The Odyssey: Book 1 lines 337-344

Penelope and the Suitors by John William Water...

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This passage entails Penelope‘s rebuke of her herald Phemius who is acting as a bard to the suitors in her house. Notably, before we the audience actually see Penelope herself, we hear her words. Here as ever throughout the Odyssey, Penelope is the female counterpart of her husband Odysseus. Namely, just as he is adept at using cunning words to get others to do what he wants, so also is Penelope. We the audience know however because the suitors are there in Penelope’s house, the house of Odysseus, that she is not entirely getting her way. Hence her rebuke of the herald turned bard Phemius flatters him as it corrects.

First, Penelope reminds Phemius that he can sing about other entertaining topics (πολλὰ γὰρ ἄλλα βροτῶν θελκτήρια) and then she suggests that he should let these people drinking wine remain in silence (οἱ δὲ σιωπῇ οἶνον πινόντων). The suitors themselves are by implication beneath the dignity of either Penelope herself or Phemius to deign to talk about.

Odyssey children'sbook

Odyssey children'sbook

The next lines, specifically lines 342-344, succinctly characterize the plight of Penelope which is central to this epic. Her grief is never-ending because Odysseus has not yet returned. One should bear in mind that the heart is the ancients’ seat of reason and of the mind; the liver is the seat of emotion to the ancients. Hence Penelope says here she is constantly troubled in her mind; her emotions, whatever they may be, are not the business of her subordinates. Yet her emotions we the audience are also meant to guess from the way Penelope refers to the glories of her husband.

As in many languages, the word man also means husband, as it surely does here in the genitive form ἀνδρός. Yet the reference to the glory κλέος of her husband Odysseus also emphasizes Penelope’s own status. In ancient Greek society, especially that of the Homeric epics, glory κλέος implied political clout. Throughout the Greek world (Ἑλλάς) and even among the the pre-eminent Greeks of the Pelopennesus, Odysseus is a figure of renown and therefore of political power. As his wife, that power carries over to Penelope herself.We the audience are reminded of her royal status, in sharp contrast with the uppity suitors with whom her house is beset.

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