In these epics, several female characters had a profound effect on the plot. They wielded their influence through typically feminine skills and attributes: seduction, supernatural powers, intelligence, and beauty. Some of the women of The Odyssey and The Iliad influenced the actions of men, playing key roles in the epics, such as Calypso, the Sirens, Helen, or Circe; all of these women were responsible for the actions of the men. In The Iliad, Helen and Athena are two characters who display “the influential power female sexuality has in relation to the mortal male… [they are] in control” (LeVan).
Helen’s physical beauty was her source of influence as “She plays out her role or destiny as a symbol of the beauty that men fight for… ” (Bespaloff 121). Helen was Menelaus’ beautiful wife, and when Paris kidnapped her because he wanted her to be his wife, Menelaus had to go to battle against Troy to defend his honor and retake Helen as his wife. Thus, if Helen had not possessed beauty, then Paris would not have wanted her, and the Trojan War would not have occurred. Pallas Athena also wields an influential power, through her intelligence and her supernatural power as a goddess.
She directs the actions of men, such as Achilles, by making herself invisible to all others except Achilles, and then plucking his hair and warning him not to strike Agamemnon. Achilles does not strike Agamemnon, and a grand mistake is avoided. Athena also influences the actions of Achilles by handing him a spear during the final battle against Hector. By handing Achilles the spear, Achilles knows that he is to kill him. If Athena had not interfered, Achilles would not have delivered his fatal attack. “Odysseus is successful, because he has the help of Athene” (Wright 67).
Clearly, Athena is responsible for the actions of Odysseus, and any other man whom she helps. In The Odyssey, the females who direct or influence the actions of men are Athena, Circe, Calypso, Penelope, the Sirens, and Scylla and Charybdis. Similar to her characterization in The Iliad, Athena still possesses her influential powers through her intellect and her divine powers. Nevertheless, in The Odyssey, Athena uses her intellect more and plans the adventures of Telemachos and Odysseus, disguising herself and telling Telemachos to go “to Sparta and to sandy Pylos to seek tidings of his dear father’s return… Butcher 8). She sends Odysseus off from Ogygia, setting the stage for Odysseus to return home simultaneously with Telemachos. If Athena had not interfered, Odysseus could have stayed at Calypso’s island for eternity, and Telemachos could have been slain by the suitors. Hence, Athena directs the actions of Telemachos and Odysseus. Circe directs the actions of men mainly through her “dire divine beauty… “, although she has the powers that all demi-goddesses have (LeVan).
When Odysseus “rushed on Circe as if intending to kill her… fter drinking the potion that protected him, Circe uses her beauty to change Odysseus’ action (Cook 137). Instead of killing Circe, Odysseus sleeps with her and stays at her island for one year. If Circe had been a male, then she would have surely died without the availability of her magical powers, which are associated with her femininity. Instead, she directs the action of Odysseus by utilizing her beauty. Calypso also used her powers of seduction, beauty, and supernatural powers to affect the actions of men. Calypso was a goddess who possessed supernatural powers that allowed her to seduce anyone.
By utilizing these powers and her beauty, Calypso made Odysseus forget about his journey home, and she kept him for seven years. If Calypso had not directed the action of Odysseus, then he would have been home earlier. Penelope, like Helen, indirectly influenced the actions of men. While Odysseus was gone, Penelope attracted many suitors because she was known to be one of the most beautiful women of the Greek world. If her beauty had not attracted the suitors, then Odysseus would not have faced trouble when he arrived at Ithaca. The Sirens were women whose behavior makes it certain that the “listener fails to return home” (Pucci 193).
They used their supernatural powers of instant seduction to lure the male sailors to their doom. The Sirens represented the most exaggerated absolute feminine influential characteristics, if any man had heard their songs, then the men would lose control of their actions and would go to the source of the songs at all costs, even if it meant death in the deep sea of Poseidon. The Sirens controlled the actions of men through their notorious songs. The women of Homer’s epics were truly powerful, because the only thing that prevented their ultimate success over the men was the intervention of the major gods, Athena in particular.
Since the women had this great influence over men, they could alter the actions of men so that they would do their bidding. If women like Helen and Penelope, who were exquisitely beautiful, influenced the actions of men through their physical appearance, then any woman who possessed this beauty would have a strong influence over any man, thus she would be in an advantageous position. There were also women who possessed beauty and divine power. With beauty alone, a woman could influence many men, but with the addition of divine abilities, a woman could control men’s actions.
This was the case with many of Homer’s characters, such as Circe, Calypso, or the Sirens. Since the women of Homer’s epics had so much influence over men, women could be held responsible for the actions of men. Therefore, Helen should be responsible for the Trojan War, and Calypso should be responsible for Odysseus’ transition from his primary goal. In Homer’s epics, women shared some characteristics and attributes that enabled them to have an influence over the actions of men. These characteristics and attributes were seduction, supernatural powers, intelligence, and beauty.
Women of the epics such as Circe or Helen have possessed these attributes and utilized them both directly and indirectly to direct the actions of men. It can be inferred that this female superiority over men in Homer’s epics could have been a reflection of Homer’s thoughts. Since Homer was so appreciative of the women in the epics, perhaps he was a woman, or a feminist. If Homer was a feminist or a woman, then the story of the Trojan War may not have been true, and in actuality, may be an entertaining interpretation of an actual Trojan War.
Since the Trojan War supposedly started because of a dispute between the gods and mortals, the Trojan War probably started because of a reason other than the reason Homer that gives. If Homer were a woman, then he would have directed his audience into believing that women were at a higher level than men were by use of his epics. Ultimately, Homer would be utilizing his feminine characteristics when telling his stories with underlying messages of feminine superiority or equality.