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.
(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,  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.
Click on one of the following to see a picture of
More recent pictures of Penelope:
- Odyssey: A Journey Back Home (1997), VHS. Ulysses, king of Ithaca, has just won the Trojan War. Now he wants to return home to his beloved wife, Penelope, & son, Telemachus. A new look at this classic tale of faith, courage, patience & family unity. For children.
- Van Nortwick, Thomas, The Unknown Odysseus, University of Michigan, 2008
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
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:
Question: Is Penelope a conventional greek women or is she the one who break
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
Question: How is Penelope different from the role of women in Ancient Greek to
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
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
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
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
Then she refers to Odysseus as,
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
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
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
Question: What is penelope’s personality like?
Answer: She is referred to as constant Penelope. She was intelligent and
obviously a talented weaver.
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
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?
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
Question: Can I have more information on Penelope goddess of fate?
Answer: Penelope seems to be confused with the goddess of fate because both
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
Question: Do you have a picture of Laertes? I need it asap
Answer: These represent the way the Greeks would have imaged him:
- Old man (Laertes)
- warrior leaving home (Laertes and Odysseus)
- man holding branches (Laertes in his garden)
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:
Question: what was penelope weaving at the time she was
Answer: A shroud for her father in law.
Question: How would you compare and contrast Penelope and
Answer: Penelope was a constant goal to a wandering man. Calypso was a
wavering diversion for a man who was stuck.
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
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?
- a long descriptive poem,
- composed within an oral tradition,
- words are chosen according to a traditional scheme,
- the rhythm and rhyme is chosen according to a traditional scheme,
- describes ancient heroes and their adventures.
Question: What did Odysseus wear?
- When he arrived in Phaecia he was naked.
- Nausicaa gave him soft robes to wear.
- When he arrived in Ithaca he put on rags as a disguise.
- When he fought the wooers he put on armour.
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?
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
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
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.
Od. 23 – “ 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.  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,  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
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
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:
- Monteverdi’s opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, produced at Venice in 1640.
- PENELOPE, Film by Ben Ferris
- The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus, by Margaret Atwood
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.