Penelope: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about Penelope from Homer's Odyssey. For other usages see Penelope (disambiguation).

In Homer's Odyssey, Penelópē (Πηνελόπεια/Πηνελόπη) is the faithful wife of Odysseus, who keeps her suitors at bay in his long absence and is eventually rejoined with him. Her name has traditionally been associated with faithfulness,[1] and so it was with the Greeks and Romans, but some recent feminist readings offer a more ambiguous interpretation.[2]



The origin of her name is believed by some like Robert S. P. Beekes to be Pre-Greek and related to the Hesychius' gloss πηνέλοψ/*πηνέλωψ "some kind of bird" [3] (arbitrarily identified today with the Eurasian Wigeon, to which Linnaeus gave the binomial Anas penelope), where -έλωψ is a common pre-Greek suffix for predatory animals[4], however the semantic relation between the proper name and the gloss is not clear. Πηνελόπη is usually understood to combine the Greek word for "web" or "woof" (πήνη / pene), and the word for "eye" or "face" (ὤψ / ōps), which is considered the most appropriate for a weaver of cunning whose motivation is hard to decipher,[5] or alternatively πήνη and λέπω "peel, skive" (akin to leper) due to the shroud-unweaving mytheme.

Role in the Odyssey

Penelope is the wife of the main character, the king of Ithaca, Odysseus (Ulysses in Roman mythology), and daughter of Icarius and his wife Periboea. She only has one son by Odysseus, Telemachus, who was born just before Odysseus was called to fight in the Trojan War. She waits twenty years for the final return of her husband,[6] during which she has a hard time snubbing marriage proposals from 108[7] odious suitors (including Agelaus, Amphinomus, Ctessippus, Demoptolemus, Elatus, Euryades, Eurymachus and Peisandros, led by Antinous).

On Odysseus's return, disguised as an old beggar, he finds that Penelope has remained faithful. She has devised tricks to delay her suitors, one of which is to pretend to be weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus's elderly father Laertes and claiming that she will choose a suitor when she has finished. Every night for three years, she undoes part of the shroud, until some unfaithful maidens discover her chicanery and reveal it to the suitors.

Odysseus and Penelope by Francesco Primaticcio (1563).

Because of her efforts to put off remarriage, Penelope is often seen as a symbol of connubial fidelity. Although we are reminded several times of her fidelity, Penelope does begin to become restless (due in part to Athena's meddling), and longs to "display herself to her suitors, fan their hearts, inflame them more" (xviii.183-84).[8] As Irene de Jong comments:

As so often, it is Athena who takes the initiative in giving the story a new direction . . . Usually the motives of mortal and god coincide, here they do not: Athena wants Penelope to fan the Suitor's desire for her and (thereby) make her more esteemed by her husband and son; Penelope has no real motive . . . she simply feels an unprecedented impulse to meet the men she so loathes . . . adding that she might take this opportunity to talk to Telemachus (which she will indeed do).[9]

She is ambivalent, variously calling out for Artemis to kill her and, apparently, considering marrying one of the suitors. When the disguised Odysseus returns, she announces in her long interview with the disguised hero that whoever can string Odysseus's rigid bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe shafts may have her hand. "For the plot of the Odyssey, of course, her decision is the turning point, the move that makes possible the long-predicted triumph of the returning hero".[10]

There is debate as to whether she is aware that Odysseus is behind the disguise. To Penelope and the suitors' knowledge, Odysseus (were he in fact present) would easily surpass all in any test of masculine skill. Since Odysseus seems to be the only person (perhaps excepting Telemachus) who can actually use the bow, it could merely have been another delaying tactic of Penelope's.

When the contest of the bow begins, none of the suitors is able to string the bow, but Odysseus does, and wins the contest. Having done so, he proceeds to slaughter the suitors- Antinous first who he finds drinking from Odysseus' cup - with help from Telemachus, Athena and two servants, Eumaeus the swineherd and Philoetius the cowherd. Odysseus has now revealed himself in all his glory, (with a little makeover by Athena) and it is standard (in terms of a recognition scene) for all to recognize him and be happy. Penelope, however, cannot believe that her husband has really returned—she fears that it is perhaps some god in disguise as Odysseus, as was the case in the story of Alcmene—and tests him by ordering her servant Euryclea to move the bed in their wedding-chamber. Odysseus protests that this cannot be done since he made the bed himself and knows that one of its legs is a living olive tree. Penelope finally accepts that he truly is her husband, a moment that highlights their homophrosyne (like-mindedness).

