Women are important to the plot and overall theme of the Odyssey. In fact, without many of the women there would not be a complex plot to this epic poem. In the narrative and in Greek society women played a variety of roles, as mothers, herons, and many other strong roles yet, they were treated as less significant, and were made to be loyal and submissive to men. The women were required to wait on and sulk for love, as Penelope did for 20 years.
In Greek society, the women had very little authority but the little control that they did have was sort of a sexual power, which at times they could use to outwit the men. Obvious examples of this sexual power would be Circe and Calypso. Calypso and Circe however, are not the only examples of women from the text that used this mystifying power. The beautiful nymph Calypso and beautiful witch-goddess Circe had super natural powers, which they each used to make Odysseus their love slave.
Calypso had captured Odysseus and taken him to her island, Ogygia, where they had an affair for a while. She used her beauty and she seduced him to control him. Circe used what we would call the “puppy dog” allure to get Odysseus to have mercy on her and eventually she seduced him in chapter ten. He and his men lived with her for a year. The Sirens, enchanted Odysseus with their singing, their songs put him in a trance, they had this sultry spell-casting power.
Throughout the tale, Penelope uses her feminine charm to subtly lead the suitors on. She deceives them to receive gifts, and she acts as what we would today call a “player”. She gets all the men all hot and bothered meanwhile, she is just cleverly using them up and buying time for Odysseus’ to return and subsequent vengeance. As I have stated many of the women had various diverse roles in this story, seducing men was not all that they did, however it is more so what Homer highlighted in his narrative.
Take Eurycleia for example, she was a confidante to Telemachus upon his return as well as the long lost Odysseus upon his homecoming, she was a dependable, noble women who always stayed true to her masters whom she loved and had been like a second mother to. Though Penelope at times seemed to utilize her seducing power, she was much more than that; she was clever–in distinguishing the beggar to be Odysseus (when she laid down the challenge to the men in chapter twenty-one).
She showed strength when she confronted the mob of suitors after having heard that they were plotting on Telemachus. Athena is also a great example. She was a hereon. Athena took the form of Mentor and inspired Telemachus to search for Odysseus. She was a strong supporter of Odysseus; she guided and watched over Odysseus and Telemachus. She was the savior of both, and even helped fight along side them in Chapter twenty-two, when the suitors had them outnumbered.
There are several others like Nausicaa and her mother, Arete who were much more than simply seductresses, however to an extent Homer’s perception of women in their society was correct, there are instances from the text that shows that many of these woman used their feminine cunning and “sexual power” to control men. In conclusion, I feel that Homer is attempting to suggest that women had their feminine charm which they used to get the best of the men, but overall it was Greek custom for men to control women and they did, the women were subject to divine whim an did not have equal clout in their culture.