Women in Ancient Greece were considered inferior to men, they could not mix with men and be part of the action. Very few had important roles, the world was dominated by men. Yet in Homer’s Odyssey women played very important roles. Women were not meek little structures blended into the background, they were powerful and wise. They charmed and controlled the men, they provided wisdom and advice. Women took care of the men.
There is such a strong feminine attitude in The Odyssey that some scholars believe a woman or group of women could have written it. The way some things are worded in The Odyssey is purely feminine.
There are many strong female characters in The Odyssey.
The goddesses play very demanding, controlling roles. The most powerful is Athena. She makes things happen through the entire story. Then there is Calypso, she is so powerful she holds Odysseus captive for many years.
Among the mortal women there are also many wise and strong individuals; Helen, Arete, and Nausicaa. One of the most unique characters is Penelopia, Odysseus’ wife. For many years she waits for Odysseus to come home. On the surface she may seem very meek, yet in reality she is very clever. For all those years she had to fend off the suitors. “… she has been deluding the wits of a whole nation. Hopes for all, promises for every man by special messenger- and what she means is quite different.” (Homer 24)
Penelopia deluded all the suitors for quite some time by making the excuse that she had to weave a burial shroud for Laertes. Every day she sat weaving, then at night she pulled her work apart. Her clever wits put the suitors at bay until they discovered her plan. Once they found this out they were angry. One man made the comment that she had “… her head full of pride to think how Athena had been generous to her beyond all others, given her skill in beautiful work and good intelligence and cleverness such as never was heard of, even in the old stories.” (Homer 24)
Penelopia showed her wisdom and cleverness throughout the story. Even after Odysseus came home she was wise enough to be cautious, she did not run right to him with open arms in case he was an impostor. She used her wits to set a trap that would prove if he was really Odysseus. She had him confess the secret of their bed, once he did she knew it was he.
Women were very wise in The Odyssey, this was very different to the roles women most often played in other stories from Ancient Greece.