Guid Essay

Guid Essay

Odyssey As The True Hero Of Ithaca – Free Essay Example

In a vast majority of ancient Greek epics, males tend to be the heroes of the stories. The Iliad and the Odyssey are perfect examples of male characters being the main heroes in each respectable epic. In Homer’s, The Odyssey Odysseus is proclaimed to be the main hero of this epic. Though the Odyssey is centralized around Odysseus’s character and his voyage of returning home thus making him the automatic hero of the story, is it possible that he isn’t necessarily the only hero of this epic? Males have always been given the role of the hero in many of these epics. Be that it may, female characters do however provide guidance and aid to these men along their journeys such as Athena the goddess of warfare and wisdom who helps aid Odysseus on his voyage back home, however, she is still regarded to be a side character or even a side heroin, never fully given the spotlight she deserves. Though Athena would be a perfect candidate for being a heroine in the Odyssey, she is a goddess with divine power making her ineligible to be a true heroine to the human world. Penelope, however, is a true hero in the Odyssey, known as Odysseus’s wife Penelope is often disregarded by the men around her and is never taken seriously as a character. Penelope is a true hero in Odyssey due to her demonstration of cleverness and faithfulness, two qualities that Odysseus lacks as a hero.

Before analyzing Penelope’s role in the Odyssey it is important to establish the role and treatment of women during Ancient Greece. Women were often regarded as objects to their fathers or husbands, in Ancient Greece from Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times by Thomas R. Martin, it points out how often women after marriage were legal wards to their husbands the same way they were to their fathers before marriage and had no choice in who they marry (68). This is shown in The Penelopiad which depicts the story of the Odyssey through Penelope’s eyes: “Through my veil, I studied the young men milling around down below, trying to figure out who each one was and – a thing of no practical consequence, since it wasn’t up to me to choose my husband which one I preferred.” (Atwood 34:40-54). Helene Whittaker also points out that “Women of the upper classes are most often described as being busy at the loom or occupied with some other form of textile work.” (Whittaker 35). This is also shown in the Odyssey several times when Penelope is “working” on Laertes’ burial shroud. It’s important to establish the role and treatment of women during this time because it demonstrates the role Penelope is forced into due to the stigma of men assigning her worth right after birth and with the many men seeing her as just a piece of property causing them to fail in seeing her as a wise clever woman that helps makes her a true heroine. Even though Penelope does fit into this typical role for women. Penelope’s case is somewhat different from the typical lives of women during ancient Greece since she is the queen of Ithaca and as Clark and Schwiebert point out she “must be relatively safe, can easily be interrupted and resumed, and must require minimal movement from home” (164). Due to this Penelope must be able to follow and comply with these rules set on women, but with an absent husband not there to rule the kingdom, Penelope is left all alone to rule over the kingdom and through her cleverness she is able to do so while following the rules set on her. Though Penlope’s cleverness as a leader isn’t necessarily explicitly said in the Odyssey we can look at the moment when Odysseus is asking his mother if Penelope is taking care of Telemachus and if she is already married to which his mother responded that:

She stays firm. Her heart

Is strong. She is still in your house. And all

Her nights are passed in misery, and days

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In tears. But no one has usurped your throne.

Telemachus still tends the whole estate

Unharmed and feats in style, as a lord should do,

And he is always asked to council meetings. (Homer 11.181-87)

Now here it seems that Penelope is spending her time filling in the role of a typical woman during this time by crying for her lost husband, while her son handles what is considered a “man’s” business. However, Odysseus asks his mother if Penelope is taking care of their son to which his mother says she’s firm, her heart is strong and she remains in Ithaca, this could suggest that Penelope is helping her son run the whole estate as well. This can further be proven if we look at Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Penelope talks about how during Odysseus’s disappearance she began to take action and ruled over the estate “Through my steward, I traded for supplies, and soon had a reputation as a smart bargainer. Through my foreman, I oversaw the farms and the flocks and made a point of learning about such things as lambing and calving, and how to keep a sow from eating her farrow” (Atwood 1:34:00-49) she says she took pride in that especially when people would come to her for advice, she wanted to build up Odysseus’s son when he comes back “with womanly modesty revealing to him how well I had done at what was usually considered a man’s business.” (Atwood 1:34:00-49). With the help of this passage it can be easily be said that though Telemachus may seem to be the ruler of the kingdom at the moment by taking care of the estate, he is only the poster boy for what’s going on with Penelope through her cleverness as a leader is helping her son out as well as keeping the estate running using her male workers to help her execute her plans to make the estate thrive thus showing she is a heroine in the Epic while maintaining and breaking the roles she was ascribed at birth.

For a moment Penelope’s plans are working according to plan until the suitors arrive and begin to take advantage of Penelope’s hospitality as well as pressure her into remarrying. Through this event Penelope demonstrates her cleverness which is shown through her scheme of unweaving her father-in-law’s burial shroud:

I have worked hard to weave this wind-sheet

To bury good Laertes when he dies.

He gained such wealth, the women would reproach me

if he were buried with no shroud. Please let me

finish it! And her words made sense to us.

So every day she wove the mighty cloth,

And then at night by torchlight, she unwove it.

For three long years, her trick beguiled the Greeks. (Homer 2.101-08)

Through her cleverness, Penelope is able to prolong her marriage to any of the suitors for three long years by unweaving all of her long hard work, this ensures that the suitors won’t turn into her enemies due to her lack of anticipation to remarry which can cause them to bring an army of their troops to Ithaca. Lisa Pace Vetter points out the importance of Penelope’s weaving and the symbolism it has throughout the epic as well as how the shroud is a web covering the kingdom to protect it (33). This shows that Penelope is, in fact, a heroine due to her cleverness in maintaining and protecting her kingdom at all cost, even when the suitors find out about her plan after three long years she still manages to keep things under control and hold them off from forcing her to marry one of them.

