Penelope: In the opening chapters of The Odyssey Penelope is angry, frustrated, and helpless. She misses her husband, Odysseus. She worries about the safety of her son, Telemakhos. Her house is overrun with arrogant men who are making love to her servants and eating her out of house and home, all the while saying that they are courting her. She doesn't want to marry any of them, and their rude behavior can hardly be called proper courtship. She has wealth and position; she has beauty and intelligence; most of all she has loyalty to her husband. But against this corrupt horde who gather in her courtyard shooting dice, throwing the discus, killing her husband's cattle for their feasts, and drinking his wine, she is powerless.
After the beggar--Odysseus in disguise--arrives at Ithaka, we see more of Penelope's warmth, intelligence, and beauty. Within the limits of behavior available to her as a woman at that time, she is extraordinary. She is a match for Odysseus.
Odysseus: The name Odysseus has been translated a number of ways. Odysseus' grandfather, a notorious thief and thus not a popular fellow, gave him the name. It means "the person people love to hate." Once while telling one of his false stories Odysseus introduces himself as "Quarrelman." One scholar says his name means "trouble," but the usual translation is "Victim of Enmity." The word odyssey means the journey of Odysseus, long and full of adventure, rich with people and places, never in a straight line--a life.
Odysseus is an epic hero. He's a legendary figure with more than the usual amount of brains and muscle. Sometimes he's almost superhuman. At the end of the story, with only his inexperienced son and two farmhands to help, he kills more than a hundred of Penelope's suitors. He's able to do it because he has the help of the goddess Athena. He embodies the ideals Homeric Greeks aspired to: manly valor, loyalty, piety, and intelligence. Piety means being respectful of the gods, acknowledging their control of fate, knowing you need their help. Odysseus' intelligence is a mix of keen observation, instinct, and street smarts. He's extremely cautious. He's good at disguises and at concealing his feelings. He's a fast, inventive liar.
Odysseus is also very human, and you get to see him in many roles. He is often moved to tears. He makes mistakes, gets into tricky situations, and loses his temper. You see him as a husband, father, and son. In addition, you see him as an athlete, army captain, sailor, carpenter, storyteller, ragged beggar, lover. He is both brutal and sensitive, bold and shy.
Loyalty: Loyalty is most apparent in Penelope's resisting of the suitors, but it is a trait essential to all the characters in Odysseus' family. For twenty years Odysseus never stops wanting to return home. Telemakhos will not send his mother back to her father and force her to choose another husband. Instead, he sets out to find news of his father. The...