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Penelope, Virtuous Wife of Odysseus

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Penelope and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture

Penelope was the wife of Odysseus who waited over twenty years for him to return home to her. She was the daughter of Icarius of Sparta, brother of Tyndareus. Thus, she was the cousin of Helen and Clytemnestra. She bore only one son, Telemachus, to Odysseus.

Her name is Πηυελόπεια -- Penelope -- 'spindle loosener' from Indo-European '(s)pen(-d)-', 'to pull, spin'; 'el- 'to destroy'; and op- 'to work, perform, bring about'. This name was given her because of the trick she pulled on the suitors. She probably had a different name before that.

What Penelope did was to show that when a man and a woman are faithful to one another, then things will work out for the best.

She was loyal and devoted, and she knew how to put a man to the test. Her proposal to test the wooers with the bow of Odysseus gave Odysseus the advantage that he needed.

One important role is that she anchors the kingship of Ithaca. At the time of the Trojan war kings were determined by a matrilineal scheme. Penelope was the queen and Odysseus became king by marrying Penelope. If Penelope were to give up on Odysseus then the man she married would become king of Ithaca. The wooers were hoping she would choose one of them. She did not begin her life in this way though. It was her father's brother, Tyndareus, who was king. Odysseus was one of the original suitors of Helen and came to the Spartan court for that purpose. It is possible that the hand of Penelope was a reward to Odysseus arranged by Tyndareus. It was Odysseus who had proposed the oath that settled the suit for Helen. Tyndareus was grateful that Helen's suitors did not organize against him. But Odysseus gained little by marrying Penelope. In fact, though it was normal for the man to move to the woman's land and rule, Penelope left with Odysseus to be queen in his land. They must have loved each other deeply for Odysseus to choose this option.

Iphthime and Penelope(Image Left) "Then the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, took other counsel. She made a phantom, and likened it in form to a woman, Iphthime, daughter of great-hearted Icarius, whom Eumelus wedded, whose home was in Pherae. And she sent it to the house of divine Odysseus, [800] to Penelope in the midst of her wailing and lamenting, to bid her cease from weeping and tearful lamentation." Homer, Odyssey 4.795

It is interesting to note that even Odysseus was put to the test. Penelope's father, Icarus is said to have offered his daughter to anyone who could best him in a footrace. It is said that Odysseus did this. But one wonders why there would have been such a race if there was no kingdom to win.

She was also an example of the benefit of familial love. It was the case that during the Trojan wars many of the soldiers won women as prizes. The women thus won were no better than slaves. If they were valued for sex then they were used for sex. Some women were valued for their skills such as nursing, or cooking. These women became servants in the warrior's home. Before the Trojan war Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were king and queen of Mycenae. They were separated by the Trojan war for over 10 years. You can only imagine how Clytemnestra must have felt when Agamemnon returned with Cassandra, one of the most beautiful and intelligent women in the world, as a prize. There was no familial love here. And if Agamemnon was to remain king he would have to keep Clytemnestra happy because of the matrilinial nature of his kingship. It is no wonder Clytemnestra killed him. Now compare this situation to the one with Odysseus and Penelope.

Penelope could have chosen a husband from one of the wooers. Her new husband would be king. He would then take care of her and kill Odysseus if he returned. Odysseus could have stayed with Calypso forever. But since Penelope and Odysseus shared a familial love for one another, she confounded the wooers, and he came home with gifts, but no women prizes.

Another role Penelope had was to recognize Odysseus. Because Penelope and Odysseus loved one another, their intimacy allowed her to know things about Odysseus that other persons did not know. She provided the test of the bow not to find which wooer was best, but to find which one was Odysseus.

What she did is extremely important to consider since it really is the basis for society. She could not appeal to force as so often is used to settle differences. Rather she appealed to custom and used her knowledge of custom to influence the suitors. This is remarkable in view of the fact that the suitors constituted a small army that could force their way upon Penelope, her son, and their loyal servants as soon as they were organized. But Penelope interfered with their organization. In the development of society customs are developed and customs often become laws. One can see in the story of Penelope the ancient Greek emphasis on law. In so far as she can Penelope encourages the suitors to obey the laws as defined by custom. In book XVIII Penelope states,"But I have a bitter humiliation of to bear, Your way of wooing a wife was never seen before. Those who would win a woman of rank and wealth, vie with one another in offering herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, and feasting the lady's friends , and heaping gifts one her; they do not devour the wealth of another without compensation.." She explains the custom here. But it is also an opportunity to get the wooers to compete rather than unite. In this way Penelope interefered with their organization. There are other suggestions about what she did to influence the suitors. In book XV it is said, "She does not often appear when those men are present; she keeps clear of them and goes on with her weaving in her own rooms." She also attended to her appearance as is stated in book XVIII "... for you are the pearl of women for beauty and intelligence too!"

