Penelope, and some other stuff

Odysseus is my favourite hero in all of Greek mythology. Actually the rest of them kind of piss me off. Theseus, Perseus, beef-witted Ajax, Paris who is a self-centered ass, and Achilles who is a great big douche. I’m quite fond of the Trojan Hector and he gets treated with the utmost contempt, dragged around in the dust behind a chariot after he is killed. Achilles is the one driving the chariot.

It’s Odysseus’s reluctance to be a hero that I love. He’s a homebody who would rather stay at home on his island with his wife and son, and let the world go on without him. He even feigns insanity to get out of going, much like conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War showed up for examination after starving themselves for weeks and not bathing. He is a warrior but he would rather not go to war. He is clever but I believe he would rather use his intellect for problem-solving- maybe improving methods of plowing fields or figuring out crop rotation and fertilization- rather than engineering weapons of mass destruction. His way of getting the Greeks inside the walls of Troy is one big trick- difficult to pull off, over-the-top, and ridiculously arrogant- but it works. His fooling of poor Polyphemus the Cyclops, is another. “I am nobody.” “Who blinded you Polyphemus?” “Nobody. Nobody did it!”

He is a trickster, like Loki who is another personal favorite. All he wants to do is get back to his island. He spends years (10!) trying to get there but the Gods play their own tricks on him. Because the Gods are assholes too.

His partner, his equal in all things wily, is his wife Penelope whose name has become synonymous with faithfulness but maybe it should be for intellect matched with an arrogance that placed her (in her own mind) so far above the 108 suitors who laid siege to her affections during those long 10 years. For three of those years she weaves a funeral shroud for her father-in-law (who I guess is refrigerated somewhere) and unpicks her work every night. Not only does she have to devise tricks to keep all these men at bay but she also has to feed and entertain them. Definitely tasks on par with Odysseus’s troubles with Scylla, Charybdis et al.

I love Penelope because she is one of the few female characters you get a sense of. Yes, Helen was gorgeous and caused a war. But. So what? And? And, nothing. Though now that I am older I have a little sympathy for her, being pulled here and there, caught between two men who never saw her beyond her beauty. I can see how that would be a total drag.

But Penelope is pro-active. And I bet she got off on stalling everyone and devising new tricks. She got used to setting impossible tests like stringing a massive war bow and then having to shoot an arrow through twelve ax handles. I’ve got nothing but respect for a mind that works like that. She could have been a writer. And she becomes so enamored of her tricksy behavior that when Odysseus finally makes it home, tattered and worn and half the hunk he was before (until at least, Athena who favours him, gives him a little clean-up and sexy glamour), she tests him too. Because ya know, he hasn’t been tested enough yet.

The other thing I admire about Penelope is she waits and she never gives up. She knows she is in a bad position. She is a rich woman with an absent presumed dead husband and she has no rights. In some ways she could have been as much of a pawn as Helen was, but she isn’t. She sees what she can control and she focuses there.

So, of course, this makes me think of my own life and all that I am waiting for.

Waiting for:

the new tooth to come in
the check to arrive
the book to sell
him to get a clue
inspiration to hit
the weather to cool
a walk on the beach
a letter back
that kiss

See? what a neat list. The thing about waiting though, is sometimes it becomes all you do and you miss all kinds of stuff. So I write down my list, and then I go away and forget about it, until I need to refer to it again. And half the time I am so caught up in other things happening, that it quite goes out of my mind.

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One Response to Penelope, and some other stuff

  1. Kath Langrish says:

    Lovely post, Jo – and I like your analysis of Penelope. The Odyssey is crammed with strong women, isn’t it? Calypso, Circe, Nausicaa, Athena, Penelope – and it’s full of domestic interiors and women’s work – it makes me think Robert Graves might have been right when he thought it could have been written by a woman.