Female Representations and Interpreting the Odyssey
Seth L. Schein
The representation and description of a variety of females -- human women, goddesses, and monsters -- are among the most striking features of the Odyssey. For the most part, women and the goddess Athena are described or represented by the voice of the poem's (implied) narrator; other goddesses and nonhuman females occur mainly in the stories told in the first person by Odysseus, sometimes in secondary narrative by characters whom Odysseus quotes and whose accounts, as in the case of Kirke's description of the Sirens, he seems to accept. Only Kalypso figures in both authorial and embedded narrative.
The Odyssey gives relatively few descriptions of its female characters' physical appearances and characteristics, such as Athena's gray eyes (passim), Penelope's "thick hand" (21.6), and the white arms of Arete (7.233,335; 11.335), Nausikaa (6.101, 186, 251; 7.12), Helen (22.227), and servants in both Scheria and Ithaka (7.239; 18.198; 19.60). Nevertheless, it offers quite a lot of what might be called the phenomenology of appearance: accounts of specific characters' appearances that are grounded in the effects they have on other characters or on themselves. Odysseus, for example, refers to several of his companions meeting the wife of the Laistrygonian Antiphates, "as large as a mountain top, and they loathed her" (10.113); quoting Kirke, he gives an extended description of the monstrous Skylla