In the development of society customs are developed and customs often become laws. As with the case of Penelope the law can be used to protect the vulnerable against the mighty. Penelope uses her knowledge of custom to see that custom is interpreted by the suitors in her favor. In fact this is basis of justice. You can look upon what Penelope did as guile but this is not actually correct. In the Odyssey it is plain the wooers are the evil ones. In book III Nestor says, "...they do say that there are a great number of men in your house, seeking your mother's hand in marriage against your will, full of evil schemes." Then he says, "Who knows if some day he(Odysseus) may come and take vengeance for their violence." Ultimately this vengeance is a threat to society. In book XXIV Athena asks Zeus, "Will you still contrive war upon war and battle upon battle. Will you make peace between these two parties." Then Zeus replies, "But I will tell you what seems like the right thing. Now that Odysseus has had his vengeance, let them make up the quarrel, and let him continue to be prince as before; but let us pacify the blood-feud for the dead sons and brothers; let them all be friends as before, and let peace and plenty abide with them." Ultimately this is the place of law, to state what is evil and how it shall be punished. Once law is applied there is no need for vengeance and peace and prosperity can return.

One of the points that can be made of the story is that even though women are weaker than men there are tools available to keep them from being overpowered. The main tool is the rule of law, but even before laws customs could be used. Also when men do evil they should be punished, but not so as to start a feud or cycle of vengeance.

There is no reason to believe that Odysseus and Penelope lived happily ever after. The son of Odysseus by Circe, Telegonos, searched for his father and killed Odysseus by accident. He then took Penelope as his wife. In this he accomplished what the suitors of Penelope could not an took control of the Kingdom of Ithaca according to that custom. He might do this so the kingdom would not fall into the hands of some non-relative. Penelope is supposed to have born a son, Italus, to Telogonus.


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Penelope and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture

Questions and Answers

Question: How is Penelope a moral heroine for later generations?

Answer: She was true to her husband in spite of compelling reasons to give him up. She managed to raise her son by her husband by herself and she kept his estate as well as anyone could. When her husband returned she was able to assist him in defeating his adversaries.

Question: Do you have any quotes from Penelope?

Answer: There are many quotes from Penelope in the Odyssey. Here is her last challenge to the Suitors:

'Listen, my lords. You have fastened on the house, in the long absence of its master, as the scene of your perpetual feasts, and you could offer no better pretext for you conduct than you wish to win my hand in marriage. That being the prize, come forward now, my gallant lords; for I challenge you to try your skill on the great bow of King Odysseus. And whichever man among you proves the handiest at stringing the bow and shoots an arrow through every one of the twelve axes, with that man I will go, bidding goodbye to this house which welcomed me as a bride, this lovely house so full of all good things, this home that even in my dreams I never shall forget.'

Question: What virtues does Penelope possess?

Answer: She was loyal and devoted, and she knew how to put a man to the test. Her proposal to test the wooers with the bow of Odysseus gave Odysseus the advantage that he needed.

Question: What are the strength and weakness of Penelope in Odyssey and of that time period?

Answer: Her great strength was her constancy. Her husband had left her well provided for. She was beautiful, and talented as well. Her main weakness was that she cried a lot while her husband was gone.

Question: Why is Penelope only described as "faithful"

Answer: That is her most notable quality, but not her only quality.

Question:do you have any paintings or poems related to Penelope's out-smarting her suitors?

Answer: The Qdyssey by Homer is a poem in the original Greek. This is where the story of Penelope is told. A picture is available of Penelope at her loom: Click here.

Question: Is Penelope a conventional greek women or is she the one who break the convention?

Answer: Penelope was an exceptional Greek woman.

Question: Why was Penelope an exceptional Greek women?Thanks

Answer: Penelope waited for her husband to return from the war even 20 years. This is in spite of the fact that she had plenty of money and could have chosen another husband easily. In fact fifty or more suitors wanted, and expected her to do this. But she remained loyal to her husband. The first ten years was not so hard because there was news from Troy and Odysseus was always par of it. The second ten years was harder because Odysseus was hidden on the Island of Ogygia and everyone thought he was probably drowned.

Question: How is Penelope different from the role of women in Ancient Greek to me?

Answer: Penelope is a queen who possesses considerable property. She also determines who will be king. During the classical period there were no queens and women were not allowed to own property in most of Greece. When Clytemnestra was killed, the practice of determining the king by who the queen married, was ended.

Question: > Thank you for you time and help! I am writing an essay about Penelope, and basically had the same view on what you wrote, but what I wanted to know is how is she characterized in terms of what themes and ideas is her character associated, and how her role contributes to the narrative? If you could help me and explain more about it I would really appreciate it!

