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Homer: The Odyssey. Women in the Odyssey. Russell McNeil, PhD. Malaspina Great Books Lecture Series. Malaspina Great Books 2006.

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Homer: The Odyssey

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Homer: The Odyssey

Women in the Odyssey

Russell McNeil, PhD

Malaspina Great Books Lecture Series

Malaspina Great Books 2006


For from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth...

Zeus who thunders on high made women to be an evil to mortal men, with a nature to do evil.

And he gave them a second evil to be the price for the good they had: whoever avoids marriage and the sorrows that women cause, and will not wed, reaches deadly old age without anyone to tend his years... Hesiod Theogony


Vase painting of Pandora rising from the earth


What should we scan for?

  • Sexuality

  • Emotional quality

  • Intellect

  • Drive for power

  • Need for Control

  • Capacity for Labour


Possible Conclusions

  • Women are different but equal in nature

  • Women are different and unequal in nature

  • Men are dumb about women


Botticelli Venus & Mars (1483)


David Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces (1824)


Jean Charles Cazin (1841-1901) Odysseus Weeps


Max Klinger Penelope brooding over her loom (1895)


John Gibson Helen


Clytemnestra and Orestes c. 340 BCE


Agamemnon Mask

16th c. BCE

[Clytemnestra will give] “… an evil reputation to all women, even on one who does good…"

Odyssey p. 201-2


...my mother is like that, perverse for all her cleverness: she'd entertain some riff-raff, and turn out a solid man...

Telemaklos on his mother (p. 379)


Dante Gabriel Rossetti Helen of Troy (1863)


J.W. Waterhouse, Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1891)


Black-figure skyphos from Thebes, 5th or 4th c. BCE Circe gives Odysseus a drugged potion


Valentin Serov Odysseus and Nausicaa (1910)


“… no grace or wisdom fails in her; indeed just men in quarrels come to her for equity. Suppose, then, she looks upon you kindly, the chances are that you shall see your friends under your own roof, in your father's country…” Athena to Odysseus p. 112


Scylla – Modern representation


“...[she] defiled herself and all her sex, all women yet to come, even those few who may be virtuous…” Shade of Agamemnon to Odysseus


“...indulge a woman never, and never tell her all you know. Some things a man may tell, some he should cover up…”

Agamemnon to Odysseus


J.W. Waterhouse Penelope and the Suitors (1912)


Charles Baude Athena watches as Telemachus kisses his father (1892)


Hera sitting at the Right Hand of Zeus


Waterhouse Sirens


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