Penelope

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Penelope

Nationality/Culture

Greek/Roman

Pronunciation

puh-NEL-uh-pee

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Homer's Odyssey

Lineage

Daughter of Icarius and Periboea

Character Overview

The wife of the hero Odysseus (pronounced oh-DIS-ee-uhs) in Greek mythology , Penelope was celebrated for her faithfulness, patience, and feminine virtue. For the twenty years that her husband was away during and after the Trojan War, Penelope remained true to him and helped prevent his kingdom from falling into other hands.

Penelope's parents were Prince Icarius (pronounced i-KAHR-ee-uhs) of Sparta and Periboea (pronounced pehr-ee-boh-EE-uh), a nymph, or female nature deity. Periboea hid her infant daughter as soon as she was born, knowing that Icarius had wanted a son. As soon as Icarius discovered the baby girl, he threw her into the sea to drown. But a family of ducks rescued her, and seeing this as an omen, or a sign from the gods, Icarius named the child Penelope (after the Greek word for “duck”) and raised her as his favorite child.

When Penelope reached womanhood, Odysseus asked for her hand in marriage. Although reluctant to part with his daughter, Icarius agreed, and Penelope went with her new husband to his home on the island of Ithaca (pronounced ITH-uh-kuh). Penelope and Odysseus were deeply in love, so it was with great sorrow that Odysseus later left her and their infant son, Telemachus (pronounced tuh-LEM-uh-kuhs), to fight in the Trojan War.

The Trojan War lasted ten years, and it took Odysseus another ten years to get home to Ithaca. During that time, Penelope received the attentions of many suitors. For a while, she put them off by saying that she would consider marriage only after she finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes (pronounced lay-UR-teez), who was grieving over Odysseus's absence. Each day Penelope would sit weaving the cloth, but at night she would secretly unravel her work. After three years, a servant revealed Penelope's secret, and she had to finish the shroud. When her suitors became insistent again, Penelope announced that she would marry the man who could string a bow that Odysseus had left behind, and shoot an arrow through the loops on a row of twelve axe heads.

Unknown to Penelope, Odysseus had arrived home disguised as a beggar. He wanted to review the situation in his kingdom before revealing his return. The disguised Odysseus won the archery contest and then killed all the suitors with help from his son Telemachus. At first Penelope would not believe that Odysseus was her husband, for the gods had hidden his identity from her. However, Odysseus revealed his true identity by telling Penelope a secret about their marriage that only they knew—that one leg of their bed was made from a still-living olive tree— and the loving couple were finally reunited.

Penelope in Context

Penelope is generally viewed as a reflection of the ancient Greek idea of the perfect wife. She is dutiful, caring for the kingdom while Odysseus is away, and she remains faithful to him despite the many suitors that gather around her. She is also clever, as illustrated by her nightly unraveling of the shroud she weaved, as well as her statement that she would marry the man who could string Odysseus's bow, since she knew no other man could perform the feat. There are passages in the Odyssey that indicate Penelope was occasionally torn in her devotion to Odysseus, and was even considering choosing one of the suitors. However, as a woman who waited twenty years for her husband's return, fending off over one hundred suitors and enduring the vengeance of gods and goddesses, Penelope undoubtedly served as an example of what ancient Greek husbands hoped for in their wives.

Key Themes and Symbols

Penelope has traditionally been viewed as a symbol of faithfulness and fidelity. The theme of fidelity is an important part of the myth of Penelope, and is shown in her refusal to entertain other suitors in the twenty years her husband is gone. It is also shown in her attempts to keep suitors at bay by unraveling her woven cloth every night, in the hope that Odysseus would return before her trick was discovered. The marriage bed of Penelope and Odysseus also symbolizes their love, with one leg rooted deep into the ground and still alive despite the years.

Penelope in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Penelope was the subject of a 1907 opera by the same name composed by Gabriel Faure. Penelope also appears in the 2004 novel Waiting for Odysseus by Clemence McLaren, part of which is written from her point of view. In other media, the myth of Penelope was referenced in the television show Lost, in which a character named Penny (short for Penelope) loses her true love as he sails around the world; Penny's faithfulness and dedication in searching for her love leads her to the strange island where he has become trapped.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (2005) offers a darkly humorous retelling of the events of the Odyssey from Penelope's point of view. Atwood's version of the tale is quite different from the original myth, with Penelope no longer cast in the role of the eternally faithful wife.

