Noah’s wife saved from flood: blame Bible, not blameless Noah

Once upon a time, the world was corrupt and filled with violence and women treating men badly. Today’s political leaders commit billions of dollars annually to combat violence against women while showing no concern for violence against men. In the primordial biblical world, Noah’s wife reportedly was an ungrateful, spiteful, and vicious woman. Yet Hebrew scripture records that Noah saved his wife’s life from the great flood that swept away all corruption and violence and other women treating men badly.

In our benighted age of gynocentric silencing of meninist voices, few know the difficulties that Noah endured with his ungrateful, spiteful, and vicious wife. About 1700 years ago, extra-biblical texts declared that Noah’s wife was named Norea. Norea regarded herself as a specially privileged gnostic know-it-all. God reportedly wanted to get rid of Noah’s wife Norea, and Noah probably did too:

Then these people who are presenting us with Philistion’s mimes all over again give a reason why Norea sought but was not allowed to join Noah in the ark. The ruler who made the world, they say, wanted to destroy her in the flood with all the rest. They say that she sat down in the ark and burned it a first time and a second time and a third time. And this is why the building of Noah’s ark itself took many years — it was burned many times by Norea.

{ εἶτα τὴν αἰτίαν ὑποτίθενται οὑτοι οἱ τὰ τοῦ Φιλιστίωνος ἡμῖν αὐθις προφερόμενοι, ὅτι πολλάκις βουλομένη μετὰ τοῦ Νῶε ἐν τῇ κιβωτῷ γενέσθαι οὐ συνεχωρεῖτο, τοῦ ἄρχοντος, φησίν, τοῦ τὸν κόσμον κτίσαντος βουλομένου αὐτὴν ἀπολέσαι σὺν τοῖς ἄλλοις ἅπασιν ἐν τῷ κατακλυσμῷ. αὐτὴν δέ φησιν ἐπικαθιζάνειν ἐν τῇ λάρνακι καὶ ἐμπιπρᾶν αὐτήν, καὶ πρῶτον καὶ δεύτερον καὶ τρίτον· ὅθεν δὴ εἰς ἔτη πολλὰ ἐλήλακεν ἡ τῆς αὐτοῦ τοῦ Νῶε λάρνακος κατασκευὴ διὰ τὸ πολλάκις αὐτὴν ὑπ’ αὐτῆς ἐμπεπῆσθαι. }[1]

The Qur’an, the holy book of Islam revealed early in the seventh century, declares that Noah’s wife was a disbeliever who betrayed her husband. According to the Qur’an, God condemned Noah’s wife to the fire of Hell.[2] Noah’s wife doesn’t appear on a beautiful, sixteenth-century Muslim painting of Noah’s ark amid the flood. Perhaps in Muslim understanding God condemned Noah’s wife to the fire of Hell through the waters of the flood.

Islamic Noah's ark at sea

According to Hebrew scripture, God commanded Noah to save his wife’s life. In contrast to the demigods that produced a world of corruption and violence and women treating men badly, Noah was just an ordinary farmer who enjoyed drinking wine. He was a righteous, blameless man who walked with God and found favor in the eyes of the Lord. God ordered Noah to take onto the ark Noah’s three sons, his wife, and his three daughters-in-law.[3] The righteous Noah obeyed God’s commands. Although then an elderly man, Noah labored in back-breaking physical work for a hundred years to build an ark to save his family. Yet despite all Noah did for her, Noah’s wife rained upon him abuse and grief. For those with eyes that see and ears that hear, ungrateful, spiteful, and vicious wives exist in today’s postdiluvian world.[4]

Medieval Christians understood Noah’s wife to be ungrateful, spiteful, and vicious. After God revealed to Noah news of the coming flood and commanded him to build an ark, Noah in the Towneley medieval biblical plays rushed home to get approval from his ruling earthly authority, his wife:

Lord, homeward I hasten,
as fast as I may.
My wife will I ask
what she has to say,
and I am aghast
that we get into some fray
between us both,
for she is very touchy,
for little often angry.
If anything wrong be,
soon she is wrathful.

{ Lord, homward will I hast
As fast as that I may.
My wife will I frast
What she will say,
And I am agast
That we get som fray
Betwixt us both,
For she is full tethee,
For litill oft angré;
If anythyng wrang be
Soyne is she wroth. }[5]

Noah submissively addressed his wife. She in response disparaged him and complained about him:

Noah: May God assist you, dear wife,
how fare you?

Wife: Now as ever I thrive
worse for seeing you.
Tell me, right now,
where have you so long been?
To death we may be driven
or to life, for you
couldn’t care less.
While I sweat or toil,
you do what you think,
yet of meat and of drink
have we very scant.

{ Noah: God spede, dere wife,
How fayre ye?

Wife: Now as ever myght I thryfe
The wars I thee see.
Do tell me, belife,
Where has thou thus long be?
To dede may we dryfe
Or lif, for thee,
For want.
When we swete or swynk
Thou dos what thou thynk,
Yit of mete and of drynk
Have we veray skant. }

Noah noted the increase in taxes. But Noah’s wife blamed everything on him and men in general:

Noah: Wife, we are hard beset
with taxes new.

Wife: But you are worthy to be clad
in bruises black and blue.
For you are always afraid,
be it false or true.
So God knows I am led,
and that do I rue
very badly.
For I risk being bound to you
even until tomorrow.
You speak forever of sorrow —
God send you at once that fill.
(to the playgoers)
We women must be wary
of all bad husbands.
I have one, by Mary,
who deprived me of postpartum rest.
If he pesters, I slow-pedal,
irrespective of his erection,
with dissembling saying sorry,
wringing both my hands
for dread.
Yet it’s otherwise,
for with game and guile
I shall smite and smile
and requite him his deserts.

{ Noah: Wife, we ar hard sted
With tythyngys new.

Wife: Bot thou were worthi be cled
In Stafford blew,
For thou art alway adred,
Be it fals or trew.
Bot God knowes I am led,
And that may I rew,
Full ill.
For I dar be thi borow
From even unto morow;
Thou spekys ever of sorow —
God send thee onys thi fill.
We women may wary
All ill husbandys.
I have oone, bi Mary,
That lowsyd me of my bandys.
If he teyn I must tary,
Howsoever it standys,
With seymland full sory,
Wryngand both my handys
For drede;
Bot yit otherwhile,
What with gam and with gyle,
I shall smyte and smyle
And qwite hym his mede. }

Noah’s wife talks here of her husband being physically abused, chides him for being afraid, denies his sorrows and prays that he be afflicted with them, and speaks of deceptively depriving her husband of sex. She later told him that she wishes he were dead and said that other women feel the same way about their husbands:

Lord, I would be at ease
and heartily fully whole
when I would be receiving
a widow’s dole.
(to Noah)
For your soul, without lamenting,
I would give a penny’s bail.
So would more, no doubt,
that I see in this place —
the wives that are here.
For the life that they lead,
they wish their husbands were dead.
For as sure as I eat bread,
so do I wish my sir were.

{ Lord, I were at ese
And hertely full hoylle,
Might I onys have a measse
Of wedows coyll.
For thi saull, without lese,
Shuld I dele penny doyll.
So wold mo, no frese,
That I se on this sole
Of wifys that ar here,
For the life that thay leyd,
Wold thare husbandys were dede;
For as ever ete I brede,
So wold I oure syre were. }

In the relatively enlightened medieval period, women were recognized to be highly talkative and very socially sophisticated. Most medieval peasants surely would have regarded as risible that modern academic banality — anti-meninist claims about “silencing women.” The medieval Noah called his wife “ram shit {ramskyt}” for her verbal abuse of him.

