In The Odyssey, describe the social standing of women in this patriarchal world.
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Throughout the Odyssey women are venerated and hold a particularly high rank and influence among men. Without the aid of many female characters(Athena, Penelope, Nausicaa, Arete) Odysseus is able to not only reach Ithaca but also reclaim power over his household.
Penelope holds particularly high status. Although the suitors have seized the wealth of her household, no one can take Odysseus' place as its master. Without her consent in marriage, none of the suitors can become Ithaca's king. Penelope's intelligence, or "metis," is revered to the same degree as that of Odysseus and Athena. She weaves a burial shroud for Laertes, promising the suitors that she will marry when it is complete. However, each night she undoes the progress in her work. Weaving serves as a symbol of intelligence and cunning within the work. Similarly, she tests Odysseus with the knowledge of how their bed was formed to ensure his identity. In doing so she displays both a high form of perception and intelligence as well as fidelity.
The nurse recognizes the scar on Odysseus' thigh, a wound he sustained as a youngster while hunting a boar. She too displays a great deal of affection and fidelity for Odysseus. Because she does not reveal him to the suitors, he is able to commence in his plan to regain control of his home. She too ensures that those servants who have also remained faithful to Odysseus will not be lost in the slaughter that follows.
Queen Arete, like Penelope, is found weaving in her hall. Nausicaa tells Odysseus that he must make an appeal to her mother, who will pass judgment and determine is aid, as opposed to her father the king.
Interestingly, women are shown to be greatly respected in this text, and certainly the various male characters are respectful towards the women they come across, even the suitors, to a certain extent. This does point towards the fact that women are perhaps not as powerless as we would imagine given the patriarchal world that they are a part of. However, there is another aspect of some importance to do with the presentation of women, and that is how they are described as being temptations to men. For example, Circe and Calypso are two seductresses whose power and social standing is based on the charms that they exert, and this is something that presents a serious barrier to Odysseus as he tries to get back to Penelope. The Sirens are another example of tempting women, and even Penelope herself could be viewed as using her feminine wiles to beguile to suitors and keep them thinking that she is interested in remarrying. Even a character like Nausikaa, who is revered and admired as a princess, is shown to be something of a impediment to Odysseus through her love for him:
A while ago he seemed an unpromising man to me. Now he even resembles one of the gods, who hold high heaven. If only the man to be called my husband could be like this one, a man living here, if only this one were pleased to stay here.
Again and again, Odysseus seems to go through life with women throwing themselves at him, tempting him to swerve from his purpose of returning to Ithaca and Penelope. Women therefore are shown to have importance and social standing through their position and their sexual charms. However, at the same time, it is important to remember that they are subject to the will of the gods, and all of them have to accept divine will in their lives, even if it means they are left to pine for lost love or to wait for its return. This ultimately presents the female characters as being rather powerless, as they are not able to make their own decisions in life and are presented as nothing more than playthings of the gods. Even Penelope, who arguably gets what she has been waiting for with the return of her husband, has to accept the fact that whilst he has been away he has consorted with various other females.
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