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Through the women of the Odyssey the story Odysseus’s nostos is woven, they

are the warp threads through which he comes on his journey and they have a great deal to

do with aspects of the pattern. The odyssey deals with their qualities and domain as much

as with Odysseus trying to return to it. They test the tinsel strength of his noos and find

him passage to the next point in the epic. It is appropriate that women should have so

much to do with the manner of homecoming of the hero for it is largely a return to their

domain which he is endeavoring. They are each weavers of some part of his homecoming

and the success of his house in a way that few men are in the epic. As Odysseus threads

his way home through much hardship and temptation we gain a fuller appreciation of the

worth of home and hearth kept by a good and loyal woman. Odysseus does not need to

discover this but through the epic we come to understand how the kleos of the Iliad finds

its fulfillment in the coming home again of nostos. The women are the keepers of the

home and so they are the artists of his nostos.

Having done with the trials of the battle at troy it is in the Odyssey that Odysseus

must prove his noos strong and agile enough to merit a twofold blessing of kleos and

nostos. Women are the proper symbolic guardians of nostos and throughout the odyssey

his encounters with women serve to illustrate why he is worthy of such good fortune.

Rather than a test of physical might his is primarily a test of his noos. The women he

comes to both hinder and help him achieve his nostos, if they hinder him they eventually

are moved to aid him by the will of the gods1 the force of his noos in determination2 of
1
I, 15 “there came a time when the gods settled that he should go back to Ithaca…nevertheless all the gods
had now begun to pity him”; I, 75 “let us lay our heads together and see how we can help him to return” I,
80 “if, then, the gods now mean that Odysseus should get home, we should first send Hermes to the
Ogygain island to tell Calypso that we have made up our minds and that he is to have his homecoming
[nostos].”
2
I, 55 “and thinks of nothing but how he may once more see the smoke of his own chimneys”
purpose he has to persevere on his way home regardless of the likelihood of success or

ease in so doing. It is by the kerdos of his noos3 that he is deemed worthy to achieve both

kleos and nostos.

The women as the guardians of hearth and home are judged in their fidelity and

skill in making the home and homecoming of their husbands a true return from dark

times. Their kleos is derived from their homemaking skills as well as their desirability

and it is a reflection on their husbands whether they choose to remain faithful to them.

Her personal qualities may be great but if she is like Clytemnestra4 or Helen than her

name will be infamy and the source of misfortune for her husband (and perhaps others)

and shame for all women5. The women Odysseus encounters use their skill, their wiles,

and their position to weave as it were the story of his nostos. The mortal women are often

found at their looms or with distaff and this while this ordinary activity furthers the sense

of the comfort of home it also suggests the role they play in crafting Odysseus’s return.6

Most apparent is Penelope’s stratagem in the weaving and undoing in secret of a

shroud for the still living though unfortunate Laertes. Her reasoning to the suitors is that

through this her kleos and kerdos will be known or at least protected and that it is the last

wifely duty she must perform before moving on and marrying one of them.7 This has

another significance deeper than the superficial one the suitors take it to mean. She is

3
I, 65 “how can I (Zeus) forget Odysseus whom there is no more capable man on earth [in regard to noos]”
4
Clytemnestra story end badly for the lover as well (same for Helen) I, 35 “look at Aegisthus; he must
needs make love to Agamemnon’s wife unrighteously and then kill Agamemnon, though he knew it would
be the death of him”; III, 230-310
5
IV, 150; (story of Aphrodite and Ares) VIII, 265-320
6
IV, 135; XVII, 95; VII, 90-110
7
XIX, 140-160
showing her excellence and suitability as a wife for Odysseus in that she is true to him as

well as crafty like him8. She is pretending to make but truly continually unmaking what

can be taken not only as a shroud for the ailing Laertes but a symbolic shroud for his line.

