37 Women in the Odyssey

Creator: Sarah Grade

I wanted to explore the various pastimes and activities that were given to women in Odysseus’s narrative. Specifically, I focused on Penelope, Circe, and Calypso. Odysseus describes Calypso with both love and resentment, personifying her by her activities. These included gardening and making her own clothes. Circe, the witch who turns his men into pigs and turns them back after being Odysseus’s lover, is described in a very magical way. Her magic, however, is nature and land-based. Lastly, Penelope, who is not described by Odysseus but is part of the main storyline of the Odyssey, is characterized by her constant weaving. Her weaving is also a central plot point, used to display her cunning ability against the suitors who occupied her home.

Inspired by these activities, I created a short video of me performing my version of each. For Calypso, I am wearing an orange cardigan that I made myself by hand, as she makes her own clothes to occupy her time. For Circe, I am stirring and drinking my herbal tea, as she uses herbs and connects to the land with her magic. For Penelope, I am knitting a sweater, which is the closest I can get to weaving a tapestry.

In doing this, I thought about what these women might be thinking while doing their prescribed activities. They are very domestic for the most part, except for Circe’s abilities. Though, Circe is not valued for her domesticity, but for her intensity in loving Odysseus. In this exercise, I came to the conclusion that there is actually a lot of power in these seemingly domestic and narrativized acts. With Calypso, her ability to make her own clothes and grow her own food, even though it is a product of her exile, gives her comfort and agency in her experience of that exile. With Penelope, her weaving that tapestry over and over again is what delayed the suitors long enough for Odysseus to journey home. She most likely would’ve been married off or raped without her ability to use that activity for her own power. With Circe, her magic and her power as a witch allowed to her establish control when a bunch of men showed up on her island. She used her talents to protect herself and make sure their interactions were on her own timeline.

I want to embody that power. My knitting gives me strength over my stress and products to make myself feel more accomplished. My tea nourishes me and provides its own magic in relieving me of various stresses and ailments. Except these activities are part of my own story, not Odysseus’s, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Here is the video:  https://youtu.be/pyLUrm6l2a4


Sarah Grade


Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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