The Odyssey



Penelope, the long-suffering wife of Odysseus, is the embodiment of womanly virtues and unwavering fidelity. The story of the duplicitous Clytemnestra, related early in the poem, underscores the strength of Penelope’s faithfulness to her husband. While Clytemnestra betrayed her husband immediately after he went off to war, Penelope remains devoted to Odysseus without laying eyes on him for twenty years. In addition to being incredibly loyal, devoted, and patient, Penelope is also—like her husband—extremely clever. She delays choosing a suitor through the ingenious tactic of promising to choose one as soon as she has finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, but she unravels the shroud each night so that it will never be finished. Toward the end of the poem, she proposes another ingenious delaying tactic: that she will choose to marry the man who can string her husband’s bow, an impossible task for anyone but Odysseus. Finally, Penelope uses her wit on Odysseus himself when she orders a maid to move the marriage bed. She knows that if Odysseus is who he says he is, he will know that the bed cannot be moved. Penelope’s intelligence matches her husband’s, making her—if not, in fact, a goddess—a more than worthy partner for the hero.

Sign up to continue reading Penelope >

Essays About The Odyssey