Noah's wife resisting boarding ark

Noah’s wife also physically abused her husband. In the York medieval biblical plays, she refused to believe what Noah said about the incipient, massive flood:

Now, Noah, in faith, your wits are waste.
This fare no longer will I hear. It’s in vain.
You are nearly insane. I am aghast.
Farewell. I will go home again.

{ Now, Noye, in faythe thee fonnes full faste.
This fare wille I no lenger frayne;
Thou arte nere woode, I am agaste.
Farewele, I wille go home agayne. }[6]

When Noah told his wife about all the work he had done to build an ark to save his family, Noah’s wife complained that he hadn’t told her sooner about that long, arduous labor. She then physically assaulted him:

Wife: Noah, you might have let me know of it.
Early and late there you went out,
and I — at home you let me sit.
You were nowhere to see properly about.

Noah: Lady, you should hold me excused of it.
It was God’s will, without doubt.

Wife: What, you wish for that to go free?
Nay, by my truth, you’re getting a clout.

{ Uxor: Noye, thou myght have leteyn me wete.
Erly and late thou wente theroutte
And ay at home thou lete me sytte
To loke that nowhere were wele aboutte.

Noe: Dame, thou holde me excused of itt;
It was Goddis wille, withowten doutte.

Uxor: What, wenys thou so for to go qwitte?
Nay, be my trouthe, thou getis a clowte. }

Noah’s wife struck her husband because he followed God’s commands. The Qur’an with good reason called Noah’s wife a disbeliever. She apparently regarded her will as superior to God’s will:

Noah: I beg you, lady, be quiet.
Thus God would have it done.

Wife: You should have sought to know my will —
if I would assent, not going until.
And Noah, for that same lack of skill,
this bargain shall costly come.

{ Noe: I pray thee, dame, be stille.
Thus God wolde have it wrought.

Uxor: Thow shulde have witte my wille
Yf I wolde sente thertille,
And Noye, for that same skylle,
This bargan sall be bought. }

In the Chester biblical plays, Noah’s wife whacked her husband after he welcomed her into the ark:

Noah: Welcome, wife, into this boat.

Wife: Have you that for your mark of shame!
(she hits him)

Noah: Aha, by Mary, she is violent.
Yet it’s good to be alive still.

{ Noe: Welcome, wyffe, into this boote.

Noe’s wyffe: Have thou that for thy note!

Noe: Aha, marye, this ys hotte;
yt is good for to be still. }[7]

In the Towneley biblical plays, after his wife had struck him twice, Noah acknowledged her power and sought to keep peace through love:

You can both bite and whine
with a roar.
(to the playgoers)
For all that she strikes,
yet fast she will shriek.
In faith I perceive no woman like her
in all middle earth.
But I will maintain for her love,
for I have work to do.

{ Thou can both byte and whyne
With a rerd.
For all if she stryke,
Yit fast will she skryke.
In fayth I hold none slyke
In all medill erd.
Bot I will kepe charyté
For I have at do. }[8]

Noah was a battered husband. Battered wives have in effect legal license to kill their husbands. Yet only in the Towneley biblical plays did Noah strike his wife. Gynocentric society and men themselves have long ignored and excused women’s domestic violence against men.

Noah’s wife dominated her husband. In the serious, mutual domestic violence that the Towneley play depicts, Noah’s wife finished on top:

See how she can groan,
yet I lie under her.
Now wife,
in haste let us go,
for my back is nearly broken in two.

{ Se how she can grone
And I lig under.
Bot wife,
In this hast let us ho,
For my bak is nere in two. }

In the Chester play, Noah explicitly confesses that his wife rules over him:

Lord, oh that women are crabby, aye,
and none are meek, I dare well say.
That is well seen by me today,
in witness of you, each one.
Good wife, let rest all this noisy despair
that you make in this place here,
for they all believe that you are my master —
and so you are, by saint John.

{ Lord, that weomen bine crabbed aye,
and non are meeke, I dare well saye.
That is well seene by mee todaye
in witnesse of you eychone.
Good wiffe, lett be all this beare
that thou makest in this place here,
for all the weene that thou arte mastere-
and soe thou arte, by sayncte John. }[9]

Noah’s wife insisted that Noah take on the ark all her female friends:

Yes, sir, set up your sail
and row forth with evil luck,
for without any fail
I will not leave this town
until I have with me my friends, each one —
one foot further from them I will not be gone.
They shall not drown, by saint John,
and I may save their life.
They loved me full well, by Christ.
But you will let them onto your ship,
or else row forth, Noah, when you wish
and get yourself a new wife.

{ Yea, syr, sett up your seale
and rowe forthe with evell hayle;
for withowten any fayle
I will not owt of this towne.
But I have my gossips everyechone,
one foote further I will not gone.
They shall not drowne, by sayncte John,
and I may save there life.
The loved me full well, by Christe.
But thou wilte lett them into thy chiste,
elles rowe forthe, Noe, when thy liste
and gett thee a newe wyfe. }

In a characteristic act of gender exclusion, Noah’s wife showed no concern for her husband’s friends. His friends could all drown, as far as she was concerned. But she and her friends insisted that the ark wait for them while they enjoyed a drink:

The flood comes flowing in full fast,
on every side it spreads full far.
For fear of drowning I am aghast;
good friends, let us drawn near.
And let us drink before we depart,
for oftentimes we have done so.
For at one draft you drink a quart,
and so will I do before I go.
Here’s a tankard full of sweet wine, good and strong.
It will rejoice both heart and tongue.
Though Noah think us delayed ever so long,
yet we will be drinking quickly.

{ The fludd comes fleetinge in full faste,
one everye syde that spredeth full farre.
For fere of drowninge I am agaste;
good gossippe, lett us drawe nere.
And lett us drinke or wee departe,
for oftetymes wee have done soe.
For at one draught thou drinke a quarte,
and soe will I doe or I goe.
Here is a pottell full of malnesaye good and stronge;
yt will rejoyse both harte and tonge.
Though Noe thinke us never soe longe,
yett wee wyll drinke atyte. }

Men have not only tolerated but supported women’s privileges for far too long. That must end. Gender equality requires that women not be on top of men, that women not rule over men, and that women not have the privilege to control when the ark will depart.[10]

Medieval biblical plays reached a large audience of ordinary folk. Not benighted with learned gender bigotry, these ordinary medieval folk had common sense of the difficulties in women and men’s relationships. Today leading institutions and authorities, along their masses of faithful adherents, disseminate grotesque, enormously damaging gender lies. Pondering the behavior of Noah’s wife in medieval biblical plays is a way to perceive the truth apart from today’s dominant, all-encompassing myths.

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[1] Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion {Πανάριον} 26.1.7-8, ancient Greek text from Holl (1915), English translation (with minor changes for ease of reading) from Williams (2009) p. 91. Epiphanius wrote his Panarion about 375 GC. A sixteenth-century Latin translation of the Panarion gave it the name Against Heresies {Adversus Haereses}. William’s translation has the putative name of Noah’s wife as Noria. That’s equivalent to the more common form Norea. On Noah and his wife in Gnosticism, Minov (2010).

Many different names have been reported for Noah’s wife. Epiphanius states that the name of Noah’s wife was actually Barthenos. Panarion 26.1.6. Early Christian and Islamic sources name Noah’s wife as Haykêl (or Haikal). She was the daughter of Namûs (or Namousa), who in turn was the daughter of Enoch. The Genesis Rabba midrash calls Noah’s wife Naamah, the daughter of Lamech in the line of Cain. She was the sister of Tubal-cain. Medieval Jewish authorities echo the name Naamah for Noah’s wife. Underscoring her importance to academic scholarship, one scholar cataloged 103 names attributed to Noah’s wife. Utley (1941). The many different names used for Noah’s wife may indicate the universality and importance of her character as a woman.