Answer: Penelope forms an important part of his goal, home. Circe and Calypso are tempters that promise anonymity for Odysseus, but Penelope promises fulfillment. Through her scheming she also manages to maintain his home against the demands of the wooers. Her tests for them are more of the same but they finally serve to prove Odysseus worthy and he conquers them. She is not a heroine in the same sense as Odysseus, but she is a heroine in her own way.

Question: Why did Odysseus choose Penelope over Calypso?

Answer: Calypso symbolized oblivion. With Calypso Odysseus would live as an eternal nobody. Penelope symbolized home. By returning to Penelope Odysseus would claim his eternal fame as a hero.

Question: what is the real image of Penelope in the Odyssey and why is she considered a stereotype?

Answer: The reality of Penelope is quite blurred by the fact that she lived over 3250 years ago and that the only stories about her were written down at least 250 years after the author of the story lived. Yet, in spite of their great age these stories are very compelling on several levels and seem to bear truths of universal value. Penelope is the stereotype of the faithful wife because she waited 20 long years for her husband to return from war.

Question: How does the feminist look at the character of Penelope?

Answer: Penelope bent social convention to get her way.

Question: Why is Penelope being pressured to marry? Can she not remain single?

Answer: Penelope is Queen of Ithaca and whoever she marries will become King. She has the additional pressure of having to appease the wooers because they constitute an army stronger than her own. As long as she can keep them competing with each other they will not organize and become an army that defeats her. The leader of the wooers could conquer her, kill her, and declare himself king. It is to Penelope's credit that this never happens.

Question: In what ways does Penelope take part in the development of Odysseus' character?

Answer: In Book I Penelope says: 'So dear a head do I long for in constant memory, namely, that man whose fame is noised abroad from Hellas to mid Argos.'

A little later in Book IV she says: 'Long ago when ye were children, ye marked not your fathers' telling, what manner of man was Odysseus among them, one that wrought no iniquity toward any man, nor spake aught unrighteous in the township, as is the wont of divine kings. One man a king is like to hate, another he might chance to love. But never did he do aught at all presumptuously to any man. Nay, it is plain what spirit ye are of, and your unseemly deeds are manifest to all, nor is there any gratitude left for kindness done.'

And she says, "For erewhile I lost my noble lord of the lion heart, adorned with all perfection among the Danaans, my good lord, whose fame is noised abroad from Hellas to mid Argos."

Then she refers to Odysseus as, "...god-like Odysseus."

Question: What about Penelope as the one being tested in the Odyssey?

Answer: I do not think so. The suitors are not much of a temptation. They are never presented in a way that seems close to Odysseus. But her skill is often overlooked. The suitors represent an army of considerable force. But she keeps them disorganized and ineffective. She maintains her household in spite of their rampage.

Question: Do you have any original paintings of Penelope and her husband Odysseus?

Answer: There is no painting that was done when they were alive. But later paintings were made during the classical Greek period. See them above. For Odysseus: Click here

Question: How Penelope identify Odysseus

Answer: Penelope asked her maids to bring her bed to her. Odysseus rebuked her because he had made the bed out of a living tree which was rooted in the ground and could not be moved. Penelope knew the man who knew these details of her bed must be Odysseus.

Question: Where can I find pictures of Penelope

Answer: Click on the links above to see the pictures.

Question: Where can I fin information about Laertes-Odyssey"s father

Answer: All the information about Laertes is in the Odyssey.

Question: is there any picture of Nestor's palace?

Answer: Maybe. No classical art illustrates Nestor's palace because it was gone almost 800 years before. But archeological work has uncovered a Mycenaean palace at Pylos, Nestor's home. So far there has been no archeological identification made, but this is still possible. See the following: Click Here

Question: What is penelope's personality like?

Answer: She is referred to as constant Penelope. She was intelligent and obviously a talented weaver.

and here

Question: Please discuss metaphor in relation to the Odyssey. I think that many of the larger issues of the Odyssey were glaringly absent in this discussion of this important work.

Answer: The Odyssey is a poem, full of metaphor. But this topic is too big. Which aspect or metaphor would you develop?

Question: Did Penelope ever feel pitty for what happened to Helen?

Answer: Her steward Eumaeus had the following opinion of Helen: "But he hath perished, as I would that all the stock of Helen had perished utterly, forasmuch as she hath caused the loosening of many a man's knees." (Odyssey, Book XIV)

Later she says to Odysseus: "Nay even Argive Helen, daughter of Zeus, would not have lain with a stranger, and taken him for a lover, had she known that the warlike sons of the Achaeans would bring her home again to her own dear country. Howsoever, it was the god that set her upon this shameful deed; nor ever, ere that, did she lay up in her heart the thought of this folly, a bitter folly, whence on us too first came sorrow." (Odyssey, Book XXIII)

She could have been disgusted with her as her steward was, but instead she felt Helen had been a victim of the deities whims and not responsible.

