Siren Songs

Gender, Audiences, and Narrators in the Odyssey
Lillian Eileen Doherty
A feminist critique of the Odyssey


In Siren Songs: Gender, Audiences, and Narrators in the Odyssey, Lillian Eileen Doherty shows us that the attitude of Odysseus, as well as of the Odyssey, is highly ambivalent toward women. Odysseus rewards supportive female characters by treating them as privileged members of the audience for his own tales. At the same time, dangerous female narrators--who threaten to disrupt or revise the hero's story--are discredited by the narrative framework in which their stories appear.

Siren Songs synthesizes audience-oriented and narratological approaches, and examines the relationships among three kinds of audiences: internal, implied, and actual. The author prefaces her own reading of the Odyssey with an analysis of the issues posed by the earlier feminist readings on which she builds. Should the Odyssey be read as a "closed" text, that is, as one whose meaning is highly determined, or as an "open" text whose contradictions and ambiguities undercut its overt meanings?

Siren Songs presents a feminist critique of the Odyssey in an accessible manner aimed at a more general audience. All Greek is translated, and critical terminology is clearly defined.

Lillian Eileen Doherty is Associate Professor of Classics, University of Maryland, College Park.

Praise / Awards

  • "Applying an elegant blend of narratological and audience-oriented analytic strategies, Doherty argues that, for the late twentieth-century woman reader (as well as the male reader of lower-class status), the Odyssey must be considered a problematic text. In contrast to the bulk of Greco-Roman literature, it assumes the presence of females in its implied audience and offers them positive subject positions with which to identify--those of privileged, intelligent women like Penelope and Arete. Yet, by restricting the narratological operations of such 'good' women to the secondary function of furthering the male hero's progress, while depicting more autonomous females as both obstacles to his success and unreliable narrators, the epic reinforces androcentric gender hierarchies. . . . Siren Songs' lucid construction makes this powerful feminist argument all the more compelling."
    --Classic Journal
  • "I have rarely seen a book on a classical author that demonstrates so expert a knowledge both of that author and of modern literary theory as Siren Songs, and, more remarkable, though she infuses every chapter with terms and concepts from contemporary theory, her argument is crystal clear to any reader of the Odyssey regardless of previous familiarity with the theories informing her study."
    --Journal of Hellenic Studies
  • ". . . has firmly put female listeners and narrators on the literary agenda, offered a number of stimulating interpretations, but also invited dissent."
  • ". . . does provide an effective response to the recurring debate about the opportunity of reading texts which present as 'normal' and 'natural' a set of unequal social and gender values. Reading these texts helps us to historicize the values they propose and to refuse any surviving temptation of accept those values as part of our thinking and acting in everyday life."
    --Thamyris: Mythmaking from Past to Present

Look Inside


Metis and the Contest for Meaning-1
Introduction: On Reading the Odyssey-9

1. Actual Audiences: Contemporary Critics and the "Penelope Question"-31
2. Internal Audiences-65
3. Implied Audiences-87
4. Internal Narrators, Female and Male-127
5. The Narrative Hierarchy-161
6. The Active Audience-179

Appendix: Types of Formal Redundancy Found in the Odyssey-195
Works Cited-201

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 232pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1996
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10597-7

Add to Cart
  • $84.95 U.S.