Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Penelope and Odysseus
Penelope gained fame as the faithful wife who thwarted suitors and awaited her husband for the twenty years it took him to fight the Trojan War and return home to their kingdom by the sea. The war lasted ten years, so why did it take Odysseus twenty? The Odyssey relates the story.
“Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.”
After playing a key role in the Greek defeat of the Trojans, Odysseus was all set to make it back home to Ithaca within a few weeks. Unfortunately, he made the egregious error of offending the powerful god of the sea, Poseidon. These days our society is rampant with political correctness and the need not to offend. So what did such an offense look like around 1150 BCE? After being at the mercy of a gigantic ravenous cyclops, Odysseus freed his remaining men by tricking the cyclops and then taunting him once they were safely out of danger. Not cool. Said cyclops turned out to be Poseidon’s son and prayed to his father for Odysseus to wander the earth for many years. “Done,” agreed father who, as a Trojan supporter, held a grudge against Odysseus anyway.
Odysseus’ return home was fraught with all sorts of interesting, horror laden, and disastrous episodes and took ten years instead of three weeks. Good thing or we wouldn’t have The Odyssey. I should point out that numerous episodes involved seductive women such as Sirens,
“No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song—and he who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the whole world.”
the powerful witch Circe,
“When they reached Circe’s house they found it built of cut stones, on a site that could be seen from far, in the middle of the forest. There were wild mountain wolves and lions prowling all round it—poor bewitched creatures whom she had tamed by her enchantments and drugged into subjection.”
and the hypnotic nymph Calypso.
“As she spoke she drew a table loaded with ambrosia beside him and mixed him some red nectar.”
As a man Odysseus didn’t have to be technically faithful to his wife. For reader sympathy, he just had to be more or less headed back toward her direction. Besides, he honestly was under magical spells most of the time.
Meantime, Penelope thwarted greedy suitors by promising to choose a husband when she finished her tapestry, but each night unraveling the sewing she had performed that day. The suitors grew angrier as the years passed and the desperate subterfuge continued.
“It is your mother’s fault not ours, for she is a very artful woman. This three years past, and close on four, she had been driving us out of our minds, by encouraging each one of us, and sending him messages without meaning one word of what she says. And then there was that other trick she played us. She set up a great tambour frame in her room, and began to work on an enormous piece of fine needlework.”
When Odysseus finally washed up on the shores of Ithaca, he was the only one left of his men. All the rest had perished along the way. After fighting off the 108 suitors clamoring for Penelope and the throne, Odysseus resumed his rightful place as king. In my mind he and Penelope lived out the rest of their lives in blissful marital harmony. They deserved it.
“Happy Odysseus, son of Laertes,” replied the ghost of Agamemnon, “you are indeed blessed in the possession of a wife endowed with such rare excellence of understanding, and so faithful to her wedded lord as Penelope the daughter of Icarius. The fame, therefore, of her virtue shall never die, and the immortals shall compose a song that shall be welcome to all mankind in honour of the constancy of Penelope.”
Cheers & Happy Reading!
Flossie Benton Rogers, Conjuring the Magic with Paranormal Fantasy Romance