Question: what's the role of Penelope as a mother during that 20 years?

Answer: During the twenty years of Odysseus' absence penelope maintained his household and raised his son.

Question: I am doing a paper the question is Image of women in the bilbe and odyssey. I have to portray two sweet women and two evil could you tell me more about Penelope and why she was so great

Answer: Penelope was very constant and faithful. Two women who did evil things are Medea and Clytemnestra. Two women who did kind things are Antigone and Ismene.

Question: how did Penelope change from the begining of the story to the end of it. Did her character change a lot?

Answer: The actual time frame of the Odyssey is perhaps only a month during which time Penelope changes very little.

Question: what makes her so differentfrom other females in the Odyssey?

Answer: Penelope is very wise and skilled at manipulating men. She is also very loyal and waits 20 years for her husband's return.

Question: What is Homer attempting tosay through the character?

Answer: Penelope forms the goal of Odysseus but you should remember that the Odyssey is not a work of fiction. Homer was constrained to tell the truth, not to manipulate characters according to his own design. Homer was able to make changes in how the story was told and to emphasize one thing over another.

Question: How do Penelope and helen compare to other Greek wives?

Answer: Penelope and Helen were both queens. In the classical period there were no queens. No wife was devoted as Penelope or as beautiful as Helen, but the Greek wives were very important and respected.

Question: How maternal is Penelope?

Answer: Maternal enough to have given birth to a son and raised him to adulthood. But not so maternal as to have sex with every suitor who came through her door, so by the time she was forty she had only one child instead of a dozen.

Question: What do you make of the numerous times that PEnelope is referred to as "Circumspect Penelope," paying particular attention to the context in which she is referred to as such?

Answer: You really need to look at the original Greek to see what word is being translated. In the translation provided by the Gutenberg project she is described as wise Penelope 45 times and constant Penelope 8 times. The word circumspect appears nowhere in this translation.

Question: How does Penelope deal with the male warrior-culture in Greek society and retributive justice?

Answer: She keeps her suitors competing with each other rather than allowing them to unite. She cannot defeat them so she keeps delaying them. She does not deny them but really gives them nothing but hope.

Question: How does Penelope deal with the powers and responsibilities women assume in their society?

Answer: Penelope does an excellent job of manipulating things to go her way. She has an excellent control of the powers normally available to a woman and she uses these powers to great effect.

Question: how are odysseus and penelope portrayed as a couple

Answer: They are devoted to each other.

Question: what was her personality like

Answer: She was very constant.

Question: What were Penelopes physical characteristics?

Answer: She was a beautiful woman.

Question: if you had to pick someone that Penelope would be most like these days who would it be? Like if she came as someone else into the 21st century who would she be?

Answer: I would pick Hillary Clinton

Question: What skills does Penelope use throughout the Odyssey that makes her a strong woman character?

Answer: Her patience and her wisdom.

Question: Who was the god of the sea?

Answer: Poseidon.

Question: Is Penelope good looking?

Answer: Yes. Penelope was a beautiful woman.

Question: What is penelope weaving during the absence of Odysseus?

Answer: In ancient Greece activities were divided by sex and weaving was a task performed by women. Tasks were also divided by class but even a women of the highest class could weave. The result was that Penelope spent most of her time weaving. She would have woven articles of clothing and items for the household including drapes, towels, and rugs. She manipulated the wooers by claiming to be weaving a shroud for the father of Odysseus, Laertes. This was a cloth covering for his body after he died for use during his funeral.

Question: Can I have more information on Penelope goddess of fate?

Answer: Penelope seems to be confused with the goddess of fate because both are weavers.

Question: Penelope seemed to be very compassionate toward Odysseus. Can you explain why? Why didn't she fall in love with another suitor? Wasn't there one similar to Odysseus?

Answer: If there had been one moral suitor, he would have sent the others away and left himself. The suitors were all just pretenders. If Odysseus had died Penelope could have easily found another husband. The suitors were looking for an easy way to advance themselves and she wanted someone who could do worthy work. As it was she did not know that Odysseus had died and she did not want to forsake him. After all she bore his child. Actually, no one would have stood up to Odysseus. He has proved himself to be worth the attentions of humanity for over 3000 years. His deeds are still admired.

Question: Do you have a picture of Laertes? I need it asap

Answer: These represent the way the Greeks would have imaged him:

Question: Why do you compare Penelope to Hillary Clinton?

Answer: Both stood by their husbands in spite of their wanderings.