SEE ALSO Greek Mythology; Odysseus; Odyssey, The

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Penelope

The wife of the hero Odysseus* in Greek mythology, Penelope was celebrated for her faithfulness, patience, and feminine virtue. For the 20 years that her husband was away during and after the Trojan Warf, Penelope remained true to him and helped prevent his kingdom from falling into other hands.

Penelope's parents were Prince Icarius of Sparta and the nymph Periboea. Periboea hid her infant daughter as soon as she was born, knowing that Icarius had wanted a son. As soon as Icarius discovered the baby girl, he threw her into the sea to drown. However, a family of ducks rescued her. Seeing this as an omen, Icarius named the child Penelope (after the Greek word for "duck") and raised her as his favorite child.

When Penelope reached womanhood, Odysseus asked for her hand in marriage. Although reluctant to part with his daughter, Icarius agreed, and Penelope went with her new husband to his home on the island of Ithaca. Penelope and Odysseus were deeply in love, so it was with great sorrow that Odysseus later left her and their infant son, Telemachus, to fight in the Trojan War.

nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful

omen sign of future events

The Trojan War lasted ten years, and it took Odysseus another ten years to get home to Ithaca. During that time, Penelope received the attentions of many suitors. For a while, she put them off by saying that she would consider marriage only after she finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, who was grieving over Odysseus's absence. Each day Penelope would sit weaving the cloth, but at night she would secretly unravel her work. After three years, a servant revealed Penelope's secret, and she had to finish the shroud. When her suitors became insistent again, Penelope announced that she would marry the man who could shoot an arrow through the loops on a row of 12 ax heads.

Unknown to Penelope, Odysseus had arrived home disguised as a beggar. He wanted to review the situation in his kingdom before revealing his return. The disguised Odysseus won the archery contest and then killed all the suitors with help from his son Telemachus. At first Penelope would not believe that Odysseus was her husband, for the gods had hidden his identity from her. However, Odysseus revealed his true identity by telling Penelope a secret about their marriage that only they knew, and the loving couple were finally reunited.

See also Greek Mythology; Odysseus; Odyssey, The.

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Penelope ★★½ 2006 (PG)

Modern-day retelling of an old fairy tale casts Ricci as Penelope, the lonely girl cursed with a pig's snout. Raised by overbearing and bizarre upper-crust parents (O'Hara and Grant), Penelope is presented with a long line of suitors, all of whom hope to marry into the family's wealth but immediately bail at the sight of their daughter's schnoz. Penelope soon flees to the Big Apple in search of a companion equally cursed and reviled, but instead meets Max (McAvoy), a sweet and charming rocker who sees her inner beauty instead. First-time director Mark Palansky successfully blends a sense of fantasy with the modern world, even throwing a few political jabs along the way. Still, as hard as he may try, he's no Tim Burton. 101m/C DVD . GB Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, Peter Dinklage, Richard E. Grant, Reese Witherspoon, Simon Woods, Michael Feast, Nigel Havers, Lenny Henry, Ronni Ancona; D: Mark Palansky; W: Leslie Caveny; C: Michel Amanthieu; M: Joby Talbot.

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Pénélope.
1. Opera (poème lyrique) in 3 acts by Fauré to lib. by René Fauchois. Comp. 1907–12. Prod. Monte Carlo and Paris 1913, London, 1970.

2. Opera semi-seria in 2 parts by Liebermann to text by H. Strobel. Prod. Salzburg 1954. Other operas on Penelope legend are by Monteverdi (Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria), Cimarosa, Galuppi, Piccinni, and Jommelli.

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Penelope In Greek mythology, wife of Odysseus. As described in Homer's Odyssey, she had been married for only a year when her husband left for ten years of war and ten of wandering. She remained faithful, putting off her many suitors with the promise that she would choose one when her weaving was done. By day she wove and by night she undid her work.

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Penelope in Greek mythology, the wife of Odysseus, who was beset by suitors when her husband did not return after the fall of Troy. She put them off by saying that she would marry only when she had finished the piece of weaving (Penelope's web) on which she was engaged, and every night unravelled the work she had done during the day.

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Penelope (guans) See CRACIDAE.

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