Women in the Odyssey: Calypso, Penelope and Double Standards

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In Book V of The Odyssey, Hermes comes to Calypso’s island to tell her that the gods’ council has decided that Odysseus must be sent home. Calypso responds by complaining about the double standards between gods and goddesses, although she does ultimately submit to Zeus’ decree and let Odysseus leave her island, where she has imprisoned him for the past seven years. Calypso’s complaints are central to the issue of women in the Odyssey. Although the female characters of The Odyssey are more developed than the female characters in The Iliad, a double standard still exists between men and women. Odysseus and Penelope: Infidelity in Men and Women The double standard between Odysseus and Penelope is especially clear. Odysseus has a relationship while he is on her island, although he is described as “unwilling” (l. 172). This infidelity seems to be taken for granted. Odysseus does endure his long and hard journey partially to see Penelope again, but the text also says that Calypso “no longer pleased” him (l. 170). Odysseus’ decision to leave the island when he has the choice may have been a far more trying decision six years ago. On the other hand, Penelope is criticized for leading her suitors on. As Antinous complains to Telemachus in book II, “It’s not the suitors here who deserves the blame, it’s your own dear mother, the matchless queen of cunning. For three years now, getting on to four, she’s played it fast and loose with all our hearts, building each man’s hopes—dangling promises, dropping hints to each – but all the while with something else in mind" (l. 96-100). Penelope and Calypso: Seduction in The Odyssey The portrayal of Penelope as a seductress (though at other times she also plays the role of a mother) is especially interesting since the other seductresses in the Odyssey are goddesses, not mortal women. This suggests that the power of female wiles
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