Question: OK! I really need to know what the assistant to the queen would be like. Would she be considered a slave? What kinds of tasks would she do for the queen? What would she wear? How old would she be? Would she have any liberties? Please help me. I need to make a fictional character and write about her and I want to do some queen's personal assistant.

Answer: In the heroic time of ancient Mycenae when Penelope was queen, her assistant would be a slave. Eurycleia was such an assistant: Click here

Question: what was penelope weaving at the time she was with Odysseus?

Answer: A shroud for her father in law.

Question: How would you compare and contrast Penelope and Calypso?

Answer: Penelope was a constant goal to a wandering man. Calypso was a wavering diversion for a man who was stuck.

Question: Telemachus?

Answer: Telemachus was the son of Odysseus and Penelope.

Question: I am doing a project pertaining to the Odysseus. I have to design a wardrobe that someone in the poem would have worn. Can you tell me if there was any special design on her clothing that Penelope wore as a symbol of Ithaca?

Answer: The wardrobe of Penelope is quite a challenge. The classical Greeks pictured her in peplos or chiton, but archeology suggests an outfit more like the Minoans. This means fancy flounded skirt, girdle and vest that reveals the breasts. Penelope was most likely a Mycenaean but no remains have been found on Ithaca.

Question: I am trying to find the letter that Penelope wrote to Odysseus

Answer: Homer does not mention such a letter. A letter written by Ovid can be found at: Click here

Question: Penelope plays the role of a "passive" hero only because she merely hold of those who would marry her she does not do anything actively to restore order in her community. Could you please give me some insight on this?

Answer: The suitors together would constitute a small army of 50 men. If Penelope does anything to cause them to band together then they have the power to get their way. What she does causes them to stay divided and unable to force their will upon her. In this way she maintains some control over them. She cannot defeat them so she uses her resourses to prevent them from defeating her. She is not really passive, but rather is divisive.

Question: What are some characteristics of an epic?


Question: What did Odysseus wear?


Question: Why do you think Penelope's reunion was not the end othe book and why he includes the events of book XXIV?

Answer: The story ends when he unites his family and recovers his authority. He would not keep Penelope without that.

Question: What does Penelope show as she unravels the shroud she waved?

Answer: Cunning.

Question: Thanks so much for the wealth of info ont his site. I have one question? What is the comparison and contrast between Penelope in The Odysseus and Lysistrata in Lysistrata.

Answer: The ancient Greeks thought Penelope was a real person while this does not seem to be true of Lysistrata. To read about Penelope you must consult a number of independent sources. All about Lysistrata comes from a play by the same name.

Question: I need to compare and contrast Penelope with Andromache. Can you help me?

Answer: Both Penelope and Andromache were devoted wives who received a speech about how they were to be confined to housework and leave war to men. Penelope regained her husband while Andromache lost hers. Penelope was able to raise her baby to manhood, while Andromache lost hers in the sack of Troy. Andromache became a spoil of Troy, but her second husband did not last long. Her third husband provided more satisfaction than either of the first two. It was predicted in the Iliad that if Hector was killed she would become someone's slave drudge. But instead she became a queen.

Question: im studying Captain Correli's mandolin and my teacher says there is a correlation between Pelegia who sews a waistcoat for her lover at war and Penelope sewing in the story of 'aeneid'. I hope this makes sense to you. Please can you give me some information on penelope's sewing.

Answer: Here is the section in the Odyssey: "She (Penelope) set up a great tambour frame in her room, and began to work on an enormous piece of fine needlework. 'Sweet hearts,' said she, 'Odysseus is indeed dead, still do not press me to marry again immediately, wait--for I would not have skill in needlework perish unrecorded--till I have completed a pall for the hero Laertes, to be in readiness against the time when death shall take him. He is very rich, and the women of the place will talk if he is laid out without a pall.'

This was what she said, and we assented; whereon we could see her working on her great web all day long, but at night she would unpick the stitches again by torchlight. She fooled us in this way for three years and we never found her out, but as time wore on and she was now in her fourth year, one of her maids who knew what she was doing told us, and we caught her in the act of undoing her work, so she had to finish it whether she would or no." Odyssey, Book II

Question: If the kingship at the time of the Odyssey was passed through a matrilineal system, how is it that Odysseus is king in Ithaca, where his father Laertes was king before, and Penelope isn't queen of Sparta, where she is from? Can this matrilineal system be seen in any other ancient Greek works? Why when people recite their geneologies in The Odyssey do they name their fathers and grandfathers, if rights to a kingdom were passed through a matrilineal system?

Answer: In a patrilineal system Odysseus would receive Ithaca from his father upon his father's death. But Laertes was still alive when Odysseus became king upon his marriage to Penelope. It seems more likely that Odysseus received Ithaca as part of Penelope's dowery. Notice that Laertes can do nothing about the suitors. The matrilineal system can be seen with Clytemnestra as well. Clytemnestra became queen of Mycenae by marrying Tantalus. When Agamemnon killed Tantalus he obtained Mycenae by marrying Clytemnestra. Oedipus became king when he married Jocasta.