Philistion apparently was a pioneering producer of mime shows. Martial refers to the “mimes of funny Philistion {mimi ridiculi Philistionis}.” Martial, Epigrams 2.41.15. In the sixth century, Cassiodorus wrote:

Moreover, the mime, who is now only considered with derision, was devised with such great care by Philistion that his performance was set down in writing, to the extent that by trivial thoughts it would calm a world seething with consuming cares.

{ Mimus etiam, qui nunc tantummodo derisui habetur, tanta Philistionis cautela repertus est, ut eius actus poneretur in litteris, quatenus mundum curis edacibus aestuantem laetissimis sententiis temperaret. }

Cassiodorus, Variae epistolae 4.51.10, Latin text via the Latin Library, English translation from Bjornlie (2019).

Noah spent many years building the ark. Williams noted:

The building of the ark requires 100 years at Apocalypse of Paul 50 (H-R II p. 740); 300 at Ginza 409,4-5; 120 at Genesis Rabbah 30.7.

Williams (2009) p. 91, n. 10. According to the York Corpus Christi Plays 9.133, Noah spent 100 years building the ark. Davidson (2011).

[2] Qur’an, Surah 66, Al Taḥrīm {ٱلتَّحْرِيم} v. 10. For an English translation, Ali (2007). Ali describes this surah as being about “how far the turning away from sex or the opposition of one sex against another or a want of harmony between the sexes may injure the higher interests of society.” Id. p. 1489. Prior to recent decades, Noah’s wife was regarded as a bad woman:

She was a very wicked woman, intimately concerned with man’s misery. Like Eve and Delilah and Lot’s Wife she betrayed her husband to the devil or to his instruments on earth. It was through her legendary self that the devil learned that Noah was building the Ark and hindered him, and also with her help that Satan entered the Ark and gnawed a hole in the bottom.

Utley (1941) p. 450. For a review of relevant folklore, Mill (1941).

[3] Genesis 6:1-4 (generation of demigods), Genesis 6:9, 9:20 (Noah’s character and occupation); Genesis 6:18 (God’s command to Noah to save his wife’s life, as well of those of his three sons and daughters-in-law). Demigods such as Hercules were a feature of traditional Greco-Roman religion. Early rabbinic writings disparaged Noah for his drunkenness and failure to produce more children after the flood. However, the sixth-century Jewish poet Yannai credited Noah was having postdiluvian sex with his wife. Lieber (2009) pp. 345-52. Given reports of the appalling behavior of Noah’s wife in the face of the catastrophic flood, Noah surely would been blameless for a maintaining a separate bedroom from his wife after the flood. On the other hand, honoring his marital obligation to his wife underscores Noah’s righteousness. Ancient accounts give Noah a full, varied character like that of many ordinary righteous men throughout history. Lieber (2009).

The third-century Jewish sage Rav argued that Ham castrated Noah when Noah was drunk and uncovered in his tent. Babylonian Talmud, San 70a; see Goldenberg (2005). Castration is a significant element of ancient Greek theogony. Incorporating castration into the genesis of the mortal world would help to explain castration culture. Irrespective of the correctness of sage Rav’s interpretation, it should be recognized as culturally perceptive and wise-thinking.

The Genesis account of the flood doesn’t mention the personal name of Noah’s wife. If she was Tubal-cain’s sister Naamah (Genesis 4:22), then she was a descendant of the brother-killing Cain. That’s consistent with her being an ungrateful, spiteful, and vicious woman. Yet Genesis clearly states that God commanded Noah to save his wife’s life. God’s ways are not men’s ways. To mere mortals, God’s will can seem inscrutable. Perhaps God saved Noah’s wife to prevent knowledgeable, pious women from swelling with gender-supremacist pride: the future is female! Here’s an alternate analysis of why Noah’s wife wasn’t named.

Recent interpretations of the biblical flood and the saving ark have favored focusing on Noah’s wife. Consider, for example, Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s book:

From award-winning author Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, a new story which lights our spiritual imaginations.

When God tells Noah to bring the animals of the world onto the ark, God also calls on Naamah, Noah’s wife, to save each plant on Earth.

Entrusted with this task, Naamah sets off to every corner of the world, discovering a fabulous array of growing things, and gathering seeds, bulbs, cuttings, spores, and roots. She fills a room on the ark with every type of plant–from amaryllis, soybeans, and wheat to lilies, moss, and even dandelions. Then, after 40 long days and nights on the ark, the most important part of Naamah’s work begins.

In this new story, based on an ancient text, Naamah’s wisdom and love for the natural harmony of the earth inspires us to use our own courage, creativity, and faith to carry out Naamah’s work today.

Amazon blurb for Sasso (1996). Sasso’s myth, which serves to buttress dominant gynocentric ideology, was “endorsed by Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious leaders.” Publisher’s Weekly selected this book to be among “Best Books of the Year” in 1996.

[4] A large body of feminist scholarship has sought to teach students that Noah’s wife represents a marginalized, justice-promoting, praiseworthy, unruly woman of herstory. See, e.g. studies discussed in Normington (2001) and Normington (2013).

From a sophisticated medieval perspective, Noah’s shrewish wife may be understood as the corrupted gynocentric church, the bride of Christ abusing her husband. Edminster (2005), Ch. 4. Ordinary medieval men probably understood Noah’s wife in relation to medieval men’s sexed protests. Too few students today have been exposed to these important views. Deeply entrenched hostility to meninist literary interpretation has biased current scholarship and teaching. All literary authorities must take immediate, dramatic affirmative action to make medieval literary studies inclusive and welcoming of meninist voices.

[5] Towneley Plays, Noah, beginning “Proceeding, Noah with his sons. Wakefield {Processus Noe cum filiis. Wakefeld}.” vv. 265-73, Middle English text from Epp (2018), my English modernization, benefiting from those of Rose (1961) and Fox & Hill (2005). Harvard’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website provides a text apparently based on that of Pollard (1898).

The Towneley Plays refer to the plays contained in Huntington MS HM 1. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Towneley family of Towneley Hall near Burnley, Lancashire, owned that manuscript. It’s earlier history isn’t known, but it was probably written in the mid-sixteenth century. The Towneley plays themselves probably date from roughly the fourteenth century. These plays draw on perceptions of Noah’s wife existing more than a millennium earlier.

Because of references within the manuscript to Wakefield, the Towneley Plays have been called the Wakefield Mystery Plays. Certain of the plays include a distinctive stanzaic rhyme form. Those plays have been associated with an author called the “Wakefield Master.” Epp (2018), Introduction, argues the connection to Wakefield and the attribution to a “Wakefield Master” aren’t credible.

Subsequent quotes from the Towneley Noah play are similarly sourced. The next three quotes are Towneley Noah play vv. 274-86 (May God assist you…), 287-312 (Wife, we are hard beset…), 560-72 (Lord, I would be at ease…).

[6] York Corpus Christi Plays, 9. The Flood, vv. 89-92, Middle English text from Davidson (2011), my modernized English, benefiting from that of Scoville & Yates (2003). The plays survive in London, British Library, MS. Add. 35290, written mainly about 1463 to 1477. The plays themselves were performed from no later than 1374 through 1579, when they were suppressed. See id., Introduction.

Subsequent quotes from the York Noah play are similarly sourced. The next two quotes are York Noah play vv. 113-20 (Noah, you might have let me know…) and 121-6 (I beg you, lady, be quiet…).

[7] Chester Mystery Cycle 3, Noah’s Flood (originally performed by the Waterleaders & Drawers of Dee) vv. 245-8, Middle English text from NeCastro (2018), my modernized English, benefiting from those of Rhys (1909) and Johnston (2010). Mills (1992) is the most scholarly modernization. Subsequent quotes from the Chester Noah play are similarly sourced.

