C. to the4th century A. D. is evident in that women become even more subservient in laterworks. This is portrayed in the works The Odyssey by Homer and Sakuntala byKalidasa.
Women are treated more like slaves in Sakuntala, while they are seenmore like equals in The Odyssey. However, in Sakuntala, women are given moreresponsibilities, suggesting that people of the time viewed women capable ofdoing more things and perhaps more intelligent, instead of being seen asornamental, as in The Odyssey. The Odyssey was written in a time when men playedthe dominant role. In ancient Greece, women occupied a subservient position. Society was organized and directed by men, and all of the most importantpositions in society were held by men.
Women were valued, but they participatedin the affairs of the world only when they had the permission or open approvalof the men who directed their lives. The literature of this time illustratesthese social conventions. No reader of The Odyssey can help having vividmemories of the poem’s outstanding female characters. There are many women inThe Odyssey and all of them contribute in meaningful ways to the development ofthe action. In addition, the poet treats them seriously and with respect, as ifthere were no difference between his attitude toward them and his feelingstoward the men.
Among the memorable women in the poem are included: Nausica, theinnocent young girl; Arete, the wise queen and mother; Kirke and Kalypso, themysterious temptresses; Penelope, the model of devotion and fidelity; Helen, therespectable middle-class matron; and others, like Eurykleia and Melantho, whohave much smaller roles, but equally well defined personalities. Finally, thereis Athena, the goddess, who more than any other of these women, is intelligent,sophisticated, and independent, just like the way modern society has come to seewomen. The influential feminine roles in The Odyssey also have important effectsupon the whole poem. It is in The Odyssey that such ideas as love, familyloyalty, and devotion, and other such important ethical attitudes, areillustrated. It is the presence of these unconscious moral lessons that makesThe Odyssey so unique to its genre.
In a way, The Odyssey is not just the taleof the wanderings of Odysseus. The poet has made it, also, into a sort of”catalogue of women,” in which he examines women of all kinds and fromall walks of life. These feminine portraits are almost always objective andfair; Homer never made judgments, and each of these women has a certain appeal. It is interesting, however, that the woman who is most worthy of respect andaffection is not a mortal. Homer seems to comment that no human being coulddevelop herself in this way.
His admiration for Athena is made even more evidentby the fact that she, and not Penelope or another woman, is the heroine of thepoem and the sole companion and confidante of Odysseus. It is only in our modernworld that women have been given the opportunity to fully utilize their talentand ability, in order to become equal and contributing members of society, likeAthena seems to be. In Sakuntala women are portrayed to play more of asubservient role than they were in The Odyssey. Even though the women in TheOdyssey are looked upon merely as someone to cook and clean and bear thechildren, they play major roles in the poem.
In Sakuntala the women play nomajor roles in the poem, at least not anything like the women played in TheOdyssey. Sakuntala herself plays a very demeaning role being forced to do allthe chores, the gathering of food, and the manual labor around the house. Thisis much different than in The Odyssey where the man was the one who did most ofthe chores, brought home the food, and most of the manual labor about the house. In ancient Greek times, women were seen as more delicate and placed figurativepedestals. They were expected to take care of the house, but this only includedmaking sure everything ran smoothly, and delegating chores and responsibilities.
They were not actually expected to do the manual labor themselves. Some of theimportant women in Sakuntala include: Sakuntala, the lover of nature and theprospective heroine of the play; Anasuya and Priyamvada, aides of Sakuntala andwomen you help in her chores; and Mother Gautami the first hand maiden of fatherKanva and caregiver of Sakuntala. Even though they are seen as more subservientand have to perform more of the meaningless tasks they are still valued andloved. This is seen through the love that Dusyanta feels for Sakuntala and alsoin the despair he shows when he realizes he has turned her away. The changingrole of women in literature can be seen by reading and comparing Homer’s TheOdyssey and Kalidasa’s Sakuntala.
The women in both works are highly valued themen close to them but not as much in society. Women can actually be seen asregressing instead of progressing in that they are made to seem more subservientin the later work. BibliographyHomer. The Odyssey.
Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. 1961, New York: Vintage-Random,1990. Kalidasa. Sakuntala.
Trans. Barbara Stoler Miller.