Question: how could you say Odysseus and Penelope is a devoted couple when Odysseus did jump into other women's bed while he was in his journey?

Answer: It was not expected that a Greek man would only have sex with his wife. Odysseus preferred Penelope to the other women and continually tried to return to her.

Question: What were wooers?

Answer: Unmarried men who wanted to marry Penelope and thereby inherit her money and her realm. The husband of Penelope became the king of Ithaca.

Question: what is Odysseus's mom's name?

Answer: The mother of Odysseus was Anticlea (Ἀντίκλεια)

Question: Compare and contrast traits of Penelope and Calypso

Answer: This can be done by reading the Odyssey.

Question: The painting of "Penelope at ther loom". Where can I find the information on that piece? Such as: Were it made? what was the purpose? What media were used? By whom? why this episode or situation?

Answer: Penelope and the suitors

Question: How did Penelope test the wooers with the bow?

Answer: Here is the speech she gave to the suitors:

"Listen to me you suitors, who persist in abusing the hospitality of this house because its owner has been long absent, and without other pretext than that you want to marry me; this, then, being the prize that you are contending for, I

will bring out the mighty bow of Odysseus, and whomsoever of you shall string it most easily and send his arrow through each one of twelve axes, him will I follow and quit this house of my lawful husband, so goodly, and so abounding in wealth. But even so I doubt not that I shall remember it in my dreams."

Actually it is not a test but a ruse. In the end Odysseus ends up with the bow and the wooers end up weaponless. This allows Odysseus to kill most of the wooers before they gang up on him.

Question: You keep saying that penelope is a beautiful woman. How so? What were her features and characteristics like?

Answer: Homer makes little reference to Penelope but he does have Agamemnon say: "Not that your wife, Odysseus, is likely to murder you, for Penelope is a very admirable woman, and has an excellent nature." (Odysseus, Book XI). Of course her beauty also helps to attract the suitors. So we can say she has beautiful features but we cannot provide more detail.

Question: How tall was she?

Answer: Calypso says of Penelope: "...I am no whit less tall or well-looking than she is..." (Odyssey, Book V). So Penelope is nearly as tall and as beautiful as a goddess. Athena made her: "...taller and of a more commanding figure.." (Odyssey, Book XVIII)

Question: Did Penelope suffer more than Odysseus?

Probably not. But suffering is hard to quantify. Both suffered a lot.

Question: When Penelope doesn't give up weaving and weaves all day and undoes it all night, does that convey the message that you should never give up, or does it convey that you must at one point give in to the inevitable, because you can't go on like this forever?

Answer: Neither. Penelope is trying to do things her way, the way that will preserve her home and family. She is able to trick those wooers who want her to do things their way and break up her family and perhaps destroy her home. The moral is to trick evil people if you can so you can get them to do what is right in spite of their evil.

Question: What is Penelope's power and what is Circe's Power

Answer: Circe is a goddess while Penelope was a mortal. As a goddess Circe is in control of magic. As a mortal Penelope has only her wits for power.

Question: What did she have to do with the Iliad?

Answer: Penelope is not mentioned in the Iliad. Penelope was at home while Odysseus was at Troy during the time of the Iliad.

Question: What impact does Penelope have on Odysseus?

Answer: Penelope becomes the life goal of Odysseus. She is the symbol of all that is right, just, and fulfilling.

Question: is penelope a goddess or the queen?

Answer: Homer says she is a mortal queen.

Question: Can you please share the detailed description of Penelope and Odysseus' marriage bed?

Answer: This is found in the Odyssey.

recent interpretation

Od. 23 - "[190] A bush of long-leafed olive was growing within the court, strong and vigorous, and girth it was like a pillar. Round about this I built my chamber, till I had finished it, with close-set stones, and I roofed it over well, and added to it jointed doors, close-fitting. [195] Thereafter I cut away the leafy branches of the long-leafed olive, and, trimming the trunk from the root, I smoothed it around with the adze well and cunningly, and made it straight to the line, thus fashioning the bed-post; and I bored it all with the augur. Beginning with this I hewed out my bed, till I had finished it, [200] inlaying it with gold and silver and ivory, and I stretched on it a thong of ox-hide, bright with purple."

Question: What ruse did the Greeks use to destroy Troy ?

Answer: They used the Trojan Horse.

