DID THE WOMEN OF HOMER'S EPICS DIRECT THE ACTIONS OF MEN?
Throughout the Common Era, women have been recognized as a strong influence on the actions of men. For example, Eleanor Roosevelt influenced the decisions that Franklin D. Roosevelt made, and in literature, Lady Macbeth urged Macbeth to commit murder. Did the women of Homer's epics, The Odyssey and The Iliad emulate the women of the Common Era? The Iliad is an epic about the Trojan War and Achilles' role as an Achaean warring against the Trojans. The Trojan War indirectly began because of Helen, who was kidnapped for her unsurpassed beauty. The Odyssey is an epic about a Greek warrior in the Trojan War whose wanderings around his known world and his perilous encounters are the basis of the story. Odysseus' absence from his home is prolonged by the influences of the women whom he encounters.
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..." after 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