Helen Chen z3288358
To what extent do Penelope’s character and actions, as told by Homer, make her similar or different to other women in Greek mythology?
Although Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” revolves around the Greek hero Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan War, illustrating patriarchal dominion in the divine and human realms, it further portrays the significant role of women in the determination of the fate of men. Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, mother of his son Telemachus and daughter of Icarius of Sparta is portrayed as a most enigmatic woman endowed with a soul of loyalty, wisdom and beauty. She is comparable to the likes of Clytemnestra, Calypso, Circe, Hera, Nausicaa, Arete, Aphrodite, Athena, Sirens, Scylla, Charybdis, Alkmene, Pandora, Helen and Anticlea. Back on the island of Ithaca, whilst mourning her separation from Odysseus, Penelope is threatened by over a hundred suitors swarming the palace to court her, feasting on and depleting the resources of King Odysseus and scheming to kill Telemachus.
The intimate and familial love shared between Penelope and Odysseus left her grief-stricken in his twenty-year absence yet simultaneously it empowered her to remain steadfastly faithful. Her fidelity and unwillingness to remarry enables her to anchor the kingship of Ithaca as her status as queen would have established her future husband as king. (Penelope, Virtuous Wife of Odysseus, 1999)
Penelope’s devotion to Odysseus distinguishes her from her cousin Queen Clytemnestra who echoes her situation but is tempted into a love affair with Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes and Agamemnon’s cousin, ultimately killing Agamemnon upon his glorious return. Exploiting her personal superiority over Agamemnon, she forces him to walk the purple carpet, a symbol of royalty, thereby making him commit hubris and exposing him to the citizens of Argos as an excessively proud king who is in disharmony with the divine powers and will inevitably be destroyed. Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon as he steps out of a bath, kills Cassandra, the woman Agamemnon won as his Trojan War prize, and
Their matchless mutual commitment is metaphorically represented by their immovable wedding bed. represent the ideal faithful woman for marriage who also respects social customs and familial values.
. it is rather callous for Homer to cast doubt and suspicion over Penelope’s intentions merely because of her dream whereby she expresses delight in observing her pet geese and experiences unrestrained sorrow when an eagle slaughters them. Alternatively. graceful Penelope along with Princess Nausicaa and Queen Arete. Hence.
Conversely. the god of blacksmiths. Ambitious Clytemnestra’s motive for revenge is controversial. daughter and wife of King Alcinous. all prior to the eagle identifying himself as Odysseus and the pet geese as the suitors. Thus. in a web of treachery in bed with Ares.
It is arguable that the patriarchal norm and double standard that men are at the liberty of enjoying the intimate companionship of other women whilst married women are constrained to strict codes of devotion to husbands is unjust. Penelope’s forgiving nature is contrasted with Hera’s vengeful spirit. perhaps she despised Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis or she might have been driven by jealousy that Agamemnon brought back the beautiful and intelligent Cassandra. possibly even regarding his eventual abandonment of the divine seductresses who exceed her in beauty as his act of loyalty. the son of Zeus and Alkmena. she prays for Artemis to kill her and weeps until Athena appears in her dreams to comfort her. as the goddess of women and marriage transforms Zeus’ mortal lover Io into a heifer and attempts to thwart the success of Heracles.Helen Chen z3288358 subsequently rules in her own power as queen. the divine Aphrodite shamed all the goddesses with her lack of morals when was caught by her husband Hephaestus. Though both remain true to their husbands. Penelope remains constantly faithful and accepts Odysseus’ affairs with Calypso and Circe without condemnation. the god of war.
Penelope’s steadfast loyalty to Odysseus is evident when upon being committed to remarry.
seduced us with this scheme…” (Odyssey. The unravelling of her weaving can symbolically represent her resistance towards the governing society’s system of marriage. heroically maintaining her loyalty towards Odysseus and defending his patriarchal rights over her. enable her to socially resist her suitors and furthermore. 2008) Initially. the goddess of battle and wisdom. Her seemingly flighty and easily excited nature may be regarded as a form of weakness but this is intrinsically her façade used to charm her suitors whilst manifesting her courageous. Laertes. 2. deceive them in her schemes.Helen Chen z3288358 In Odysseus’s absence. Considerably like the seductive Sirens who lure sailors with their enchanting music. intelligent and stable thoughts. 2008) Penelope’s cleverness and deceitful manipulation is
associated with the powers of Athena.117-8)
Despite Telemachus’ resentful attitude that “she *Penelope+ neither rejects a marriage she despises nor can be bear to bring the courting to an end – while they continue to bleed my household white”.