Question: I have commissioned four tapestries to be hand woven on the life of Penelope. We would like to incorporate imagery, iconography, symbols and attributes of her into the tapestries. Please give us some ideas as to objects that would represent her and her life that could be included into these tapestries. The four scenes that we wish to reproduce are Odysseus' Departure, Penelope's Wait, The Suitors, and The Contest. Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: What about Penelope's youth and her bethrothal? She must have been quite a girl to have so fetched the heart of Odysseus. She probably did not sit at home twiddling her thumbs. What was her education like? Did festivals and public events affect her? Odysseus found out about Penelope when he went to woo Helen. Imagine what a mess that was. Shouldn't you have a picture about that event? The most common image of Penelope is her weaving at her loom.

Question: does Penelope have a specific role in the Odyssey? does she differ from her male counter parts physically, mentally and socially? Where does her power lie in Ithaca? Does the way Homer represents her in the poem tell us anything about Odysseus and the other males involved in her production as a character and person?

Answer: This is a good paper topic that will help the writer come to a better understanding of the Odyssey. But remember that the work is not a fiction under the author's control, rather it is a spiritual truth about universal values.

Question: Where did she live?

Answer: In a Mycenaean palace on ancient Ithaca, an island on the west coast of Greece. No remains of a Mycenaean palace are found on modern day Ithaca leading one to speculate that modern and ancient Ithaca differ.

Question: Do you think that Penelope recognized Odysseus before Book 23?

Answer: Penelope seems to be aware of the difficulty that Odysseus would be in when he returns. But she is also concerned that she not be duped by an imposter. By bringing out his bow she sets up a situation where she can tell if he is an imposter, and if he is not, he will be able to deal with his adversaries.

Question: Why does Penelope entertain the suitors so long and fail to recognize Odysseus when he returns?

Answer: With Odysseus away Penelope is in charge. If she gives in to one of the suitors then she will become subservient to him. She will no longer be able to protect her son who would probably be killed. As long as she entertains the suitors then they will stick to the customs of a guest and she will remain the host in charge. If she tried to throw them out they might organize and force her to do their will. She did not want to recognize Odysseus because that would reveal him to his enemies. The suitors are potential, formidable army who have no benefit from the return of Odysseus. If he is not already dead, they would do well to kill him. And she could not afford to recognize an imposter. An imposter could easily take over and harm her family. She had to test each claimaint carefully.

Question: Can you apply Odysseus' idea of a good marriage (that the man and woman have minds in deep accord) to compare the marriage of Odysseus and Penelope, Menelaus and Helen, Alcinous and Arete, and Agamemnon and Clytemnestra?

Answer: The relation between men and women in ancient Greece was very confused with men thinking one thing and women another. In most cases neither had their way. I do not think Odysseus is a very good guide to marriage. The reason why the marriage of Odysseus lasted is because Penelope was a very talented wife and Odysseus was a man worthy of her. When I thought about why Odysseus preferred Penelope to the Goddess Calypso (and Circe, for that matter) It occurred to me that one difference between a goddess and a mortal is that a mortal can sin while a goddess cannot. Now some men prefer a sinful woman and so the marriage may have been good because Penelope liked to sin in a way that Odysseus liked. The point of this observation is that what held the two together may have nothing to do with deep mental accord. Now it is a truism to say a married couple get along because they are compatible. But this is just as true for many shallow ways as anything deep. You know this compatibility is important so who is the better judge, the couple or their parents? The most interesting aspect of the couples that you list is what system was used to determine compatibility in each case and did it work. Does this say anything about how compatibility can be found today?

Question: the treatment of women in Ancient Literature -- How is Penelope treated by society in the Odyssey? How are Penelope and Jocasta similar ?

Answer: First you should realize that society in the Odyssey is ambiguous. Is it Mycenaean society or Archaic Greek? Homer embellished the older stories with his current observations. Because of our distance it is hard for us to tell the difference. One odd connection between the two women is that the men in both cases act as if they win the woman they get the kingdom. We do not understand this. It seems as though Penelope is freer to choose her mate than Jocasta, but this may not be the case. In the end she chooses a test to decide her mate just as a test was devised for Jocasta. We would hope that personalities would make the couple compatible, and it is up to the individuals to decide what constitutes compatibility. Using a test to determine a mate seems to be a relic of Mycenaean social structure which involved goddess worship. To them the female seemed more connected to fertility than the male because of the visibility of the offspring that the women produced. And this fertility connected the female to the earth and its resources. During the Classical period the status of women was reduced because it was thought the male provided the form of the baby while the female provided only the substance. This caused the female to be disconnected from the resources of growth and production and only a separate resource. One of the purposes of sequestering the females in ancient times was so that the male knew that the offspring were formally his. So the status of women went from divine to chattel.

