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

By Beth Cohen | Go to book overview

2
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

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Contributors xiii
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Odyssey, History, and Women 3
  • Notes 14
  • 2 - Female Representations and Interpreting the Odyssey 17
  • Notes 26
  • 3 - Between Skylla and Penelope: Female Characters of the Odyssey in Archaic and Classical Greek Art 29
  • Notes 50
  • II - Female Representations in the Odyssey 59
  • 4 - The Plan of Athena 61
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Sirens, Muses, and Female Narrators in the Odyssey 81
  • Notes 89
  • 6 - Penelope as Moral Agent 93
  • Notes 109
  • 7 - Figuring Fidelity in Homer's Odyssey 117
  • Notes 146
  • III - Representations of Female Characters from the Odyssey in Ancient Art 153
  • 8 - Coming of Age in Phaiakia: The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausikaa 155
  • Notes 161
  • 9 - Kirke's Men: Swine and Sweethearts 165
  • Notes 173
  • 10 - Les Femmes Fatales: Skylla and the Sirens in Greek Art 175
  • Notes 183
  • 11 - The Intimate Act of Footwashing: Odyssey 19 185
  • Notes 196
  • References 201
  • Index 219
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