[8] Towneley Noah Play, vv. 333-40. The subsequent quote is id. vv. 592-6 (See how she can groan…).

[9] Chester Noah play vv. 105-112. The subsequent two quotes are id. vv. 197-208 (Yes, sir, set up your sail…) and 225-36 (The flood comes flowing in full fast…). The Chester Noah play characterizes the self-indulgence of Noah’s wife in part through her choice of animals to bring into the ark. Kiser (2011) pp. 26-30.

[10] Geoffrey Chaucer, who apparently wrote mainly for women of the English royal court, imagined the solution to Noah’s difficulties was for him to build another whole ark just for his wife:

“Have you not heard,” said Nicholas, “also
of the sorrow of Noah with his companionship,
before he could get his wife onto the ship?
He would rather, I dare well venture,
than at that time to have all his black gelded rams,
better that she had had a ship for herself alone.”

{ “Hastou nat herd,” quod Nicholas, “also
The sorwe of Noe with his felaweshipe,
Er that he myghte gete his wyf to shipe?
Hym hadde be levere, I dar wel undertake,
At thilke tyme, than alle his wetheres blake
That she hadde had a ship hirself allone.” }

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, The Miller’s Tale, vv. 3538-43, Middle English text from the Harvard Chaucer website, my modernized English. Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales between 1392 and 1395. Chaucer here not only seeks to burden Noah with a huge amount of additional work, but also suggests that Noah was a fool. Gelded rams would not have been able to be fruitful and multiply after the flood had receded.

[images] (1) Noah’s ark amid the waters of the flood. Painting (cropped slightly; color enhanced) attributed to Miskin. Painted in Mughal dynasty, Reign of Akbar, c. 1590. Preserved as accession # F1948.8 in the Freer Gallery of Art (Washington, DC, USA). (2) Noah attempting to pull his wife into the ark and save her life. She has a devil on her back. Illumination (excerpt) from the Ramsey Abbey Psalter, made in England, East Anglia or London, c. 1300-1310. On folio 1v of the Morgan Library MS M. 302 (New York, USA). Concerning this illumination, Bennett (1982). (3) Chester Noah Play performed by the Liverpool University Players at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, England, on May 4, 2013. Via YouTube video.


Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. 2007. The Meaning of the Holy Quran: complete translation with selected notes. Al Ain, United Arab Emirates: Zayed House for Islamic Culture.

Bennett, Adelaide. 1982. “Noah’s Recalcitrant Wife in the Ramsey Abbey Psalter.” Notes in the History of Art. 2 (1): 2-5.

Bjornlie, Michael Shane. 2019. Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus. The Variae: the complete translation. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Davidson, Clifford. 2011. The York Corpus Christi Plays. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS (the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications.

Deimling, Hermann, ed. 1892. The Chester Plays. London: Published for the Early English Text Society by K. Paul, Trench, Trübner.

Edminster, Warren. 2005. The Preaching Fox: festive subversion in the plays of the Wakefield Master. New York: Routledge.

Epp, Garrett, ed. 2018. The Towneley Plays. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications.

Fox, Barry, and Janet Hill. 2005. “Medieval English Mystery (or Guild or Corpus Christi or Pageant) Episodes.” Online, Acadia University, Canada.

Goldenberg, David M. 2005. “What Did Ham Do to Noah?” Pp. 257-265 in Mauro Perani, ed. “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious”, Qoh 10,12: Festschrift for Günter Stemberger on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Holl, Karl, ed. 1915. Epiphanius. Ancoratus und Panarion haer. 1 – 33. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte. Leipzig: Hinrichs.

Johnston, Alexandra. 2010. The Chester Plays: adapted as an acting text. Online.

Kiser, Lisa J. 2011. “The Animals in Chester’s Noah’s Flood.” Early Theatre. 14 (1): 15-44.

Lieber, Laura. 2009. “Portraits of Righteousness: Noah in Early Christian and Jewish Hymnography.” Zeitschrift Für Religions- Und Geistesgeschichte. 61 (4): 332-355.

Lumiansky, R. M., and David Mills. 1986. The Chester Mystery Cycle. London: For the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press.

Mill, Anna Jean. 1941. “Noah’s Wife Again.” PMLA. 56 (3): 613-626.

Mills, David. 1992. The Chester Mystery Cycle: a new ed. with modernised spelling. East Lansing, Mich: Colleagues Press.

Minov, Sergey. 2010. “Noah and the Flood in Gnosticism.” Pp. 215-236 in M.E. Stone, A. Amihay and R.A. Clements, eds. Noah and His Book(s). SBL Early Judaism and Its Literature 28. Atlanta, USA: Society of Biblical Literture.

NeCastro, Gerard. 2018. The Moral Comedies. From Stage to Page – Medieval and Renaissance Drama. The Chester Cycle. Online,

Normington, Katie. 2001. “Giving Voice to Women: Teaching Feminist Approaches to the Mystery Plays.” College Literature. 28 (2): 130-154.

Normington, Katie. 2013. “‘Faming of the Shrews’: Medieval Drama and Feminist Approaches.” Yearbook of English Studies. 43: 105-120.

Pollard, Alfred W., ed. 1898. English Miracle Plays, Moralities, and Interludes; specimens of the pre-Elizabethan drama. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rhys, Ernest. 1909. Everyman and Other Old Religious Plays. London: Dent.

Rose, Martial. 1961. The Wakefield Mystery Plays. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Sasso, Sandy Eisenberg. 1996. A Prayer for the Earth: the story of Naamah, Noah’s wife. Woodstock, Vt: Jewish Lights Pub.

Scoville, Chester N. and Kimberley M. Yates. 2003. “The York Plays: A modernization.” Online.

Utley, Francis Lee. 1941. “The One Hundred and Three Names of Noah’s Wife.” Speculum. 16 (4): 426-452.

Williams, Frank, trans. 2009. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Book 1 (sects 1-46). 2nd ed., rev. and expanded. Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies, vol. 63. Leiden: Brill.

Phaeacian princess Nausicaa: a dream-romance wife for Odysseus

Nausicaa faces Odysseus on ancient Greek vase

After having escaped from repeatedly being raped in Calypso’s captivity, the naked Odysseus slept in a pile of leaves under twin olive trees near a river. Nearby, Nausicaa and her young servant women washed clothes in the river and played ball. Their playful shouts woke Odysseus. Were they cruel and wild women who hated men and favored castration culture? Odysseus was uncertain:

God-like Odysseus emerged from under the thicket.
With his stout hand he tore a leafy branch
from the dense growth to cover his manly body’s genitals.

{ θάμνων ὑπεδύσετο δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
ἐκ πυκινῆς δ᾿ ὕλης πτόρθον κλάσε χειρὶ παχείῃ
φύλλων, ὡς ῥύσαιτο περὶ χροῒ μήδεα φωτός. }[1]

Sin caused men’s genitals to be regarded as shameful. Men hide their genitals when they fear hostility to them. A man has to protect himself:

So Odysseus was about to mix with the lovely haired girls,
naked as he was. What choice did he have?
He was to them a frightening sight, disfigured with brine,
and they fled in all directions to the jutting riverbanks.

{ ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς κούρῃσιν ἐυπλοκάμοισιν ἔμελλε
μίξεσθαι, γυμνός περ ἐών· χρειὼ γὰρ ἵκανε.
σμερδαλέος δ᾿ αὐτῇσι φάνη κεκακωμένος ἅλμῃ
τρέσσαν δ᾿ ἄλλυδις ἄλλη ἐπ᾿ ἠιόνας προὐχούσας· }

Nausicaa was different. While the other young women fled, Nausicaa stood and faced the nearly naked, dirty Odysseus. She recognized that he was a human being. She recognized that she had nothing to fear from him. She called out to her androphobic servant girls:

Stop, servant girls. Why run away at the sight of a man?
Surely you don’t think that he’s an enemy?