. Penelope is assisted by Athena who endows her with extra stature and beauty to inflame the hearts of the suitors as she encourages them with her charming promise of marriage without intending to fulfil it. manipulating the men surrounding her with hopes of marriage in order to delay her final choice of a new husband. Penelope declares that upon finishing a funeral shroud for Odysseus’ elderly father. she would choose a new husband but for three years she wove during daylight and unravelled the work in the dark of the night until her ploy was exposed by a servant. (Penelope: Power of Women in Greek Society. as the suitors state that “Three whole years she [Penelope] deceived us blind. interestingly linked to the etymological symbolisation of her name which means “loom”. crafty. (Penelope: Power of Women in Greek Society. Until Telemachus reaches manhood. Penelope’s overt refusal may lead the suitors to constitute an army to force her into matrimony. Penelope is vulnerable to the mighty suitors and she could only seduce each yet commit to none. Penelope is left in a precarious situation but her cunning and shrewd character as well as her skill as a dextrous textile weaver.
as Odysseus’ equal in mental agility. However. keeping it solvent over two decades and even secretly guarding a storeroom piled with gold and bronze. Penelope opted for cunning over strength and managed to remain in charge of Odysseus’ household. they inform him that Penelope. Unlike the female monsters Scylla.
Ultimately. Penelope tests Odysseus with their “secret signs”. away from the pilfering suitors. Wary and reserved. This wise tactic represents Penelope’s loyal attempt to wound the prestige of the inferior and weak men indulging in a luxurious life as well as to reveal Odysseus. whom they had courted for so long. Athena and loyal servants he slaughters the suitors for their dishonouring acts. Penelope risks her life and offers to marry the suitor who successfully strings the bow of Odysseus and shoots an arrow through the line of twelve axes. who slept with Zeus disguised as her husband Amphitryon. and led by Amphimedon. Penelope suspects the gods are tricking her with an imposter and unlike Alkmene. Charybdis and the gigantic wife of the Laestrygonian cannibal king who robbed the lives of Odysseus’ sailors. 24. Agamemnon questions the suitors about the cause of their death. Usurping his role as the mastermind she tests his knowledge and plays with his emotions by ordering her maid Eurycleia to shift their immovable wedding bed.138) Just like the
. thus exposing his true self. upon her dream of the slaughter of the suitors and the return of Odysseus symbolised by the eagle and the disguised Odysseus’ persuasion that Odysseus is on native soil plotting the destruction of the suitors.Helen Chen z3288358 She also effectively acquires material gifts from the suitors upon enlightening them of the social custom and law of courting a lady her status by showering her with presents and riches and offering herds of cattle and flocks of sheep instead of depleting her wealth. loyal Penelope keeps her distance from him even after he bathes and drops his disguise as a beggar appearing in front of her in extravagant garments and the glory of an immortal. leaving Odysseus agitated that she had committed infidelity. our black doom!” (Odysseus. oil and the finest vintage. precipitating his long-awaited triumph. “she simply planned our death. a metaphorical symbol of their mutual loyalty. Odysseus restores his status and flanked by Telemachus.
Meanwhile in Hades’ realm. lavish clothing.
Telemachus offers her protection and refuses the suitors’ demands to send her back to her father Icarius without her consent. a beautiful goddess with seductive songs and the power of transformation. who released the evils of plague and disease into the world from her box. unlike Circe. Penelope experiences inconsolable sorrow over the absence of Odysseus and becomes further distraught when she learns of the suitors’ plans to murder Telemachus. who gives Odysseus and Telemachus practical instructions and magic protection. the Face that Launched a Thousand Ships. Penelope is a mortal woman incapable of supporting her son and husband in their battles or personal quests.
