The Odyssey

The Gendered Stories of the Odyssey

In the Homeric world, the very roots of stories were gendered. The Muses, who inspired humans to create story and song, were women, the daughters of Memory. Stories thus have gendered identities from their very inception, and in the Odyssey, the men and women telling them are adhering to the strict gender roles ascribed by ancient Greek culture. Female stories and songs are generally used to seduce, and to otherwise gain control over men by luring them in or by deceiving them. Men tell stories to relate facts, and to reinforce codes of behavior; frequently, male storytelling occurs as part of proper etiquette or ritual. Since the Odyssey itself is of the second type, each of the instances of storytelling are instructive.

The Sirens sing to seduce; their song is the entirety of their existence. They are, like the rest of the Greek pantheon, humans on a grander scale. In particular, the Sirens are larger-than-life women, and they amplify the misogyny of the Odyssey to its clearest incarnation. Their song is a symbol for the power of desire; it strips men of their defenses and self-control, distracting them from their everyday lives and concerns. They sing of some unique knowledge they possess, extending back into antiquity the...

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