On the Nature of the Female in Ancient Epic, the depiction of virtuous women such as Athena and Penelope in Homer's Odyssey.

Essay by metroid_bird May 2008

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Throughout history, the perception of females within different societies has varied depending on culture. In the world of the ancient Greeks, women were slaves and considered to be inferior to men. Although they were thought to be emotional, irrational and scarcely more intelligent than children, Ancient Greece, as did many other societies over the years, had its ideal preconception of women. The perfect woman had to be quiet, loyal and conservative. Such qualities were shown through important female characters in ancient Greek epics. As seen in Homer’s “The Odyssey”, women such as Penelope and Athena represent an ideal by demonstrating virtue.

Let us begin with Penelope. After waiting twenty years for her husband to return from the Trojan War, one can associate her with faithfulness. She is constantly surrounded by suitors, who flatter her in an attempt to obtain her hand in marriage. Also, many rumours concerning the death of Odysseus lead her to doubt if she will ever see her husband again.

Nevertheless, Penelope remains loyal to her marriage and stalls the suitors, which leads us to her next characteristic. The wife of the great tactician is somewhat cunning. She finds many ways to hold off the suitors, putting off her decision and leading them on with promises to marry as soon as certain things happen. For example, she concocts a ruse during the first few years that the suitors occupy her home, maintaining that she will choose a husband as soon as she finishes weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. This is shown in lines 112 to lines 114 of Book II: “So every day she wove on the great loom- but every night by torchlight she unwove it; and so for three years she deceived the Akhains.” Also, when Penelope proposes the archery contest in...