Indisputably. who offers Odysseus immortality and salvation from his sufferings. Penelope possesses characteristics attributed to the seductresses Circe and Calypso. Pandora (“full of gifts”). Penelope’s beauty enables her to fall into the seductress model of femininity in order to control the rowdy suitors lacking in propriety. the only difference being Penelope’s righteousness and loyalty to Odysseus. Similarly. unlike Calypso.
Portrayed as a combination of a seductress as well as a wife and mother. though less sincerely. Penelope would have been flattered by the suitors’ zealous courtship but she reduces Odysseus’ suffering by staying faithful unlike Helen. Circe. could not manipulate Odysseus with her magic but fell in love with him just like Penelope had and Calypso tempts Odysseus with her beauty and intimate companionship just as Penelope entices the suitors.Helen Chen z3288358 first woman Zeus created in his third attempt to wipe out men. Nonetheless. Fiercely protective of her son. beautiful Penelope had tempted the suitors with gifts of marriage and feasting and in turn received riches and the gift of their demise. causing the destruction of myriads of men in the Trojan war. and denounces him publicly. she speaks out against the main culprit. who advises Odysseus on how to visit Hades and escape the Sirens’ seduction and the monstrous Scylla. However. However. who under the influence of Aphrodite was seduced and eloped with Paris. unlike Athena. Both women appear bashful yet arouse cruel longing in the men and are full of deceptive lies and beautiful traps placing death sentences on the men surrounding them. Telemachus does occasionally
. Antinous. Inevitably. forestall her marriage to another man and maintain the hegemonic structure of Odysseus’ palace until Telemachus reaches manhood.
bringing destruction upon them like Pandora upon mankind. Both are respected women with values of morality. one who honours intense familial love and self-sacrificing motherhood. Penelope also shares numerous similarities and disparities with various women in Greek mythology. supporting and staying loyal to her husband. Through her shrewd tactics and sexual charm she captivates the suitors. loving mother similar to Odysseus’ mother Anticlea. Circe and the Sirens. whereas Penelope too longs for his return but with an extra audacity that helps her overcome twenty-years of sorrow. Simultaneously. Overall. (Pomeroy. her absolute emotional dependence on him instigates her death. and can perhaps be considered as a manifestation of the undeniably influential role of women in Greek society. she is a perfect woman for marriage.Helen Chen z3288358 assert his male dominance in the presence of the suitors. dismissively commanding his mother to tend to her feminine tasks with the loom. Helen and Aphrodite. earning herself a name amongst the ideals of Queen Arete and Queen Anticlea. exhibiting deceptive and seductive traits like Calypso. This can be attributed to his deeprooted suspicions of his mother’s intentions to remarry and perhaps resentment for the maternal reproof of his loving single mother during his adolescence. presenting her as the faithful wife of Odysseus and the ultimate role model for Greek women. Homer’s “The Odyssey” offers readers a complex portrait of Penelope. 1995)
Word Count: 1796
. Penelope is depicted as a grief-stricken wife and a protective. disgracing the disloyal wives – Clytemnestra. commitment and familial love yet the distinction is that Anticlea’s entire purpose of existence is to nurture and protect Odysseus.
1995.com/penelope. Frederick John. 2000.
Gill. wives.about. <http://ancienthistory. Sarah B. introduction and notes by Bernard Knox (Penguin).
.Helen Chen z3288358
Homer’s Odyssey.fjkluth. 2008. viewed 24 January 2011. whores. New York: Schocken Books.com/classics/penelope-power-of-women-in-greek-society/>. <http://bookstove. Odysseus II: The Wily Penelope. Penelope: Power of Women in Greek Society. Penelope. Dr Alfred Vincent and other teaching staff of ARTS 2542.htm>.
Kluth.s. the Virtuous Wife of Odysseus.
I acknowledge the valuable and much appreciated teachings of the Greek anthology and The Odyssey by Dr Maria Zarimis. Goddesses. N.com/od/greekwomen/a/wilypenelope. viewed 22 January 2011. viewed 23 January 2011. and slaves: women in classical antiquity. <http://www.htm>. translated by Robert Fagles. 1997.