Women in the “Odyssey”

In any discussion concerning roles of male and female in the “Odyssey,” it seems natural to concentrate mainly on the evidence having to do with the situation on Ithaka, both because Ithaka is the most complex and the most fully described society in the Odyssey.

All the women met within “Odyssey” are individuals and not stereotypes. Most of them are portrayed with sympathy. On the whole, the emphasis is on their positive qualities. The wisdom and good sense of Penelope, for instance, is often remarked upon. Even in the case of Helen, although her adultery and ambiguous loyalties are not overlooked, the main impression of her that one gets is of intelligence and perceptiveness. 

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The activities of the women were based on the house. Females keep house for their husbands “The Odyssey” states. The term Despoina, the etymological meaning of which is mistress of the house, is on several occasions used to describe aristocratic women. Women of the upper classes are most often described as being busy at the loom or occupied with some other form of textile work. This is a reflection of the fact that all the linen and clothing used by the members of the Oikos was produced in the home, mainly it seems by the mistress of the house herself with the help of her maids. Both women are a man shown working.

The preparation of food was done by the female servants and slaves. An impression of the importance of the woman to the household and of the actual authority she could wield can be gained from Hesiodos. Nothing is worse for a man than a bad wife, while a good wife who keeps an orderly house, will make the household prosper. 

In contrast to men, most women are depicted as working whatever their social status. Weaving and textile-work, in general, are identified with women to such a degree that not even goddesses are usually idle. Both Kirke and Kalypso, who are goddesses are busy at the loom. In the cave of the Nymphs on Ithaka, one can see the stone looms used by the nymphs to weave their wondrous fabrics. Artemis receives the epithet of the golden distaff. 

The absence of female labor is not a feature of an ideal world. That follows from the assertion that men's work is principally concerned with primary production, while women's work is associated with the processing of agricultural products. Even though, the earth might freely bring forward grain and fruit without the need to plow or harvest, and sheep be always thick-fleeced, the grain still has to be ground and made into bread, and the wool has to be carded, spun, and woven. 

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