One last act of cleverness that Penelope displays as a heroin is recognizing Odysseus as the beggar. Now in the Odyssey Penelope is shown to not “recognize” her husband as a beggar but many scholars such as Peter W. Rose suggest that Penelope knows that Odysseus was the beggar and in fact, she also knew of Odysseus’s plan on slaughtering the suitors. (Rose 124). In The Penelopiad, Penelope mentions Odysseus’s appearance and how his legs are short compared to the rest of the men “he legs of Odysseus were quite short in relation to his body. It was all right when he was sitting down, you didn’t notice, but standing up he looked top-heavy.” (Atwood 36:43-51). Once Odysseus returns to Ithaca disguised as a beggar and encounters Penelope she is able to identify it was him based on his legs and torso: “His disguise was well enough done I hoped the wrinkles and baldness were part of the act, and not real but as soon as I saw that barrel chest and those short legs I had a deep suspicion, which became a certainty when I heard he’d broken the neck of a belligerent fellow panhandler.” (Atwood 2:20:32-51).

Penelope is clever enough to be able to uncover Odysseus’s disguise based on his physical appearance as well as his actions. People would argue that if Penelope knew that this was her husband why didn’t she tell anyone. There are two reasons for this one of which is by not exposing Odysseus she is able to allow the suitors to try and draw from Odysseus’s bow and shot through the twelve axes, so once Odysseus takes his turn everyone will know he’s back and it will allow the slaughter of the suitors to occur, thus proving she knew of Odysseus’s plan through being clever. The second reason is Penelope is trying to ensure to Odysseus that she has been faithful. This can be shown in Homer’s The Odyssey when she talks to Odysseus in disguise, she tells him that she’s Odysseus causing her heart to melt and even though Odysseus is “dead” she won’t marry and she “spin schemes” (19.138-142). These two reasons illustrates Penelope’s cleverness by allowing Odysseus to remain in disguise she is able to ensure that the suitors don’t kill Odysseus and ruin the plan on killing all the suitors as well as she is able to clear her name by ensuring that if Odysseus doesn’t know that she knows it him she is able to clear her name of any type of infidelity thus showing that through her cleverness she is, in fact, a heroine by protecting Odysseus and herself.

Penelope’s character demonstration of faithfulness also illustrates the fact that she is a heroine. One thing Odysseus lacks is faithfulness; this is shown multiple times throughout his act of infidelity with the Goddesses Circe and Calypso while on his journey back home to his kingdom of Ithaca. While Odysseus is out committing multiple acts of infidelity, Penelope manages to keep her herself faithful to her husband. This is important to consider that her faithfulness does, in fact, make her a heroine due to by keeping herself true to Odysseus it shows her self sacrifice of her own needs to her husband and kingdom. In order to remain faithful Penelope comes up with many different types of schemes, one of which we discussed already was unweaving of her fathers-in-law: By day I wove the web, and in the night by torchlight, I unwove it.” (Homer 19.148-9). Now though this act displays Penelope’s cleverness in keeping her kingdom in order, it also helps illustrate her faithfulness to her husband. Penelope is given the chance to remarry and move forward with her life even her parents try and persuade her into remarrying (Homer 19.156-7) but Penelope refuses to betray her husband or his memory and by being faithful she is protecting her kingdom from the potential threat of the suitors bringing in an army to ransack Ithaca. Another scheme Penelope comes up with is shooting an arrow through twelve axes. With the pressure from the suitors becoming even more intense, in a last-ditch effort in trying to remain faithful, Penelope tasks the suitors into a challenge that whoever can string Odysseus’s bow and fire an arrow through twelve axes will be her husband:

You want to marry me. I am the prize.

So I will set a contest. This great bow

belonged to Odysseus.

If anyone can grasp it in his hands

and string it easily, and shoot through all

twelve axes, I will marry him. And leave

this beautiful rich home. I think I will

remember it forever, even in

my dreams. (Homer 21.69-77)

Penelope knows that none of the suitors will be able to sting and shoot through the axes except for Odysseus thus securing that none of them will marry her leaving her to remain faithful to her husband. Martin Stienruck does point out that Odysseus is in the room with the rest of the suitors but disguised as a beggar, Penelope does sense that the beggar may be Odysseus so to ensure that it’s him she does the Archery contest in the hopes it is her husband who will win. (Stienruck 114). Penelope’s faithfulness to her husband labels her a heroine in this epic due to by being faithful she is sacrificing her own life to protect her kingdom and stay by her husband’s side, meanwhile, Odysseus’s infidelity is mainly for his own self-interest and pleasure regardless of the feeling and danger it will cause him and his people.

Penelope’s cleverness and faithfulness helps demonstrate herself to be a true heroine along with the other main heroes of this Epic. Throughout the Odyssey and The Penelopiad Penelope’s character has done many heroic deeds from helping her kingdom, estate, and son, to figuring out schemes to ensure her kingdom is safe, protecting Odysseus’s identify when disguised as the beggar and sacrificing her own free will by remaining faithful to her husband while he was gone for 20 years. Through these heroic deeds alongside her cleverness and faithfulness prove she is worthy of being deemed a true heroine in the Odyssey alongside many of the main characters.

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