Penelope in the Odyssey

Essay by pvflygirl April 2004

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Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, can be contrasted in various ways to the other characters in Homer's poem The Odyssey. In many ways, Penelope embodies the "ideal" woman, in that she conforms to the values and ideals of her society. These ideals include faithfulness, loyalty, willpower, long-suffering, pride in one's home and family, and hospitality to strangers.

The majority of the other characters in the poem lack one or more of these attributes. Although Odysseus proves to be a character of strong will and determination throughout the Trojan War and the trials he endured at sea, he demonstrates weakness and wavering resolve when he is faced with sexual temptation. For example, when enticed by Circe to "mingle and make love," Odysseus submits to her appeals and enters her "flawless bed of love," thus committing adultery against his wife Penelope (Book X). When Circe tells Odysseus to remain with her, he "could not help consenting."

Odysseus remains with Circe and continues to be unfaithful to Penelope for the duration of a year. It is only after hearing the appeals of his men that Odysseus decides to head back out to sea. Later, Odysseus has another adulterous relationship with the nymph Kalypso. This relationship endures for seven years. Throughout his stay on Kalypso's island, Odysseus weeps for Penelope, yet he continues to lie with Kalypso every night (Book V). In contrast, Penelope exemplifies tremendous will power and resourcefulness in that she remains faithful to Odysseus throughout his exile. While awaiting her husband's return, Penelope endures perpetual insolence and sexual advances from the suitors who invade her household. Penelope rebuffs the advances of the suitors and remains a devoted and faithful wife. Deferring the suitors is no easy task; therefore Penelope is very resourceful and goes to great lengths to postpone marriage to...