{ στῆτέ μοι, ἀμφίπολοι· πόσε φεύγετε φῶτα ἰδοῦσαι;
ἦ μή πού τινα δυσμενέων φάσθ᾿ ἔμμεναι ἀνδρῶν }

Odysseus needed from these women not hostility but help. He addressed Nausicaa. He told her that he had, wonder-struck, gazed on her and felt that she was as beautiful as a goddess. Most women not learned in anti-meninist literary criticism desire men to gaze on them longingly. Then Odysseus pleaded:

Have pity, royal one. After all my toils
to you I have first come. I don’t know
a soul who lives here, not a single one.
Guide me to town, give me a rag to throw on myself,
if you have brought one to bundle the laundry.

{ ἀλλά, ἄνασσ᾽, ἐλέαιρε: σὲ γὰρ κακὰ πολλὰ μογήσας
ἐς πρώτην ἱκόμην, τῶν δ᾽ ἄλλων οὔ τινα οἶδα
ἀνθρώπων, οἳ τήνδε πόλιν καὶ γαῖαν ἔχουσιν.
ἄστυ δέ μοι δεῖξον, δὸς δὲ ῥάκος ἀμφιβαλέσθαι,
εἴ τί που εἴλυμα σπείρων ἔχες ἐνθάδ᾽ ἰοῦσα. }

Like many women, Nausicaa had difficulty expressing compassion for men. To Odysseus’s heartfelt confession of suffering and plea for pity, Nausicaa responded:

Stranger, you seem neither a bad man nor a fool.
The Olympian Zeus himself assigns happiness to humans,
to good and bad ones each as he wills.
You have no choice but to endure what he gave you.

{ ξεῖν᾽, ἐπεὶ οὔτε κακῷ οὔτ᾽ ἄφρονι φωτὶ ἔοικας:
Ζεὺς δ᾽ αὐτὸς νέμει ὄλβον Ὀλύμπιος ἀνθρώποισιν,
ἐσθλοῖς ἠδὲ κακοῖσιν, ὅπως ἐθέλῃσιν, ἑκάστῳ:
καί που σοὶ τάδ᾽ ἔδωκε, σὲ δὲ χρὴ τετλάμεν ἔμπης. }

That’s cosmic and cold. A warm hug and some caressing of the man’s face and chest would have been better, even without getting affirmative consent beforehand. Many women just don’t know how to treat men well.

shipwrecked Odysseus meets Nauticaa

At least Nausicaa proposed to undertake for Odysseus specific acts to help him. She declared:

But now, since you have come to our city and land,
you will lack neither clothing nor anything else
of that which one should give to a much-suffering suppliant.
I will guide you to the city and tell you our people’s name.

{ νῦν δ᾿, ἐπεὶ ἡμετέρην τε πόλιν καὶ γαῖαν ἱκάνεις,
οὔτ᾿ οὖν ἐσθῆτος δευήσεαι οὔτε τευ ἄλλου,
ὧν ἐπέοιχ᾿ ἱκέτην ταλαπείριον ἀντιάσαντα.
ἄστυ δέ τοι δείξω, ἐρέω δέ τοι οὔνομα λαῶν. }

Most men know well the suffering of supplication. Women must do more for men. Odysseus himself described to Nausicaa the greatest gift:

No gift is better or greater than this:
woman and man making home together in unity of mind —
causes of great grief to foes of this, but joy to those of good will.

{ οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ᾽ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή: πόλλ᾽ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι }

We are living in a time lacking in joy. Everyone should do what they can to bring joy to the world.

A dream of soon getting married had motivated Nausicaa to seek to wash her clothes. To get permission to drive away in a family vehicle, Nausicaa told her father that she also wanted to wash his clothes and her brothers’ clothes. That fabrication was unnecessary. Like most fathers, Nausicaa’s father, the nominal king, would do anything for his daughter:

I wouldn’t deprive you of my mules, child, or anything else.
Go ahead. Our male slaves will make ready for you the wagon,
the high one with strong wheels and a luggage box above.

{ οὔτε τοι ἡμιόνων φθονέω, τέκος, οὔτε τευ ἄλλου.
ἔρχευ: ἀτάρ τοι δμῶες ἐφοπλίσσουσιν ἀπήνην
ὑψηλὴν ἐύκυκλον, ὑπερτερίῃ ἀραρυῖαν. }

As a woman of privilege benefiting from the work of male slaves, Nausicaa drove off in her family’s best station-wagon.

Down at the river, Nausicaa commanded her servant women to bathe Odysseus. She issued this command without first securing affirmative consent from him. Throughout history, guilty women have seldom been found guilty of raping men. Nausicaa’s servant women led Odysseus to a sheltered place along the river and had him sit down there. They gave him olive oil to rub down his body and put besides him a cloak and tunic for him to put on after bathing. Then they told him to bathe. They stood nearby and eagerly engaged their female gaze. Neither men nor women should be so raped.

Showing rare agency in response to gender injustices against men, Odysseus spoke out immediately about this imminent sexual assault. He communicated clearly and directly to the young women, but not antagonistically:

Servant women, stand away there, so that I myself
may wash off the brine from my shoulders and rub myself
around with olive oil. My skin hasn’t had oil for a long time.
But I don’t want to bathe myself in front of you.
I shrink from thus being naked among lovely haired girls.

{ ἀμφίπολοι, στῆθ᾽ οὕτω ἀπόπροθεν, ὄφρ᾽ ἐγὼ αὐτὸς
ἅλμην ὤμοιιν ἀπολούσομαι, ἀμφὶ δ᾽ ἐλαίῳ
χρίσομαι: ἦ γὰρ δηρὸν ἀπὸ χροός ἐστιν ἀλοιφή.
ἄντην δ᾽ οὐκ ἂν ἐγώ γε λοέσσομαι: αἰδέομαι γὰρ
γυμνοῦσθαι κούρῃσιν ἐυπλοκάμοισι μετελθών. }

The river water was cold. Odysseus was tired and hungry. He understood what the group of young women imagined doing. He, however, was shrunken. The young women respected Odysseus’s position.

The bathed Odysseus excited Nausicaa’s imagination. She exclaimed:

Listen to me, white-skinned servant women, let me say something.
Not against the will of the gods, who hold Mt. Olympus,
has this man come among the god-like Phaeacians.
At first he looked to me appalling,
but now he looks like the gods who rule high heaven.
If only such a man might become my husband,
among all the men living here, and he be pleased to remain here.
Go on, servant women, give the stranger food and drink.

{ κλῦτέ μευ, ἀμφίπολοι λευκώλενοι, ὄφρα τι εἴπω.
οὐ πάντων ἀέκητι θεῶν, οἳ Ὄλυμπον ἔχουσιν,
Φαιήκεσσ᾽ ὅδ᾽ ἀνὴρ ἐπιμειξεται ἀντιθέοισι:
πρόσθεν μὲν γὰρ δή μοι ἀεικέλιος δέατ᾽ εἶναι,
νῦν δὲ θεοῖσιν ἔοικε, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσιν.
αἲ γὰρ ἐμοὶ τοιόσδε πόσις κεκλημένος εἴη
ἐνθάδε ναιετάων, καὶ οἱ ἅδοι αὐτόθι μίμνειν.
ἀλλὰ δότ᾽, ἀμφίπολοι, ξείνῳ βρῶσίν τε πόσιν τε. }

Women like Nausicaa shouldn’t be criticized for judging men superficially. Women’s physical appearance is also quite important to men’s amorous interest.

