The wily wife: why Homer's patient, faithful Penelope is more cunning than Odysseus
is defined by her relationship to Odysseus: she is his wife, the mother of his Odysseus'3 (or Ulysses') wife as Ovid has her say: Penelope coniunx semper. Letter I: Penelope to Ulysses: Penelope, wife of Ulysses (the Greek hero of the tries to inspire him with a mutual tenderness, despite their near relationship. the Iliad and the Odyssey, Ovid sets out to share Penelope's perspective on, arguably .. utilize fully her relationship as Odysseus' wife to convince him to return.
She writes to Ulysses, complaining of his long delay, professing her own faithfulness, and speculating on the reasons for his failure to return. The Background The letter is set against the background of the Trojan War and its aftermath, and the background of the Trojan War begins with the birth of Helen of Troy--or rather, with her conception.
Jove, the king of the gods, became enamored of a human woman, Leda. Leda was married to Tyndareus, the king of Sparta in Greece, but this did not stop Jove. He took the form of a swan, and then either seduced or raped Leda.
As a result, Leda gave birth to Helen. Helen was incredibly beautiful—she was said to be the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world. Even when she was still quite young, she was kidnapped by the legendary Greek hero Theseus, although she is said to have been returned to her parents unharmed. As a young adult, she was sought as a bride by virtually every king in Greece. So Tyndareus was faced with a problem: He was the son of Laertes and the king of Ithaca. He was a redoubtable warrior, but the things he was most famous for were his cleverness, his persuasiveness, and his skill in trickery.
He wanted to marry Penelope, the daughter of Icarius, but he had been unable to persuade Icarius to give his consent. So Ulysses approached Tyndareus with a proposition: If anyone tried to take Helen away from her husband, the rest of the suitors would form a military alliance to get her back. Helen was married to Menelaus, who became king of Sparta, and remained peacefully wed to him for a number of years.
Tyndareus also kept his side of the bargain. Ulysses married Penelope and the two them settled down in Ithaca and had a son, Telemachus. But there was trouble brewing elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, was asked to settle a dispute among three goddesses. The goddess of discord, Eris, had thrown a golden apple into a group of other goddesses.
The apple was inscribed with the words "for the fairest. They appealed to Jove, the king of the gods, to settle the disagreement. Jove did not want to get involved in such a touchy matter after all, Juno was his wife, and Minerva and Venus were his daughtersand so he referred the decision to Paris, who was supposed to be wise in the ways of love and a great judge of feminine beauty.
Juno queen of the gods promised him the rulership of a kingdom; Minerva goddess of wisdom, learning, and defensive warfare promised him wisdom; and Venus goddess of love promised him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris awarded the apple to Venus. Unfortunately, the most beautiful woman in the world--the one whose love Venus had promised to Paris--was Helen.
When Paris was sent on an embassy to Sparta, he wooed Helen, and either eloped with her or abducted her, taking her back to Troy with him. Menelaus then invoked the oaths of the other suitors and assembled a great army under the command of his brother, Agamemnon.
As the army was gathering, Ulysses got involved again. There was a prophecy that the city of Troy could not be taken without the help of the great Greek warrior, Achilles. However, Achilles' mother, the sea-goddess Thetis, knew that if Achilles went to Troy he would die an early death, so she disguised him as a girl, and hid him among the maidens at the court of King Lycomedes of Scyros. Ulysses then went with a group of Greek representatives to Scyros.
He placed some fine armor and weapons among a display of feminine finery, and the disguised Achilles betrayed himself by his interest in these "masculine" items. Once Ulysses had exposed him, Achilles accompanied the other Greeks, apparently quite willingly, to Troy.
The siege of Troy lasted ten years, and Odysseus continued to distinguish himself both for courage and for cunning. Along with Diomedes, he sneaked into the camp of Troy's allies at night and slaughtered a number of the enemy, making off with the magnificent horses of Rhesus.
From Troy itself, he stole the Palladium--a sacred image of the goddess Minerva which was supposed to protect the city by its presence. After the death of Achilles, he used his eloquence to persuade the Greeks to award to him Achilles' magnificent armor, which had been manufactured by the god Vulcan. He also devised the stratagem of the the Trojan horse, by which Troy was finally taken, and he was one of the warriors who hid inside the horse as it was dragged into the city.
