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The wife of Odysseus gets to tell her side...
on 29 April 2015
A woman's look at The Odyssey.
I've read the Iliad and Odyssey, but a while ago. The details of Odysseus's wife and her life aren't too clear, though I remember the main story - left for 20 years by her husband off to the Trojan wars, Penelope must use her wiles to dissuade her many suitors from forcing her hand and making her remarry.
Here she tells her story, from a childhood in luxury (though a parental attempted murder mars things somewhat) to her early marriage and short blissful honeymoon period to her many, many years alone with her maids and small son, through to the clamouring and greedy suitors desperate to marry into her money. And her husband's ill-fated return.
Penelope is a convincing queen, naive at the start, growing in confidence and intelligence as her situation forces her to take control. Her story is interspersed with her Chorus of 12 Maids telling their story (of how Odysseus had them killed on his return). The reason for this is explained away her as their innocence is argued by the author. How she does this is brilliant - their short interludes contain not only a typical lament and idyll, but also take the form of a rope-jumping rhyme, a popular tune, sea shanty, ballad, drama, anthropology lecture, trial transcript
For of course, Penelope is talking to us from beyond the grave, she and her maids are long dead and their omniscient narration works well.
One of my favourite lines is self-referential, as the maids curse Odysseus in every way they can, in every form, inducing us also to:
“Dog his footsteps, on Earth or in Hades… in songs and in plays… in marginal notes and in appendices!”
This is a short work (less than 150 pages), but a lovely companion piece to the much more weighty Odyssey, and does give pause for thought about the treatment of women in Greek myth, and how fair it may or may not be.