She is the most impotent to effect Odysseus’s return to Ithaca and all she can do is stall

the suitors by pretending to settle into the idea which they take to be a reality that

Odysseus will not return by seemingly making manifest that reality while secretly

undoing the threads that constitute it in the only way left open to her.9

Athena is both one partially responsible for the misfortune of Odysseus’s deferred

nostos10 and further hardship is also the goddess of the art of weaving11 as well as

craftiness (for which Odysseus’s prowess in this skill so endears him to her), she takes the

main role as the crafter of his successful nostos12. Athena also “mentors” Telemachus and

aids him in making his kleos as well as his and his father’s safe homecoming. 13 Helen

who is the cause of so much suffering and Odysseus’s departure from his home is also

renowned as a master weaver14 does not encounter Odysseus but his son Telemachus and

she and Menelaos offer him hospitality, news (events illustrating Odysseus’ kleos) and

wisdom. She provides an example of the penitent wife who laments her straying from

her husband and hearth that her nostos should have come at so great a cost yet it is still a

8
I, 90-125
9
XI, 175-180
10
III, 135-145
11
VII, 110
12
VIII, 5-20
13
I, 85 “in the meantime I will go to Ithaca, to put heart into Odysseus’ son Telemachus; I will embolden
him to…speak out to the suitors of his mother…I will also conduct him to Sparta and to Pylos, to see if he
can hear anything about the return [nostos] of his dear father – or this will give him genuine fame [kleos]
throughout mankind” II, 395; III, 195-215,
14
XV 105
coming home15. When Odysseus comes upon Arête’s daughter, Nausicaa16 she is17

washing her mothers masterful handiwork, just as those woven garments are being

washed clean and made new so is the ill fortune hanging upon Odysseus washed and a

new fate given him (the work of Arête)18 from here his journey to Ithaca will be easy and

on his homecoming his subtle craftiness and Athena’s favor will only serve to heap more

kleos on him and his son for their dealings with those who threaten his nostos.19

Those women who hinder at least at first Odysseus’s nostos do so by trying to

numb his noos20 with a idyllic facsimile of the pleasures of home, in a way wanting his

nostos to end with them, to forget the mortal wife of his youth and his son (whom he does

not know) and settle into a new home with them21. Good things in moderation22 (typically

sensual indulgence but allso one’s opinion of oneself23) being such a theme in the odyssey

it is as if Odysseus was having the moderating rational nature of his noos tested in the

temptations of Calypso24, Circe and even to an extent with the life Arête’s daughter25

wished to provide him with.

That his noos leads him to turn down Calypso’s gift of immortality in favor of a

hard nostos recalls Achilles’ choice between death with kleos or life. The hardship but

desirability of kleos for those strong enough to achieve it is paralleled by Odysseus’s

15
IV, 260
16
VI; 290
17
At the suggestion of Athena.
18
XIII, 75-95; XIII, 1-5; VII, 75
19
XIII, 370
20
I, 55 “this daughter of Atlas has got hold of poor unhappy Odysseus and keeps trying by every kind of
blandishment to make him forget his home”
21
I, 15 Odysseus “was detained by the goddess Calypso, who had got him into a large cave and wanted to
marry him” …More
22
XV, 70; XV, 390; the fate of the gluttonous suitors and Odysseus’ crew with lotus-eaters and Helios’
herds, the loosing of the winds of Aeolus, Circe’s trick, Odysseus’ boasting to Poseidon’s Cyclops son.
23
Hubris, the fate of the suitors XVII, 165 XVII, 225 (the suitors criticize Odysseus-in disguise for what
themselves are guilty of); XVII, 485
24
VII, 240-265
25
VII, 310-315
choice to pursue his nostos and his success in this is just as dependant on the kerdos of

his noos26 as his kleos for being the sacker of troy was27. Odysseus’ noos allows the

women of the odyssey to craft the story of his nostos, framed within their own domain

and symbolic of the skills that cause greek women live on through song. Just as the Iliad

illustrates what made Greek men live on in fame the Odyssey is told around Greek

woman, the qualities that made them deserveing of kleos or infamy. By passing by them

the story is told and through their impact a pattern is made manifest.

26
III, 125; IV, 265-285
27
The particulars of which we find out in the retelling by others of his feats at troy within the odyssey.