The Odyssey Book 2: lines 96-102

Antinous

Antinous (Photo credit: █ Slices of Light █▀ ▀ ▀)

The speech of Antinous, the leader of the suitors, continues in these lines, as it will in the lines of the Odyssey that follow. What stands out in this passage is first that Antinous seeks to speak badly of Penelope so that the audience should be asking again why he and the other suitors wish to marry her then. The theme that the suitors are rebels against the kingship of Odysseus in Ithaca who are trying to usurp a position that is simply beyond them continues. One should always bear in mind that Penelope is just as much a hero, in the sense of Greek religion, as are either Odysseus or Telemachus. As a queen, especially as a ruling queen, she makes decisions which have a major impact of the lives of everyone in the kingdom. She is a hero too, namely a demi-god. The suitors are all too flawed and human. They are not up to ruling a kingdom.

Gold ring representing Penelope waiting for Od...

Gold ring representing Penelope waiting for Odysseus. Syria, last quarter of the 5th century BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, Penelope shows herself to be the feminine counterpart of Odysseus as well as his faithful wife. The heroic trait which defines Odysseus is his craftiness, especially that he is a consummate liar who gets away with it. He was after all, the person who thought of the stratagem of using the Trojan horse. So, here from the mouth of the chief suitor, we the audience hear that Penelope deceived the suitors by claiming to accept that Odysseus is dead and that she should marry one of the suitors and then saying that the wedding would have to wait until after we finished weaving the burial shroud of Laertes, Odysseus’ father; of course, she would weave it during the day and then unweave it again at night. She managed to continue this for four years. We the audience are not told exactly how Penelope has continued to rule alone for the other six years but she has. The obvious implication is that she used her intellect and outsmarted the suitors.

Of course, the Greek attitude towards women (which is often downright misogynistic) should also be borne in mind in this passage. Being outsmarted by a “mere” woman would bring the suitors’ manhood into question. Likewise, an ancient Greek listener would be likely to wonder how Antinous and the other suitors expect to rule a kingdom if they cannot even control its queen.

Looking though at the Odyssey as a product of the Mycenaean Greek of Greek history, I suspect that this unflattering interpretation developed latter in the proto-Classical period. Personally I doubt that the people from whom the stories that later became the Iliad and the Odyssey originated shared the disparaging attitudes toward women that their cultural descendants did. Penelope is a woman one can and should respect and admire. Again, like the men in her family, she too is a hero and hence a cut above other people. She is in every way Odysseus’ equal and the suitors’ superior.

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