Although she appreciated Odysseus’s masculine beauty only after he had bathed, Nausicaa wasn’t shallow, but perceptive and socially astute. She instructed Odysseus on what to do when he arrived at “my father’s house {δώματα πατρὸς ἐμοῦ}”:

When the house and courtyard enclose you,
go quickly through the great hall until you come
to my mother, who sits at the hearth in the fire’s light
and spins purple yarn. She’s a wonder to behold,
leaning against a pillar, servant women sitting behind her.
Leaning against the same pillar is my father’s throne.
Sitting on his throne, he drinks wine like an immortal.
Pass him by and throw your arms about my mother’s knees,
so you may quickly, joyfully see the day of your return,
even if you are very far from your home.
If in her heart she is kindly disposed toward you,
then there’s hope that you will see your own people and reach
your well-kept household and fatherland.

{ ἀλλ᾽ ὁπότ᾽ ἄν σε δόμοι κεκύθωσι καὶ αὐλή,
ὦκα μάλα μεγάροιο διελθέμεν, ὄφρ᾽ ἂν ἵκηαι
μητέρ᾽ ἐμήν: ἡ δ᾽ ἧσται ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάρῃ ἐν πυρὸς αὐγῇ,
ἠλάκατα στρωφῶσ᾽ ἁλιπόρφυρα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι,
κίονι κεκλιμένη: δμωαὶ δέ οἱ εἵατ᾽ ὄπισθεν.
ἔνθα δὲ πατρὸς ἐμοῖο θρόνος ποτικέκλιται αὐτῇ,
τῷ ὅ γε οἰνοποτάζει ἐφήμενος ἀθάνατος ὥς.
τὸν παραμειψάμενος μητρὸς περὶ γούνασι χεῖρας
βάλλειν ἡμετέρης, ἵνα νόστιμον ἦμαρ ἴδηαι
χαίρων καρπαλίμως, εἰ καὶ μάλα τηλόθεν ἐσσί.
εἴ κέν τοι κείνη γε φίλα φρονέῃσ᾽ ἐνὶ θυμῷ,
ἐλπωρή τοι ἔπειτα φίλους τ᾽ ἰδέειν καὶ ἱκέσθαι
οἶκον ἐυκτίμενον καὶ σὴν ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν. }

The “fatherland {πᾰτρῐ́ς}” is merely land. Enlightened persons know that the mother is the power of the household, the place where persons live. Nausicaa’s mother Queen Arete held the spot next to the fire’s light.[2] She determined what gets done, and what doesn’t get done. Some men drink in despair at their subordination to their wives. Other men drink in enjoyment of their lack of real, leading responsibilities. In any case, the ancient Phaeacian princess Nausicaa understood gender relations much more truthfully than do most classics scholars today.

The goddess Athena, knowing well women’s power, recognized that Queen Arete was regarded as a goddess. Athena described the mother’s eminence:

Alcinous made Arete his wife,
and honored her more than is honored any other earthly woman
among wives who direct households under their husbands.
Thus she is honored, respected deeply in their hearts,
by her dear children, by Alcinous himself,
and by the people who regard her as a goddess
and so greet her whenever she goes about the city.
She herself in no way lacks good understanding.
She settles quarrels for those whom she favors, even for men.
If in her heart she is kindly disposed toward you,
then there’s hope that you will see your own people and reach
your high-roofed home and your fatherland.

{ τὴν δʼ Ἀλκίνοος ποιήσατʼ ἄκοιτιν,
καί μιν ἔτισʼ, ὡς οὔ τις ἐπὶ χθονὶ τίεται ἄλλη,
ὅσσαι νῦν γε γυναῖκες ὑπʼ ἀνδράσιν οἶκον ἔχουσιν.
ὣς κείνη περὶ κῆρι τετίμηταί τε καὶ ἔστιν
ἔκ τε φίλων παίδων ἔκ τʼ αὐτοῦ Ἀλκινόοιο
καὶ λαῶν, οἵ μίν ῥα θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωντες
δειδέχαται μύθοισιν, ὅτε στείχῃσʼ ἀνὰ ἄστυ.
οὐ μὲν γάρ τι νόου γε καὶ αὐτὴ δεύεται ἐσθλοῦ·
ᾗσι τʼ ἐὺ φρονέῃσι καὶ ἀνδράσι νείκεα λύει.
εἴ κέν τοι κείνη γε φίλα φρονέῃσʼ ἐνὶ θυμῷ,
ἐλπωρή τοι ἔπειτα φίλους τʼ ἰδέειν καὶ ἱκέσθαι
οἶκον ἐς ὑψόροφον καὶ σὴν ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν. }

The last three verses above are a poetic coda that Nausicaa also spoke, except for “well-built home {οἶκον ἐυκτίμενον}” rather than “high-roofed home {οἶκον ἐς ὑψόροφον}.” Nausicaa was speaking about her mother Arete’s control of the household, which she kept well. Athena, characterizing Arete as a goddess, evoked the majesty of her home. Their common understanding, which surely was conventional poetic wisdom among the audience of the Odyssey, is that the woman actually rules, even in the king’s home.[3]

Odysseus followed Nausicaa’s instructions on how to plead for help. He entered the palace, passed by King Alcinous, and clasped Queen Arete’s knees. He begged her for mercy and for rapid conveyance home. He then pathetically sat down in the ashes of the hearth and dirtied the clothes that Nausicaa had given him to wear. In accordance with the gynocentric practice of social control, Arete said nothing. She waited for men to take the initiative.

Following an appeal from the respected old lord Echeneus, Alcinous called forth Odysseus from the ashes to sit next to him. He promised to have Odysseus conveyed home soon and gave him food and drink. After all had left except Arete, Alcinous, and Odysseus, key information still needed to be established. The de facto leader of the household took the lead in questioning the stranger:

Then white-skinned Arete took the lead in speaking.
She saw and recognized the beautiful clothes, the cloak and tunic,
that she had made with her servant women.
And so she spoke, addressing Odysseus with winged words:
“I myself will ask you the first questions.
Who are you? From where? Who gave you these clothes?
Did you not say you came here in wandering the seas?

{ τοῖσιν δ᾽ Ἀρήτη λευκώλενος ἤρχετο μύθων
ἔγνω γὰρ φᾶρός τε χιτῶνά τε εἵματ᾽ ἰδοῦσα
καλά, τά ῥ᾽ αὐτὴ τεῦξε σὺν ἀμφιπόλοισι γυναιξί:
καί μιν φωνήσασ᾽ ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
“ξεῖνε, τὸ μέν σε πρῶτον ἐγὼν εἰρήσομαι αὐτή:
τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; τίς τοι τάδε εἵματ᾽ ἔδωκεν;
οὐ δὴ φῆς ἐπὶ πόντον ἀλώμενος ἐνθάδ᾽ ἱκέσθαι.” }[4]

A mother and a queen, Arete was a shrewd observer and a tough questioner. Odysseus, no fool, named himself only as a suffering man, told only part of his journey, and finished with praise for Arete’s daughter Nausicaa:

Then I saw on the shore your daughter’s servant women
playing. Amid them she stood, looking like a goddess.
To her I prayed. She in no way fell short in keen understanding,
such as one would expect to perceive in meeting a younger person,
for younger persons are always thoughtless.
She provided me plentiful bread with sparkling wine
and bathed me in the river and gave me these clothes.
With my sorrows, I have in this told you the truth.

