Homer’s Odyssey was written at the time, when society was generally patriarchal, so the roles of women were inferior to those of men. In Odyssey men are the main characters, while females break into two categories: decent and noble women, who are mostly passive, and femmes fatales, who are more involved in the story’s action but are destructive. By contrasting the two types of women, the author reveals the major beliefs of his epoch about righteous women: faithful, modest and wise.
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While speaking about femme fatale, it is worth mentioning Circe, a sorceress, and Calypso, a nymph who spells and then imprisons Odyssey. It is noteworthy that fatal power of women to evoke passion of a man and make them lose their head is presented as dangerous. Moreover, it is treated as supernatural, as all femmes fatales of the poem allure men using superhuman abilities. Hence, Odyssey’s unfaithfulness to his wife Penelope is justified by his inability to stand supernatural power. On a large scale, this is necessary to justify the values of the epoch, when being chaste was only necessary for wives, while men could afford relations with other women, which was explained by witchcraft.
The other part of women in the poem are noble ones, Penelope is probably the most idealistically pictured. Although her husband is away for a long time, and it is not clear whether he is alive at all, she is loyal to him and rejects efforts of numerous suitors to conquer her. At the same time she is quite passive in her waiting and being obedient, which is clearly dictated by the values of the epoch. In contrast Athena, who is also a noble one, is a rare case when combination of strength and goodness in a woman is approved. However, she is a goddess, so it is clear that what is allowed to a goddess is not allowed to a mortal.