they are reflected, is undeserved.