Essay Odysseus

Submitted By Angela-Sun
Words: 1271
Pages: 6

Angela Sun
Reading Cultures
29 January 2015
Essay One
Infidelity and revenge in The Odyssey as explored through a gendered lens In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, a war hero by the name of Odysseus attempts to return to his wife and son in Ithaca. Littered throughout the poem are short anecdotes told by humans, bards, and gods. From the suicide of Ajax to the revenge of Orestes, these recounts serve to enrich The Odyssey’s already fantastical and mythical tone. Interestingly, several of these tales share a common theme: the unfaithfulness of a woman, and the subsequent vengeful response of her husband. When Odysseus visits the Phaecians in Scheria, a bard tells of the affair between Ares and Aphrodite, which is discovered and punished by the scorned Hephaestus. In a similar fashion, Odysseus’ son Telemachus is told the story of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, and Aegisthus, a violent affair that brought upon the deaths of both men. The portrayals of these women contrast sharply with The Odyssey’s characterization of Odysseus’ wife Penelope, who remains staunchly faithful to Odysseus despite not knowing of his whereabouts or condition for decades. The descriptions of adulterous women in the poem also highlight the difference in the treatment of the main character. Odysseus himself is shown having affairs with several women. However, these occasions do not result in violence and remain hidden from Penelope. Thus, although The Odyssey explores infidelity as initiated by both genders, its depiction of unfaithful women is significantly more negative. This contrast of characterization serves to highlight gender roles in regards to love and marriage in The Odyssey. In the story of “The Love of Ares and Aphrodite Crowned with Flowers,” the affair between Ares and Aphrodite is described as secretive and shameful (Odyssey 8.305-306). Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s husband, soon finds out about the affair and begins “brooding on his revenge” (Odys. 8.310). “[Ablazed] with his rage,” Hephaestus begins crafting chains into a trap in order to punish the lovers (Odys. 8.313-316). When Ares, “chafing with lust,” visits Aphrodite in her bed chamber, Hephaestus’ chains spring alive and wrap the two adulterers tightly together (Odys. 8.327, 335-337). This scene highlights the act of revenge as a natural response to infidelity. Indeed, Hephaestus’ actions do not appear alarming to the gods who witness the two chained lovers, as they simply burst with “uncontrollable laughter” at the sight (Odys. 8.369). Hephaestus then launches on a tirade, bitterly comparing himself to Ares. While Hephaestus sardonically labels himself as a “weakling” who was “lame from birth,” Ares is described as “devastating” because of his “striking looks and racer’s legs” (Odys. 8.350-353). This characterization of Ares borders on admiration, and directly contrasts with Hephaestus’ depiction of Aphrodite as an “irresistible,” “unbridled,” and “shameless bitch” (Odys. 361-363). Although both Ares and Aphrodite were immoral in their actions, Ares is jealously looked upon with grudging esteem while Aphrodite is degraded. The disparity between the portrayals of Ares and Aphrodite in this tale emphasizes the image of a lustful female seductress in contrast with the respectable and handsome male lover. The violent revenge of the scorned male lover, treated so lightly by the gods, additionally establishes a powerful male position. These themes of gendered power are further displayed in the affair of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Similar to the affair of Ares and Aphrodite, Agamemnon discovers his wife in a tryst with Aegisthus (Odys. 3.268). However, Agamemnon is soon killed by “Aegisthus’ cunning—by his own wife” (Odys. 3.268). Following this murder, Aegisthus rules over Mycenae for seven years until Agamemnon’s son Orestes returns to avenge his father (Odys. 3.348). Orestes then kills the “cunning” and “murderous” Aegisthus, afterwards reclaiming the kingdom and burying his “hated” mother