The Odyssey

Over the course of reading The Odyssey I noticed a couple of interesting things the foremost being the prominent role of women within the story. Women within the poem held a great deal of power, often surpassing the power held by the male characters. Athena stands as the most active female figure in the poem, being able to manipulate mortals and their conflicts. What I found interesting was the fact that in order to lower what would be the levels of adoration and reverence that accompany her female form, Athena often took the form of  man. Both when hiring a crew for Telemachus’ voyage and when advising him, Athena took male form which to me suggests that her divine female form would prove too much for the mortal world. Even the mortal women such as Penelope and Nausicaa were likened to goddesses in their beauty and standing. The negative image of women arose only through such figures as the Sirens, Circe, Calypso…etc as they were obstacles to the hero Odysseus, but again these female figures stand as much more powerful than any male character.  This powerful image of women in The Odyssey came as a very welcome change from the completely subordinate role of women in Genesis.

The second thing I noticed while reading was that Halitherses, the old warrior (Book 2, l.175) seems to fit the role of a knight of faith (seen in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling). Halitherses warns Penelope’s suitors that disaster shall befall them upon Odysseus’ return. The suitor’s scoff at the old man’s ridiculous claims as everyone assumes Odysseus died long ago at the battle of Troy or on his voyage home. Halitherses then continues to outline a prophecy he made years before saying that Odysseus would return home after twenty years. The old warrior had never lost faith in the fact that Odysseus would return regardless of the fact that Odysseus went to war and has not been seen or heard from twenty years since. Ithaca’s population had accepted the fact that Odysseus was dead and moved past it, Halitherses on the other hand resigned from fighting for the cause, but never once lost his faith in Odysseus. Total resignation from actively upholding and pursuing one’s faith but never giving it up, regardless of how absurd it may seem, is the mark of a knight of faith. Perhaps he can be considered one? It is fairly absurd to expect a warrior’s return after twenty years with no word.

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  1. Very interesting points overall, and the one about Halitherses really got me thinking. My first thought is that even though everyone else believes Odysseus is dead and won’t come back, it’s at least not humanly impossible that he would–unlike if Abraham kills Isaac it is humanly impossible that Isaac would nevertheless be returned to him. So I’m wondering if Halitherses would really be believing in as much of a paradox as Abraham?

    On a different note, can you please activate a plugin that allows commenters to check a box to get an email if they get a reply to their comment? Go to your dashboard, then “plugins” on the left menu, then activate one called “subscribe to comments,” or something to that effect. Click “activate” on the right, then if there is a box at the bottom to save the settings, click save (there may not be). That way, if I or anyone else comments, we can check the box and get an email if someone replies so we can see the reply!

  2. I found the powerful presence of women in The Odyssey refreshing as well. The diversity of their abilities was also striking, as they were portrayed to have something male characters don’t (or at least not obviously)- the power of seduction. This in conjunction with divine strength, etc. that they could harness created a force to be reckoned with

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