Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, can be compared in various ways to the other characters in Homer’s poem The Odyssey. Many are the ways Penelope exemplifies the ideal woman, in that she conforms to the values and beliefs of her society. These include faithfulness, loyalty, willpower, pride in one’s home and family, and generosity and openness to foreigners (Kline, 2004). The role women in ancient Greece had were reflected as inferior to men as they were never seen as heroes or fought in wars, rather they stayed home to look after the house and children.
In Homers ‘The Odyssey’ women are portrayed as the opposite, he gives the women strength and power that is often held above the men. Examples is can be seen through Penelope and he power over the suitors, Athena and her power to disguise Odysseus (Kline, 2004) and Calypso who held on to Odysseus, making him stay with her for many years(Kline, 2004). Homer’s powerful female character is what makes the story what it is. Without the power of the women this adventure may not have happened and the story’s outcome would be different. Each of the female characters are made complex but none as much as Penelope.
By playing the role of the mother and wife she is caring and loving to her son and is loyal to her husband (Kline, 2004). While doing so, homer also portrays her as a seductive female figure, while her intention is not to seduce as she is in love and awaiting the return of her husband, Homer depicts her as the most beautiful woman in Ithaca, and get attention from suitors who wish to marry her for her kingdom and beauty. While having the attention of the suitors, she promises to marry one but has no intention of engaging with them sexually.
Though she has not seen Odysseus in nearly twenty years, and regardless of the amounting pressure to remarry from the suitors, Penelope still believes in waiting for her husband Odysseus. Her love for her husband is shown throughout the book. Penelope, cunning and wise but still under pressure tell the suitors says that she will remarry after she finishes weaving a burial shroud, “They urge me to wed, and I weave a web of deceit. For a god first inspired me to set up a great loom in the hall, and begin weaving with long fine thread” (Kline, 2004).
Cunning, to postpone the pick of a suitor, she undo’s her weaving, what she had done thought out the day, hidden in the dark of the night (Kline, 2004) This shows her loyalty to Odysseus as this continues for three years, but on the fourth year she is caught and was told to finish weaving burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes (Kline, 2004) Penelope is also a welcoming, warm and friendly person. She is more than willing to hear his story and shows gratitude when he informs her of what he knows. She gives him a bed to stay in and asks the nurse to bathe him. She also invites the beggar to join them for their feast.
Penelope can be seen as the epitome of Greek ideal. Being 20 years since they last were together, this comes as a shock to Penelope as throughout the book and even during the movie, it shows her long for her husband Odysseus. During the movie it shows the scene where she is on the beach displaying her sexual desire for him (The Odyssey, 1997). This also shows her loyalty and faithfulness as she does not get rid of this desire though a suitor. Its takes a long time for Penelope to recognise Odysseus because it was thought he would not come back and return (Kline, 2004).
Over the years she waited and didn’t know of the fate of her husband. Even though she waits for his return, and postpones her remarriage to any of the suitors, when she finally meets Odysseus there is a sort of disbelief as soon as he revealed to her. As soon as Eurycleia rushes in to wake Penelope and tell her her husband is alive and home, this is meet with a harsh reaction of doubt that he was home and assumes that Eurycleia is either being made a fool by the gods or is torturing he heart filled with love for Odysseus “Why do you mock me, whose heart is full of tears, with this mad tale? (Kline, 2004) Her reactions to her husband’s reveal are normal but and are shown through the fact that he was disguised as a beggar by the goddess Athena (Kline, 2004), he told tales of meeting Odysseus as if they were true (Kline, 2004) and she may have been frightened that he may have been an imposter. Although when she was revealing her plans, in my opinion, she would have had some feeling that the beggar was her husband in disguise, as she reveals personal and private information to him as they talk to one another.
After finding out about her husband she still is uncertain of whether it is him or not and questions his ability to kill a the suitors single-handedly. “Dear Nurse, come now, tell me truly, if it really is him come home as you say: how could he tackle the shameless Suitors single-handedly, with them always crowding in the house in a pack? ”(Kline, 2004) Penelope then begins to question whether the Gods have intervened and kill the suitors not for Odysseus, but as a way of punishment for their rudeness and wickedness “Surely one of the gods has killed the noble Suitors in anger, enraged by the depths of their insolence and their wickedness. (Kline, 2004). Because of her uncertainty, she speaks with cautions and is careful what to say, but she also put Odysseus to a test to see his reaction and finally come to a conclusion as to whether she believes it is him or not (Kline, 2004). This long period of time is significant because she is staying true to her character and being cunning about finding out the truth of the stranger. Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, although she waited 20 years for he husband, was eventually reunited. She was shown as loyal, caring and strong as a character in the poem by Homer.
Her behaviour was smart as she fooled the suitors and tested her own husband after being reunited. Some say she was portrayed as a hopeless wife, awaiting her husband’s return, but the qualities and traits that she presented makes her an ideal woman.
Bibliography A. S. Kline (2004) The Odyssey Emlyn-Jones, C. (1984), ? The Reunion of Penelope and Odysseus‘, Greece & Rome 31, 1-18. Harsh, P. W. (1950), ? Penelope and Odysseus in Odyssey XIX‘ The American Journal of Philology 71, 1-21. Heitman, R. (2005), ? The Limits of Deception‘, in Taking her Seriously: Penelope and the Plot of Homer’s Odyssey, Ann Arbor, 85-103.