In one story of the Epic Cycle, subsequent to Odysseus' death, Penelope marries his son by Circe, Telegonus, with whom she becomes the mother of Italus. Telemachus also marries Circe when Penelope and Telemachus bring Odysseus's body to Aeaea.


Penelope's suitors were called Μνηστῆρες (Proci in Latin) by Homer.

Gold intaglio ring, Syria, last quarter of the 5th century BCE (Louvre Museum)


Penelope is immediately recognizable in Greek and Roman works, from Attic vase-paintings — the Penelope Painter is recognized by his representations of her — to Roman sculpture copying or improvising upon classical Greek models, by her seated pose, by her reflective gesture of leaning her cheek on her hand, and by her protectively crossed knees, reflecting her long chastity in Odysseus' absence, an unusual pose in any other figure.[11]


  1. ^ J.W. Mackail, with Penelope in the Odyssey (Cambridge University Press, 1916), epitomizes the traditional view of the dutiful Penelope.
  2. ^ Marylin A. Katz, Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey (Princeton University Press, 1991)
  3. ^ Γλῶσσαι.
  4. ^ lemma relating πηνέλωψ (gen. πηνέλοπος) and <χην(ά)λοπες>· ὄρνεα (predators) ποιά. ὅπερ ἔνιοι <χηναλώπεκες.
  5. ^ For the mythology of weaving, see Weaving (mythology).
  6. ^ Odysseus spends ten years in the Trojan War and ten years travelling home.
  7. ^ Homer. The Odyssey, Book XVI, in The Iliad & The Odyssey. Trans. Samuel Butler. p. 628. ISBN 9781435110434
  8. ^ Many modern readers have commented that this is not an action entertained by an ordinary Hellenic wife, but the contemplated act of a goddess: an epiphany.
  9. ^ A Narratological commentary on the Odyssey,p. 445, Irene de Jong, Cambridge University Press, 2001 ISBN 0 521 46844 2'
  10. ^ Bernard Knox, introduction to Robert Fagles's translation of The Odyssey (1996:55).
  11. ^ But compare, for an unusual exception, the seated aulos player on the "Ludovisi Throne.

Primary sources

  • Ovid, Heroides I
  • Homer, Odyssey
  • Lactantius Placidus, Commentarii in Statii Thebaida

Secondary sources

  • Finley, M.I. The World of Odysseus, London. Pelican Books (1962)
  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood retells the story of Odysseus from the point of view of Penelope.
  • Seth L. Schein, ed. (1996). Reading the Odyssey: Selected Interpretive Essays. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04440-6. 
  • del Giorgio, J.F. The Oldest Europeans A.J.Place (2006). It underlines Penelope's power and her role in a cataclysmic time.
  • Richard Heitman (2005). Taking Her Seriously: Penelope and the Plot of Homer's Odyssey. Michigan University Press, Ann Arbor. ISBN 0-472-11489-1. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



  • IPA: /pɨˈnɛləpij/


From Ancient Greek, possibly from πηνέλοψ (pēnelops), “duck”.

Proper noun




  1. (Greek mythology) The faithful wife of Odysseus.
  2. A female given name of mainly British usage.

Related terms


  • ~1608 William Shakespeare: Coriolanus: Act I, Scene III:
    You would be another Penelope; yet, they say, all the yarn she spun in Ulysses' absence did but fill Ithaca with moths.


  • Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges: A Concise Dictionary of First Names. Oxford University Press 2001.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies


Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Aves
Subclassis: Carinatae
Infraclassis: Neornithes
Parvclassis: Neognathae
Ordo: Galliformes
Familia: Cracidae
Genus: Penelope
Species: P. albipennis - P. argyrotis - P. barbata - P. dabbenei - P. jacquacu - P. jacucaca - P. marail - P. montagnii - P. obscura - P. ochrogaster - P. ortoni - P. perspicax - P. pileata - P. purpurascens - P. superciliaris


Penelope Merrem, 1786


Avium rariorum et minus cognitarum icones et descriptiones collectae e germanicus latinae factae. fasc.2 p.39

Simple English


Penelope is a person in Greek mythology. She is the wife of Odysseus of Ithaca and mother of Telemachos. She became a symbol for the faithful wife.

When her husband Odysseus was on his long journey home, many people thought he was dead. Because of this many suitors came who wanted to marry Penelope, because then they would own her land and wealth, and become king of Ithaca. Penelope thinks of several tricks so that she does not have to marry one of the suitors. One trick is that she tells the suitors that she will first weave a cloth for the funeral of Odysseus' father, and when she was finished she would marry one of the suitors. But every night she undoes her weaving again, so that she never finishes it.

When Odysseus finally comes back after twenty years, he and his son Telemachos kill the suitors.

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