Odysseus's wife, Penelope plays a crucial role in Homer's ‘The Odyssey’, with not only providing the motivation for Odysseus's return to Ithaca, but she is also the center of the plot involving the suitors and the fate of Telemakos and Ithaca itself. Therefore the objective of this essay is to analyze the importance of Penelope’s role in ‘The Odyssey’.
As aforementioned Penelope is the main reason for Odysseus's return to Ithaca, as well as wanting to be united with his son Telemakos. He is driven throughout his entire journey to go back and see his wife. Odyssey even goes as far to turn down the gift immortality with the beautiful Calypso in order to continue with journey home:
"My lady goddess, here is no cause for anger.
My quiet Penelope-how well I know-
Would seem a shade before your majesty,
Death and old age being unknown to you,
While she must die. Yet, it is true, each day
I long for home, long for the sight of home.
If any god has marked me out again
For shipwreck, my tough heart can undergo it
What hardship have I not long since endured
At sea, in battle! Let the trial come."(Homer V:225-234)
From the description of a ‘lady goddess’ we can immediately see how she is thought of highly by Odyssey. However despite this high opinion of Penelope, before he left, Odysseus and Calypso " . . . retired, this pair [He and Calypso], to the inner cave/to revel and rest softly, side by side."(Homer V:235-238) This was not the only time Odysseus "retired", with another woman. On the island of Circe "[he] entered Circe's flawless bed of love"(Homer X:390). However this is not done through the power of love or any other emotional or sexual drive but in order to continue his journeys with success.
Despite these few instances, Odysseus remains faithful to Penelope in their twenty years apart. He does not love either Calypso or Circe as he did Penelope, and thusly chooses not to stay with either of the two. Although the principle might get lost in the tale, Penelope played the part of the goal for Odysseus to obtain, or re-obtain by the end of the Odyssey.
Penelope does not have any idea whether her husband was alive for most of the twenty-years he was gone. She has promised Odysseus that she would not marry until their son, Telemakos, reaches the age of adulthood. Just prior to Odysseus return, Penelope is faced with the task of choosing a new husband from among the hordes of suitors that are “applying" for the job. The reader's perception of these suitors is that of far from worthy to marry someone such as Penelope. Homer makes them out to be crude gluttons. In their first appearance, in front of Althena as Mentes, they are