Critical Lens Essay On The Odyssey
Moreover, she successfully needles her husband by pretending to have moved the bed that he constructed out of a still-living olive tree, a reminder that she has the power to hurt him by sleeping with another man.She’s canny, she’s strong-willed, she has grit, she has a vivid imagination, she’s loyal, she’s a competent, mostly single mother who shows deep love for her difficult, moody son, and she keeps a big and complex household running for two decades.The study guide Spark Notes describes these women as “disloyal women servants” who must be “executed,” while Cliffs Notes calls them “maidservants” who were “disloyal,” and claims that their murder has a “macabre beauty.” In the poem’s original language, Telemachus refers to them only with , the feminine article—“those female people who . They gasped, / feet twitching for a while, but not for long.”There is a vision of empowered femininity in the Odyssey, but it is conveyed not in in the mortal world but in that of the gods.The poem’s plot is, of course, engineered by the wonderfully gender-fluid goddess Athena, who protects and saves her favorite human from the Sirens, goddesses and female monsters who try to entrap him or transform him or hide him or devour him or swallow him up, with their dangerous feminine wiles.
Penelope’s strictly constrained position is presented in some ways as necessary, since élite wives who act more freely may do scary things—like the half-divine Helen, who abandons her husband for another man, or her sister Clytemnestra, who helps her lover murder her husband.
Whereas Odysseus has many choices, many identities, many places to go and people to be and to see, Penelope has only one choice, and it is defined exclusively by her marital status: she can wait for Odysseus, or marry someone else—and even this very limited choice is not open forever, since the abusive suitors can eventually force her hand.
In Mary Beard’s forthcoming pamphlet, “Women and Power,” she writes about a scene in the Odyssey that she calls Western literature’s “first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’ ”—Telemachus telling Penelope, in Book One, to be silent after she asks the poet performing in her palace to sing a different tune.
Athena repeatedly transforms herself into a bird of prey, whooshing up to the rooftops or surfing across the waves of the sea.
The silenced slave girls are “like doves or thrushes,” caught in a hunter’s net.