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

By Beth Cohen | Go to book overview

own main values and most frequently expressed viewpoints are neither unproblematic nor the only ones possible. Rather, they are to some extent open to criticism and negative evaluation, and the poem itself is correspondingly open-ended, interpretively ambivalent or indeterminate, and irreducible to a single, straightforward, onedimensional reading. 17


Notes

I would like to thank Beth Cohen for inviting me to contribute to the present volume and for her constructive criticism and editorial advice. I also wish to thank Laura Slatkin for criticism and suggestions that improved this essay.

1
As might be expected, there are far more, and more varied, accounts of Odysseus' appearance than of any female character's. Cf. Griffith, 1985, 310. For perceptive interpretations of the poem's descriptions of Odysseus' physical appearances, see Bell, 1991 and Bassi, 1994.
2
On the "threat posed by female narrators," especially the Sirens and Helen, to Odysseus' "privileges as narrator and focalizer of his own story" and the ways in which "the epic narrator contains this threat," see Doherty, Chapter 5, this volume.
3
Cf. Nagler, 1977.
4
Male bards (aoidoi) such as Phemios and Demodokos sing epic poetry about heroes and gods; the subject matter of the songs sung by nonhuman female singers, apart from the Sirens, is not specified. This is the kind of singing I call "prototypically female."
5
Cf. Dimock, 1956, 56-57.
6
Cf. Vernant, 1982.
7
Güntert, 1919, argues that Ogygia is symbolically a Land of the Dead, Kalypso a goddess of the dead, and "concealment" the equivalent of death. Cf. Anderson, 1958; Vernant, 1982; Powell, 1977, 5, n. 13, who refers to the interpretation of Kalypso and "concealment" by Hölscher, 1939, 67; Porter, 1962, 3-5, who terms Ogygia "an Eden-like Hell, or a hellish Eden." For a recent discussion of Kalypso with a summary of relevant scholarship, see Crane, 1988, 15-29.
8
See Pucci, 1979; Segal, 1983.
9
The "soft meadows" (leimōnes malakoi) of Kalypso's Ogygia (5.72) have a similar connotation. Cf. Motte, 1973, 50-56, cited by Vernant, 1982, 15, n. 10.
10
In the later epic sequel to the Odyssey entitled the Telegony, Odysseus' further adventures included journeys, wars, a second marriage to Kallidike, Queen of the Thesprotians, and death at the hands of Telegonos, his son by Kirke. In the Odyssey itself, Odysseus tells Penelope of the "immeasurable toil there will still be in the future,/[toil] abundant and

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