Penelope In The Odyssey Essay

1441 words - 6 pages

Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, can be contrasted in various ways to the other characters in Homer's poem The Odyssey. In many ways, Penelope embodies the "ideal" woman, in that she conforms to the values and ideals of her society. These ideals include faithfulness, loyalty, willpower, long-suffering, pride in one's home and family, and hospitality to strangers.The majority of the other characters in the poem lack one or more of these attributes. Although Odysseus proves to be a character of strong will and determination throughout the Trojan War and the trials he endured at sea, he demonstrates weakness and wavering resolve when he is faced with sexual temptation. For example, when enticed by Circe to "mingle and make love," Odysseus submits to her appeals and enters her "flawless bed of love," thus committing adultery against his wife Penelope (Book X). When Circe tells Odysseus to remain with her, he "could not help consenting." Odysseus remains with Circe and continues to be unfaithful to Penelope for the duration of a year. It is only after hearing the appeals of his men that Odysseus decides to head back out to sea. Later, Odysseus has another adulterous relationship with the nymph Kalypso. This relationship endures for seven years. Throughout his stay on Kalypso's island, Odysseus weeps for Penelope, yet he continues to lie with Kalypso every night (Book V). In contrast, Penelope exemplifies tremendous will power and resourcefulness in that she remains faithful to Odysseus throughout his exile. While awaiting her husband's return, Penelope endures perpetual insolence and sexual advances from the suitors who invade her household. Penelope rebuffs the advances of the suitors and remains a devoted and faithful wife. Deferring the suitors is no easy task; therefore Penelope is very resourceful and goes to great lengths to postpone marriage to one of them. She puts the men off for three years by promising to marry one of them upon her completion of a burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. In order to delay the completion of the shroud, she unravels her work every night (Book II, p. 223). Penelope also privately sends promises to each of the suitors in order to divide them so that they will not unanimously demand a decision from her as to which one she wishes to marry (Book II, p. 222). In many ways, Penelope and Agamemnon's wife Klytaimnestra represent "mirror images" of each other. At the beginning of the Trojan War, the two women have many things in common. Both lytaimnestra and Penelope are left solitary and forlorn when their husbands leave Ithaka to combat the Trojans. Both women endure sexual temptation during the absence of their husbands. Klytaimnestra is charmed by Aigisthos, and the suitors charm Penelope. In the presence of this temptation, Klytaimnestra exhibits weakness and wavering resolve. At first, aided by a minstrel whom Agamemnon instructs to attend to her during his absence, Klytaimnestra rebuffs the enticement of the...

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