Odysseus's wife, Penelope plays a very important role in Homer's Odyssey. She provides the motivation for Odysseus's return to Ithaca. She is also the center of the plot involving the suitors and the fate of Telemakos and Ithaca itself. The objective of this essay is to analyze the important role of Penelope in Odyssey.
Penelope is the reason for Odysseus's return to Ithaca. He is driven throughout his entire journey to go back and see his wife. He turns down immortality with the beautiful Kalypso to return 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)
Despite this high opinion of Penelope, before he left, Odysseus and Kalypso " . . . retired, this pair [He and Kalypso], 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 Kirke "[he] entered Kirke's flawless bed of love"(Homer X:390). Despite these few instances, Odysseus remained faithful to Penelope in their twenty years apart. He never loved either Kalypso or Kirke as he did Penelope, and thusly chose 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 did not have any idea whether her husband was alive for most of the twenty-years he was gone. She had promised Odysseus that she would not marry until their son, Telemakos, reached the age of adulthood. Just before Odysseus had returned, Penelope was faced with the task of choosing a new husband from among the hordes of suitors that were "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 " . . . casting dice inside the gate, at ease/on hides of oxen-oxen they had killed . . . with houseboys mixing bowls of water and wine . . . or butchering carcasses for roasting"(Homer I:134-141). These suitors were living off of the family fortune. If Penelope did not choose one soon, she and Telemakos would run out of resources.
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