{ ἀμφιπόλους δ᾽ ἐπὶ θινὶ τεῆς ἐνόησα θυγατρὸς
παιζούσας, ἐν δ᾽ αὐτὴ ἔην ἐικυῖα θεῇσι:
τὴν ἱκέτευσ᾽: ἡ δ᾽ οὔ τι νοήματος ἤμβροτεν ἐσθλοῦ,
ὡς οὐκ ἂν ἔλποιο νεώτερον ἀντιάσαντα
ἐρξέμεν: αἰεὶ γάρ τε νεώτεροι ἀφραδέουσιν.
ἥ μοι σῖτον ἔδωκεν ἅλις ἠδ᾽ αἴθοπα οἶνον
καὶ λοῦσ᾽ ἐν ποταμῷ καί μοι τάδε εἵματ᾽ ἔδωκε.
ταῦτά τοι ἀχνύμενός περ ἀληθείην κατέλεξα. }

Alcinous pointed out that Nausicaa hadn’t escorted him to the palace, as a good host should have done. Odysseus defended Nausicaa by attributing that fault to himself:

Your majesty, surely, don’t fault your flawless girl for this.
She did indeed ask me to follow her with her servant women,
but I refused out of fear and shame,
thinking perhaps your heart might fill with anger if you saw such,
for we are quick to anger, we tribes of earthly men.

{ ἥρως, μή τοι τοὔνεκ᾽ ἀμύμονα νείκεε κούρην:
ἡ μὲν γάρ μ᾽ ἐκέλευε σὺν ἀμφιπόλοισιν ἕπεσθαι,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐγὼ οὐκ ἔθελον δείσας αἰσχυνόμενός τε,
μή πως καὶ σοὶ θυμὸς ἐπισκύσσαιτο ἰδόντι:
δύσζηλοι γάρ τ᾽ εἰμὲν ἐπὶ χθονὶ φῦλ᾽ ἀνθρώπων. }

In other words, Odysseus claimed to have feared that Alcinous might think that a foreigner had seduced his daughter. That’s plausible, though clearly untrue in this case. However, Alcinous surprisingly wished that Odysseus would marry his daughter Nausicaa:

So I wish — father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo so decreeing —
you being such a man, thinking as I do, that you would
marry my daughter and, remaining here, be called
my son. A home and possessions I would give you,
if you would choose to remain here.

{ αἲ γάρ, Ζεῦ τε πάτερ καὶ Ἀθηναίη καὶ Ἄπολλον,
τοῖος ἐὼν οἷός ἐσσι, τά τε φρονέων ἅ τ᾽ ἐγώ περ,
παῖδά τ᾽ ἐμὴν ἐχέμεν καὶ ἐμὸς γαμβρὸς καλέεσθαι
αὖθι μένων: οἶκον δέ κ᾽ ἐγὼ καὶ κτήματα δοίην,
εἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλων γε μένοις }

Why didn’t Odysseus give up his old life and start a new life with the beautiful, young, wealthy, man-welcoming Phaeacian princess Nausicaa? She would have been a dream-romance wife for Odysseus.[5]

Odysseus sees naked Nausicaa with other naked women

Like most men, Odysseus internalized oppressive gender norms. After spending ten years fighting in the brutal, foolish violence against men of the Trojan War, Odysseus sought to return home to his wife Penelope. She was a loyal but rather stolid, middle-aged woman. Nonetheless, Odysseus toiled to return home from the painful Trojan victory without a beautiful, passionate young Trojan woman as a war prize. Odysseus readily slaughtered Trojan men, yet he apparently was reluctant to force a Trojan woman into privileged living as his concubine. Perhaps Odysseus foresaw Clytemnestra plotting to slaughter her husband King Agamemnon after he returned home with the Trojan woman Cassandra. In any case, Odysseus could have started a new life in Phaeacia with the beautiful, young, wealthy, man-welcoming Phaeacian princess Nausicaa. She would have provided him with an end to his travels and toils and an easy, enjoyable life. Sleeping in royal blankets on the porch of the palace in which Nausicaa lived, Odysseus apparently didn’t even have as much imaginative initiative as did Leopold Bloom in the Nausicaa chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The epic literary tradition must be recast to resist gynocentric expectations and promote social justice for men. Epic violence against men should not be celebrated, but condemned. Readers of the Aeneid should be taught to recognize structures of anti-men gender oppression in ways that Creusa, Juno, the Danaids, and other women relate to Aeneas and other men. Men must liberate their gender imagination in reading epic literature, whether through satire, elegy, or even dream romance.[6] Suffering men should be able to imagine no longer struggling to return home. They should be able to imagine burning their ships and starting a new life with a woman like Nausicaa. At a minimum, encouraging men to rise to overcome the gender gap in reading literary fiction might start with better reading of the Homeric epics.

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[1] Odyssey 6.127-9, Greek text of Murray (1919) via Perseus, my English translation, benefiting from those of id., Fagles (1996), and Lombardo (2000).

Odysseus has reason to fear for his genitals. Hermes had earlier warned him that Circe would seek to castrate him. Odyssey 10.297-301. On that passage and the threat to Odysseus genitals, Gutglueck (1987).

Odysseus crawling out from under the thicket is ironically characterized as “god-like.” Moreover, an extended simile compares him to a mountain lion on hunt for food. Odyssey 6.130-4. While Odysseus needed food, he longingly sought transport home. Only the technological and organizational capabilities of civilization could provide that for him.

Subsequent quotes from the Odyssey are similarly sourced. They are: 6.135-8 (So Odysseus was about to mix…), 6.199-200 (Stop, servant girls….), 6.175-9 (Have pity…), 6.187-90 (Stranger, you seem not…), 6.191-4 (But now, since you have come…), 6.182-4 (No gift is better…), 6.68-70 (I wouldn’t deprive you…), 6.218-22 (Servant women, stand away…), 6.239-46 (Listen to me, white-skinned servant women…), 6.303-15 (When the house and courtyard…), 7.66-77 (Alcinous made Arete his wife…), 7.233-9 (Then white-skinned Arete…), 7.290-7 (Then I saw on the shore…), 7.303-7 (Your majesty, surely, don’t fault…), 7.311-5 (So I wish…).

[2] Arete’s name itself signals her eminence:

Arete’s name is well suited to her role. A verbal adjective from aráomai, “to pray,” the name Ἀρήτη (masculine Ἄρητος) means “prayed for,” as of a late-born child long “prayed for” by its parents. This meaning fits Arete, who was the only child of her father Rhexenor, who is now dead. But the name also suggests the meaning “prayed to,” and this fits Arete’s real role, which is to be supplicated by Odysseus. The name is a perfect combination of overt and suggested meanings, corresponding to the queen’s overt and hidden roles.

Frame (2009), pp. 351-2 (Chapter 8, section 3.11), notes omitted. Ἀρήτη might also be interpreted as a pun with ᾰ̓ρετή, meaning “excellence.”

[3] Ahl & Roisman (1996), Ch. 2, engages in complex ideological speculations and doesn’t give adequate weight to oral performance in interpreting Arete’s status. Id. evokes Platt’s seminal critique:

Whenever the author ‘writes’ from ‘her’ own observation, she purposely changes names and throws an air of mystery over everything; whenever the names are real, it is a sign that the author did not know the places!

Platt (1893) p. 254-5. Whittaker by fiat resolves the issue of Arete’s power:

it is clearly Alcinous who is in charge. Except for a few interventions, Arete remains in the background.

Whittaker (1999) p. 141. Remaining in the background is consistent with controlling what goes on in the foreground. Whittaker associated women’s dominance with a “fairy tale world.” Woman can be dominant both in fairy tale worlds and in the Homeric world.

Prior to the modern period, matriarchy was commonly recognized. Some scholars have strained to discern archaic matriarchy in the Homeric epics, e.g. Hirvonen (1968). The need for such an effort defies common sense. Scholars who grotesquely misunderstand gender today have no credibility in interpreting gender in the Homeric world.

