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She suggests the contest of the bow and the axes, which allows Odysseus to reveal himself and put the fear of Zeus into the suitors. Odysseus gets the credit for his great feat of arms, but it is Penelope's idea. Homer is showing that though man is superior to woman, this one exceptional woman deserves to be highly valued.
Helen serves, like Klytaimnestra, as contrast to the virtuous Penelope. Although happy in her marriage to Menelaus, Helen, under Aphrodite's spell, lets Paris carry her to Troy, causing the Trojan war as Menelaus fights to get her back. Homer's picture of Helen is not of a sluttish adulteress, but of a beautiful loving wife. Helen offers Telemakhos a gift, when he visits after her restoration to Menelaus. Her words are the model of Greek womanhood, and traditional family values, yet the reader remembers the scandalous past of the most beautiful woman in the world:
I, too, bring you a gift, dear child, and here it is;
remember Helen's hands by this; keep it for your own bride, your joyful wedding day; let your dear mother guard it in her chamber.
My blessing; may you come soon to your island, home to your timbered hall (XV 155-161).
In Phaeacia, Odysseus meets the young princess Nausikaa, who is helpful, as woman should be, offering advice on how to best be received by the island's rulers, her parents. She embodies many pleasant female characteristics supporting traditional Greek family values. Homer says she is: "so fine in mould and feature that she seemed a goddess" (VI 19-20). Yet, she shows daughterly obedience, knows how important clean clothes are to her family's reputation, and she thinks of only what a good girl should, finding a suitable marriage. A sweet young thing, she knows how to blush, yet, she is strong and energetic: "Nausikaa took the reins and raised her whip, lashing the mules" (VI 88-89). Homer's image of Nausikaa and her attendants doing the laundry is charmingly wholesome:
Then sliding out the cart's tail board, they took
Armloads of clothing to the dusky water,
And trod them in the pits, making a race of it.
All being drubbed, all blemish rinsed away,
They spread them, piece by piece, along the beach
Whose pebbles had been laundered by the sea;
Then took a dip themselves, and all anointed with golden oil, ate lunch beside the river
While the bright burning sun dried out their linen.
Princess and maids delighted in that feast;
Then putting off their veils,
They ran and passed a ball to a rhythmic beat,
Nausikaa flashing first with her white arms. (VI 97-109)
These are not pampered princesses, but athletic innocents. Here Homer contrasts innocent young Nausikaa with less civilized examples of females. Odysseus waking to this scene, is full of flattery:
Mistress: please: are you divine, or mortal?
If one of those who dwell in the wide heave,
You are most near to Artemis, I should say
Great Zeus's daughter -- in your grace and presence. (VI 161-164)
Nausikaa represents a temptation to Odysseus' sensuality. He is a man who appreciates women, but as hero this interest is a weakness. Nausikaa is interested in Odysseus, too, but she is saving her sensual nature for her lawful husband.
Many of the women Odysseus meets are symbols of temptation, traps that hinder the hero's progress. Kirke and Kalypso bewitch and enslave him, using their femininity to dominate and control. Female control over the male is the opposite of the ideal gender relationship in Greek society. Odysseus must escape from both Kalypso and Kirke in order to find himself and get home again. He does so only with the help of divine intervention. The Seirenes, Skylla, and Kharybdis are more females who pose deadly threats to Odysseus and his men. Kirke, Kalypso, Scylla, Kharybdis, and the Seirenes represent woman as femme fatale, destroying, consuming, enslaving mixtures of lust, love, pleasure and pain. The Seirenes lure men with their song of entrancing temptation. Kharybdis is the devouring female:
When she swallowed the sea water down
We saw the funnel of the maelstrom,...
My men all blanched against the gloom, our eyes
Were fixed upon that yawning mouth in fear
Of being devoured (XII 311-317).
Skylla, too, eats men alive. After seizing six[continue]
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