The narrative of Homer’s Odyssey is mostly formulated with Odysseus’ travels and triumphs over obstacles, but also makes room for the relationship between Odysseus and his wife, Penelope. The conflicts and limitations both counterparts of the marriage face are integral to the story and their own character. Odysseus spends twenty years returning to his home in Ithaca as the Trojan War has come to an end.
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During this journey, Odysseus encounters and comes into conflicts with both mortals and gods, but is able to overcome them due to his determination and wit. Similarly, Penelope faces trouble as during Odysseus’ departure, she is pursued by a substantial number of suitors. Additionally, she has no reason to believe that Odysseus is still alive after such a long absence. However, as Odysseus is able to return, Penelope is able to resist and trick the suitors, thereby staying unmarried upon Odysseus’ return.
Elements in the story suggest that Odysseus and Penelope are more similar in character than may be obvious at first. They share a number of characteristics that they use to their advantage. The first is their ability to endure hardship with both physical and emotional strength. This perseverance is constructed on the basis of dedication to one another, as Penelope even claims she wishes that “chaste Artemis would give [her] a death so soft” in the case that she has to be married to anyone else but Odysseus (Homer, 1919). Her tenaciousness is also seen in the undoing of a web, as she has promised that when it is complete she will consider marriage.
However, she spends the night sundoign her own efforts. Odysseus is fought by both gods and humans, tempted by goddess nymphs, and loses years in his travels. Despite this, he is able to persevere and return home.
Both Penelope and Odysseus excel at continuing to hold onto their hope. For Odysseus, it is to return home, and for Penelope, it is to believe that her husband is alive and will come back to her. As such, aspects of their hope and their identities are ingrained in each other. Penelope’s hope is represented with her “with enduring heart”, and it fuels the patience of her waiting (Homer, 1919). For Odysseus, Penelope is a representation of home, and therefore, his return to her is the sole motivator of his actions.
Intelligence, or wit, is another shared quality of both Odysseus and Penenlope, which they both utilize to its full potential and it guarantees their triumph over antagonists in their respective journeys. Odysseus uses wiliness to outsmart enemies that pose a threat to his life, such as in the case of Polyphemos, where Odysseus is able to outwit him by stating that “nobody is my name” (Homer, 1919).
During his fight with the Cyclops, Odysseus was able to defeat them due to his idea to turn to “planning so that things would come out the best way” (Homer, 1919). Penelope’s trickery is not only in her scheme with the loom but in a number of other ideas with which she tests Odysseus upon his return. First, she hosts a competition she knows only he can pass and after that, she questions him regarding details of the construction of their marriage bed which she knows only Odyessus could be aware of. As such, Odysseus and Penelope share a number of vital traits, but implement them in slightly different ways.
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Homer. The Odyssey. G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1919.