[4] Ahl & Roisman (1996), pp. 59-60, claims that Nausicaa gave Odysseus wedding clothes that Queen Arete had sewn. But at the time Nausicaa set out clothes for Odysseus, she found him unattractive. Odyssey 6.243. If Odysseus we wearing wedding finery that Queen Arete had sewn, he surely would have badly insulted her by sitting in ashes while wearing them.

[5] As Odysseus prepared to return home, Nausicaa again forlornly admired his masculine beauty after he had bathed. She said farewell to him and added: “you owe me first the price of your life {μοι πρώτῃ ζωάγρι᾿ ὀφέλλει}.” Odyssey 8.460. That price is the value of his old life. She implicitly evokes the value of the dream-romance life he lost by leaving her. But Odysseus seems incapable of imagining a new life. He responded:

Nausicaa, daughter of great-hearted Alcinous,
may father Zeus, loud-thundering husband of Hera,
grant that I reach home and see the day of my return.
Then, even there, I will pray to you as to a goddess
always and forever, for you brought me back to life, young woman.

{ Ναυσικάα, θύγατερ μεγαλήτορος Ἀλκινόοιο,
οὕτω νῦν Ζεὺς θείη, ἐρίγδουπος πόσις Ἥρης,
οἴκαδέ τ’ ἐλθέμεναι καὶ νόστιμον ἦμαρ ἰδέσθαι·
τῶ κέν τοι καὶ κεῖθι θεῷ ὣς εὐχετοῴμην
αἰεὶ ἤματα πάντα· σὺ γάρ μ’ ἐβιώσαο, κούρη. }

Odyssey 8.464-8.

[6] The Odyssey hasn’t been read from a meninist perspective. To the extent that gender has been considered in relation to the Odyssey, the analysis has been resolutely gynocentric. That limitation lessens the critical value of the epic.

Gynocentrism in considering gender in relation to the Odyssey has a long history. Following the ancient pattern that Propertius illustrated, Samuel Butler in late nineteenth-century London argued that a woman authored the Odyssey. In a lecture to the Working Men’s College in London in January 30, 1892, Butler declared:

If I am right, as I believe I am, in holding the Odyssey to have been written by a young woman, was ever sleeping beauty more effectually concealed behind a more impenetrable hedge of dulness?

Butler, “The Humour of Homer,” printed in Butler (1913) p. 97. The dullness to which Butler refers is that of literary critics: “Can there be any more scathing satire upon the value of literary criticism?” Id. In a lecture to the Somerville Club, a club for women, Butler in 1893 declared:

If people would read the poem slowly, intelligently, & without commentary, forgetting all past criticism until they have looked at the matter with their own eyes, I cannot think they would have much doubt that they were reading a woman’s masterpiece not a man’s.

Via St. John’s College, Cambridge, which holds Butler’s archive. In 1897, Butler elaborated at book length about the woman, presenting herself in the figure of Nausicaa, who authored the Odyssey. Butler declared:

surely if the Odyssey has charmed us as a man’s work, its charm and wonder are infinitely increased when we see it as a woman’s.

Butler (1897) p. 269. Butler applied fundamentally different standard’s in judging women’s and men’s literary works:

It should go, however, without saying that much which is charming in a woman’s work would be ridiculous in a man’s, and this is eminently exemplified in the Odyssey. If a woman wrote it, it is as lovely as the frontispiece of this volume, and becomes, if less vigorous, yet assuredly more wonderful than the Iliad; if, on the other hand, it is by a man, the half Bayeux tapestry, half Botticelli’s Venus rising from the sea, or Primavera, feeling with which it impresses us gives place to astonishment how any man could have written it. What is a right manner for a woman is a wrong one for a man, and vice versa.

Id. p. 11. Butler’s claim about Nausicaa representing the authoress of the Odyssey was “the culmination of an artfully stoked controversy” over the prior six years. Whitmarsh (2002) p. 75. Graves (1955) and Dalby (2006) followed Butler’s insight into the discursive value of claiming that a woman authored the Odyssey.

portrait of Nausicaa, according to Butler

Butler’s work and its reception points to the urgent need for classics to be inclusive and welcoming of meninist literary criticism. Butler, learned in classics, translated both the Iliad and the Odyssey into English. Over the subsequent century, Butler became enshrined in elite academia. Whitmarsh (2002) pp. 82-5. Two academic classicists revised Butler’s translation of the Odyssey for world-wide dissemination. Butler, Power & Nagy (1900). Considering gendered readings of Homer, a classicist recently declared:

In working on this project I had to confront my own assumptions about gender and approaches to Homeric poetry. As I read these several studies of the Odyssey, I found myself desiring a genderless Homer—wouldn’t that be easier? It is all too safe and easy to ignore gender in Homeric studies even today, so I could continue on with a subconscious but wrongheaded notion of a genderless Homer, but instead I hope to capitalize on that realization with a greater awareness and articulation of my own gender assumptions. Although the notion of the cross-gender appeal of the Homeric epics has the inherent danger of naive complicity in the old gender ideology, it also holds the possibility for the expansion of boundaries or limitations defined by gender.

Ebbott (2005). Ebbott’s assumptions about gender and Homeric epic seem to be built on anti-meninist belief in “underlying and ultimately inescapable misogyny of the male-authored epic.” Id. Many classicists, e.g. Gainsford (2018), irrationally continue to support that dominant myth.

A contemporary critic more astutely challenged Butler. Writing to Butler on Nov. 1, 1884, Miss E. M. A. Savage condemned his lying. Noting the contemporary existence of a woman who was “a man-hater,” Miss Savage noted:

Like many, perhaps I should say most, of the members of the Somerville Club, she does not like her husband, and the very first time I saw her she told me of his iniquities with details that are usually suppressed.

Letter printed in Jones (1919), vol. 1, p. 427. Samuel Butler, not surprisingly, declared to the Somerville Club that the Odyssey has been wrongfully attributed to a man while a woman actually wrote it.

The Somerville Club was a club for women founded in London in 1878. Panegyrics for the woman geologist Catherine Raisin claim that she founded the Somerville Club in 1880. But that doesn’t seem to be true. The Somerville Club seems to have been an initiative of women of Somerville College, Oxford. This elite-founded club apparently welcomed poor and working-class women. In 1887, it was re-established as the New Somerville Club. By 1908, the club had vanished. Crawford (2001) p. 128.

[images] (1) Athena arranging the meeting between Odysseus and Nausicaa. Painting on Attic, red-figure amphora made c. 440 BGC. Found at Vulci, Italy. Vase preserved as item 8957437815 in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Munich, Germany). Source image thanks to Carole Raddato and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s documentation of all the imagery on this vase. (2) Ulysses (Odysseus) and Nausicaa meeting on the riverbank. Painting by Jean Veber. Painted in 1888. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Odysseus gazing at Nausicaa and her bathing servants. Painting by William McGregor Paxton. Painted before 1937. Via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Portrait of a woman (called Musa Polimnia) made in the first half of the sixteenth century, thought to be a copy or imitation of a ancient Roman painting. Image via Accademia Etrusca di Cortona Archivio Digitale. Samuel Butler used this portrait as the frontispiece to Butler (1897). Butler stated:

My frontispiece is taken by the kind permission of the Messrs. Alinari of Florence, from their photograph of a work in the museum at Cortona called La Musa Polinnia. It is on slate and burnt, is a little more than half life size, and is believed to be Greek, presumably of about the Christian era, but no more precise date can be assigned to it.

Butler (1897) p. vii.


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Butler, Samuel, trans. and Power, Timothy and Gregory Nagy, rev. 1900. Homer. Odyssey. A. C. Fifield, London.

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