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The Strong Character Of Penelope In Homer's Odyssey

1993 words - 8 pages

The Strong Character of Penelope in Homer's Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey is a story of the homecoming of Odysseus after the Trojan War.  Odysseus left his wife, Penelope, and their young son, Telemachos, almost twenty years before the telling of this story to fight in the Trojan War.  His absence places Penelope in a rather precarious position.  Faced with many different circumstances, both good and bad, Penelope is on her own to decide the path she wishes to take.  Depending on her decisions, the situations could either be filled with wonderful opportunities or perilous dangers. The strong character of Penelope is revealed by her decisions.

While Odysseus is away from home, Penelope ...view middle of the document...

  "For my mother, against her will, is beset by suitors... (Odyssey 2.50)."  Assuming that Odysseus had died in the course of the war, they wish to marry her, although no news has yet been delivered as to Odysseus' true fate.  Meanwhile, the suitors are eating all her food, killing off all her livestock, and generally using up all the resources of the household (Odyssey 1.248-251).  Elders of the town suggest Penelope forget her pride and go home to her father and for him to arrange a new wedding for her.  "Let him urge his mother to go back to her father's, / and they shall appoint the marriage and arrange for the wedding presents... (Odyssey 2.195-196)"  Thus, the suitors pose multiple dangers for Penelope.  If the suitors ruin all the household's resources, or if one were to successfully persuade her to marry him, she would lose her power position.  Likewise, if the resources run out and she is forced to move back in with her father, she would lose both her power position and her autonomy.

Along with the suitors, Penelope also faces possible dangers from her own son.  Even though Telemachos is not in support of sending Penelope back to her father, he does not fail to underestimate and otherwise disregard her.  Following with the typical Greek mindset, Telemachos views women as inherently inferior to men.  This view includes how he sees his mother.  He automatically assumes that she cannot run a household because she is a woman.  When Telemachos develops a plan to sail to Argos and Pylos to inquire about the whereabouts of Odysseus, a trip sanctioned by Athene, he neglects to tell his mother.  On one hand, he loves her dearly and does not wish for her to have to worry about him.  "But swear to tell my beloved mother nothing about this... / so that she may not ruin her lovely skin with weeping (Odyssey 2.373-376)."  On the other hand, he lumps her together in a category with the serving women, a derogatory categorization, although she is the woman of the household.  "But my mother has been told nothing of this, / nor the rest of the serving women (Odyssey 2.411-412)."  In this vein, he treats her activities as trivial and presumes the household power as his own, not his mother's.  "Go therefore back in the house, and take up your own work... but the men must see to discussion, all men, but I most of all.  For mine is the power in this household (Odyssey 1.356-359)."

Homer employs an extended metaphor when he parallels the story of Penelope, Odysseus and Telemachos with that of Klytaimestra, Agamemnon, and Orestes.  In the latter story, Agamemnon is also away fighting in the Trojan War.  Klytaimestra has an affair and ends up killing Agamemnon upon his return.  In response to these deeds, Orestes kills both Klytaimestra and her lover.  Penelope has the potential to be placed in a remarkably similar situation.  If she were to pick a lover from one of her many suitors, Telemachos could be right there to end both her life and her lover's. ...

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