But if the females were sequestered as Penelope certainly was, what impact could society have had on Penelope? Though there is no emphasis on the sequestering of Jocasta, this certainly seems to have been the case. The only interaction of Penelope with society is her manipulation of her suitors by rules of etiquette which she is able to enforce by guile. Jocasta seems to be less effective in this regard. You might say that Penelope's arguments are emotional and effective while Jocata's arguments are rational and ineffective. Penelope's actions are often taken as a model of feminine behavior. Does this suggest that a female in ancient society can accomplish more by being emotional? Perhaps this is why ancient women were not schooled as often as the men.

Question: How old was Penelope when Odysseus returned back home to Ithaca?

Answer: Odysseus was one of the suitors of Helen in about 1201 BCE. He was allowed to marry Penelope at that time as a result of his assistance in providing a husband for Helen in a safe way. Penelope may have been 13 at that time as this was the normal marriage for women. So her birth might have been about 1214 BCE. Helen did not leave with Paris until about 1195 BCE. The Trojan war did not start until about 1186 BCE. So Penelope was about 28 at the start of the Trojan War. The war lasted ten years and Odysseus did not return for ten years after that. So when Odysseus returned to Ithaca in about 1166 BCE, Penelope was about 48 years old.

Question: I am doing a research project and need to know a little more about Penelope and her role in the story of Odysseus. It'd also help to know if her role still plays a part in our generations today. Such as if her part in the story is also used for plots in movies or television shows or if she is used as an inspiration for art, plays, books, etc.

So, how does Penelope still stay relevant in our generations today?

Answer: Penelope is still relevant today because she is in touch with a range of matters of importance to women. Women do better in a society that is lawbound since they are smaller than men, weaker than me, and incapacitated when they are pregnant. Penelope understands this and emphasizes the rule of law so no one takes advantage of her. Any of the suitors could have taken the law into his own hands and done what he wished but Penelope is able keep the suitors separate and responsible to the custom of the time, her best approximation of law. It is interesting how she uses feminine wiles to accomplish this. Her ability to remain feminine and still accomplish her goals is what most people find admirable. This is quite a challenge for working women today.

Works about Penelope:

Question: How is Penelope a hero and what are the characteristics?

Answer: Penelope is not a hero, rather she is a heroine. She was courageous and favored by the gods but her feats do not involve great strength or success in battle. Rather she operated through careful manipulation of her situation. She lived at a time when customs were different from what they are today. The most difficult custom she had to deal with was the fact that her person was identified with the realm that her husband ruled. Her husband was the king of the realm she was identified with. If her husband was beaten in battle she was obligated to marry the victor. If her husband died her new husband became the king of the realm. She may have had some choice as to who her husband might be, though there is some suggestion in the Odyssey that when her husband died she would return to her father's household and he would determine the new husband.

After her husband left for the Trojan War she waited for his return. After the war was over and he still did not return and no one new what happened to him so many thought he had died. Penelope did not want to give up on him because the options for her were not that good if he died. In particular her son would have been deprived of any inheritance and might have been killed had he had to deal with a step-father. So she decided to maintain a status quo. What is plain is that she loved her husband and thought little of anyone else. She had some customs against her but she decided to use others that would favor her. The single men decided that her husband might be dead and that if he was dead and she married one of them he would be king. So they descended upon her house to try to woo her. This was a problem for Penelope because she had to treat these men as guests according to the custom of the time. But for her part she was eager to point out that wooing had its own customs. She got them to compete with one another in various ways. On thing she did was to get them to give her gifts. She also seemed to flatter ones that were less dominant. Then what they wanted was for her to make a decision as to who she favored. But what she is famous for is how she put this decision off.

What she did was to declare that that she wanted to finish weaving the death shroud for her father-in-law so he would be buried properly when he died. This was a custom of the day. She was able to prolong the weaving of this shroud over three years by weaving during the day and unraveling at night. For his part her father-in-law remained alive. Finally the wooers discovered her deception and they were angered. But she continued to keep them divided until her husband finally returned. What she finally agreed to was a contest involving her husband's bow. If a man could string the bow and shoot an arrow through the holes in ax heads that had been lined up she would marry the man. She devised this scheme because she had seen her husband do this many times. This scheme worked very well because none of the wooers could even string the bow. And when Odysseus was given the bow he was able to slaughter the wooers with it.

The point of this last act was that the wooers were a small army of able men who easily could have exerted control over Penelope and her family any time they organized and took control. But Penelope kept them divided and they never controlled anything. Because of this Odysseus was able to kill them and return to being king. As an example of what could have happened there was the example of that happened to Agamemnon at the hands of Clytemnestra. Penelope is a heroine and Clytemnestra is a murderer. Clytemnestra acted like a man and was condemned for it. Penelope kept her feminine charms and used them against the wooers by manipulating the customs available to her. Penelope is a heroine and Clytemnestra is a murderer. To be a hero Penelope would have had to kill the wooers herself.

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