What is the role of women in Homer's Odyssey?
Focusing especially on Penelope, Calypso, or Nausicaa, discuss how women are portrayed in this epic.
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Penelope, Calypso, and Nausicaa represent three different types of women in Homer's Odyssey.
Calypso is a divine being who lives on the fringes of the human world. She is a goddess, but she appears to live a solitary life in a cave. Her name means "I shall conceal/hide" and this hints at her role. She conceals Odysseus from the world in which he is/was accustomed to dwell.
Nausicaa is a young woman who is not yet married. One of my colleagues once described Nausicaa as just as dangerous to Odysseus as any of the women he encounters because Nausicaa offers a very real opportunity for Odysseus to forget about his native land and re-marry.
Finally, we have Penelope. She is the married woman. She is Odysseus' true wife and his true love. When Odysseus is with Penelope, he regains his true identity. Penelope makes Odysseus who he really is. She completes him and makes him whole again.
Homer's Odyssey reminds me of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," except in this case we might title the epic "Odysseus and the Three Beds." Just as Goldilocks tries out three beds before she finds one that is "just right", Odysseus doesn't really rediscover his true identity until Penelope tests him about his bed; and this bed, for Odysseus, is just right.
Penelope, Calypso, and Nausicaa are the three "love interests" of Odysseus. (We'll leave out Circe, since a sea-witch who turns men into pigs never seemed like a real possibility for lasting love...)
Interestingly, all three of these women exhibit a great amount of agency in the Odyssey. Nausicaa saves Odysseus when he is shipwrecked on Phaeacia. Calypso imprisons Odysseus for seven years, and he only leaves when she decides to let him leave (after some prompting by Hermes/Zeus/Athena).
Penelope shows the most agency. She faces a really complex situation, and rises to the challenge by using her cleverness. She develops a bunch of different ruses to trick the suitors and keep them at bay.
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