Women in the Odyssey

Anglada, Maria Àngels
Revista Literatures Núm. 0 1997

A wide variety of feminine types can be found in what is the poem of the Mediterranean par excellence.
Circe and Calypso, are two figures who are half woman, half divine, and who are there to satisfy a structural need of the poem and its chronology. In Helen, we have another woman who is quasi-divine and at the same time human. Homer introduces her in the poem as she welcomes Telemachus, the hero's adolescent son. She is one of the few heroines in the myth who is referred to by name and several glorious epithets, and not just as somebody's wife. On the other hand, Homer also introduces Penelope, Ulysses' beautiful wife, as a person who tends to be passive and nostalgic. She has been waiting for her husband for eighteen years, with proverbial faithfulness, which, together with her tenacity, is a quality pertaining to ancient heroism; for this reason, her weaknesses and tears do not dilute her heroic nature.
If we compare her with Penelope, the interest of the figure of Arete, the Queen of the Pheacians, lies in the difference of the latter's position in her kingdom. She is a skilful woman, perspicacious and compassionate, with a gift for ruling. At her wishes, Ulysses is kept from leaving until the following day, when he is dispatched with sumptuous gifts. Her young and beautiful daughter Nausicca finds Ulysses shipwrecked and exhausted, and offers him her hospitality. Later on, King Alcinous suggests that the hero marry the princess, before discovering that the former already has a wife. Joan Maragall, in the play he wrote on Nausicca, is faithful to Homer's verses, although he highlights the admiration of the princess for the hero to the point that he turns her into a romantic heroine.
Euriclea, Penelope's adviser, the confidant of Telemachus - and, in the end, of Ulysses - is an extremely old woman, who has kept her common sense, the spriteliness of her limbs and her good eyesight, especially when to comes to her amorous vision, which enables her to recognise both Telemachus and Ulysses from a distance, before Penelope does.
Going from myth to real life, it can be seen that women obtained the status of poets (Cleobuline, Sappho, Erinna of Telos), long before they became active travellers, like Ulysses. That would not happen until the medieval pilgrims came along, such as Egeria, who travelled with a group and set her experiences down for us. As for the access of women to the study of this fascinating world of their predecessors, both real and mythical, it is not until recent times that academics can be found (Jacqueline de Romilly, Claude Mossé, Hélène Monsacrée, Sara Pomeroy, Eva Canterella, Sophia Kaempj-Mitridatou, among others) who have done research into the unrivalled poet, his heroes, and the women of the Iliad and the Odyssey.