The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer's Odyssey

By Beth Cohen | Go to book overview

Preface

This is the first book to examine the representation of female characters of the Odyssey from the diverse disciplinary perspectives of art history, classics, and history. It contains eleven new essays by twelve contributors. Eight of these essays are revised and expanded versions of talks presented at a symposium entitled "The Female Figures of Homer's Odyssey: Goddesses, Monsters, and Women," which was held at Bard College on February 1, 1992, in conjunction with the exhibition The Odyssey and Ancient Art: An Epic in Word and Image.

The introduction to this book consists of three overviews: A. J. Graham , a specialist on Greek colonization, presents the evidence supporting a probable eighth-century date for the Odyssey's composition in order to employ the epic poem as historical evidence for certain roles of Greek women during the Age of Exploration. Seth L. Schein surveys the nature of Homer's female representations, contrasting the threatening characters in Odysseus' first-person narrative with honorable "heroic" women elsewhere in the poem. Diana Buitron-Oliver and I examine the earliest representations of the Odyssey's female characters in Greek art of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., revealing how Classical artists' visualizations reflected the roles of women in contemporary Greek society.

In the second part of this book, classicists noted for their work on the Odyssey reconsider the diverse roles of important individual female characters in the poem: Sheila Murnaghan focuses on Athena, Lillian Eileen Doherty on Homer's Sirens, and Helene P. Foley on Penelope. Froma I. Zeitlin discusses the bed wrought by Odysseus as an emblem figuring Penelope's fidelity. The essays in the final section interpret the visualization of the Odyssey's female characters by

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