After Troy had been sacked and burned to the ground--and Helen had been reunited with Menelaus--the Greek forces dispersed. Many of the warriors experienced difficulties and delays on their return voyages, but none had as much trouble as Ulysses; his wanderings and struggles are the subject of Homer's Odyssey. He guided his men successfully through many perils, including the savage and cannibalistic Cyclops, Polyphemus, and the twin navigational hazards of Scylla and Charybdis.
He got them safely past the lure of the Sirens, and became the only man who had ever heard the Sirens' beautiful singing and lived to tell about it.
When he landed on Aeaea, the island of the sorceress-goddess Circe, many of his men were transformed into swine by the goddess's magic; but with the help of the god Mercury, he got her to release his men and help them on their journey--and he had a brief sexual affair with her in the process. He even visited the underworld and came back out alive. It was when he landed in Trinacia, however, that his cleverness was not enough to save the day.
Contrary to divine command given to him by the seer Tiresias, whom Ulysses had consulted in the underworldand against Ulysses' own orders, his men slaughtered some of the cattle of the sun-god Helios.
When they set sail again, Jove destroyed their ship with a thunderbolt. Only Ulysses survived, eventually washing up on the island of Ogygia, home of the goddess Calypso. Calypso was smitten with Ulysses, and kept him on the island as her lover for seven or eight years, promising him immortality if only he would consent to marry her.
Ulysses refused and continued to pine for home.
The wily wife: why Homer's patient, faithful Penelope is more cunning than Odysseus
Eventually, Jove sent Mercury to order Calypso to release him, and she helped him to build a raft to continue his journey. The god Neptune sent a storm which destroyed the raft, but once again Ulysses was washed up safely on land, this time on the island of Phaeacia. After a brief flirtation with the king's young daughter, Nausicaa, he was finally conveyed safely to Ithaca.
But his troubles were not over yet, because things had been happening in Ithaca during his absence. By now, ten years had passed since the fall of Troy, and most people assumed that Ulysses must be dead. Penelope's father, Icarius, was urging her to remarry.
However, Penelope is not without her suspicions of Odysseus, at one point wondering if he has in fact taken another lover during his absence Heroides 1. She is not able to be an active participant in what goes on around her or involved in the fate of her family members, but rather is forced to be a passive player in the role of the virgin, summed up eloquently by her son Telemachus, when he equates her to spoils of war, a common motif for maidens who were being pursued Odyssey But while Juno is a goddess possessing a vindictive and bitter nature, Penelope embodies a mortal woman who gives up her noble matrona status in order to revert back to her former state as a virgo, choosing to remain unsullied both physically and emotionally.
On the other hand, while Penelope, as a matrona, is not expected to take on the responsibilities of a virgo, Canace is the unmarried daughter of a king and is not just expected to take on such a role, but it is demanded of her by both her father and by the society in which she lives.
When she sleeps with her brother and becomes pregnant by him, she understands the societal implications and tries to hide the child from her family members, only to be found out in the end.
Her father, in apparent rage, orders the child to be exposed and his daughter to kill herself using a sword that he himself sends to her by messenger. The story told in Heroides 11 is marked by a tragedy caused by the limitations that Greek and Roman cultures placed on young women who were not yet married, forcing them to act contrary to their physical and emotional desires in order to fit into the preconceived notions of what was right and wrong for their gender.
Canace acted in an even more disgraceful way by sleeping with her brother, something that society had very mixed views upon. But for Canace herself, it is not society or its norms that prevents her from being happy with the man she loves, but it is her overbearing father who is the cause of her misery and subsequent suicide. However, when he finds out she has just given birth to an illegitimate son, he seems to lose his sanity and becomes instantly infuriated with her, seemingly for having a child out of wedlock when she was supposed to remain a virgin.
This reaction is both surprising and unusual for a king of his stature, for he could have easily either covered up the affair or simply stated that it was not a problem in his kingdom for his daughter, something that would have not been seen as particularly strange.
Penelope - Wikipedia
Ovid seems to treat the relationship between Canace and Macareus as perfectly legitimate and natural, while depicting the relationship between Canace and her father to be completely malformed and detrimental to both of them. Canace and Macareus have just given their father a grandson and all he can do think up certain death for his daughter and her child. It is not difficult to think that if Canace had an incestuous relationship with her father, she could have easily had one with her brother, and then overcome with blind rage and hatred toward her, Aeolus sends her the sword with which to kill herself.
This seems more plausible than thinking he would sacrifice his own daughter and grandchild, a potential heir, for some law of society, a society over which he rules, or for the sake of appearances or embarrassment.