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Character Of Penelope In Homer's Odyssey

1392 words - 6 pages

The Character of Penelope in The Odyssey

"My lady, there is no man in the wide world who could find fault with you. For your fame has reached broad heaven itself, like that of some illustrious king."(Page 289,Book 19, The Odyssey)

Penelope played one of the most vital roles in Homer's timeless classic ‘The Odyssey’, as both Odysseus's patient and loving wife and as the Queen of Ithaca. Her great love for Odysseus is most powerfully shown with her persistence in waiting nineteen years for her husband to return over the ‘wine dark sea’ rather than losing all hope and marrying another. Penelope has a strong and constant character, and her personality changes very little throughout ‘The Odyssey’.

Since there are so few mortal women featured in The Odyssey, Penelope can be perhaps seen as an ideal figure to represent all noblewomen within the Greek world. Although women were to the most part seen as possessions they could still be highly respected and influential in society. This is shown very effectively in this quote by Antinous as he speaks about Penelope,

"Her skill in fine handicraft, her excellent brain, and the genius she has for getting her way, In that respect, I grant she has no equal, not even in story" (Page 20,Book 2).

Not only is the irony in this statement obvious but it is also epitomizes how she is held in high esteem. 

Perhaps the most powerful example of influence by a woman is Helen of Sparta who is said in myth to be the direct cause of the Trojan War. Penelope similarly is also shown to have been very sought after, by the band of suitors that inhabit Odysseus's palace in Ithaca while he is away. All the while Odysseus is away; suitors are constantly trying to force Penelope to choose one of them as her new husband, however she holds them off with her cunning nature.

Penelope is also important because she (along with Telemachus) is the main reason for Odysseus to return home. Odysseus shows his great love and determination when goddess Calypso offers him immortality (Book 5) on the condition that he remains on Ogygia as her husband. At Odysseus's first opportunity he builds a raft and sails away, leaving the lonely Calypso behind. When he reaches Phaeacia, he is then offered the hand of King Alcinous daughter, Nausicaa, who must be a vision of  beauty since Odysseus mistakes her for the goddess Artemis on first site. Instead Odysseus wished to return to Penelope.

Penelope has a very complex and interesting character. For example her determination to wait and to mislead the suitors for so long shows that she had great intelligence and perseverance. Penelope's wit is acknowledged in this quote from Antinous

"For all the Achean beauties of former times, none had at her command such wits as she."(Page 20, Book 2).

Penelope's wit is also shown in her scheme to mislead the suitors by saying that they must wait for her to weave a shroud for Odysseus's father Laertes. She tells them this for three years until an...

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