Penelope’s Odyssey

Our seminar will consider Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey. Homer represents her as a charismatic force, entirely equal if often opposite to her husband Odysseus. Like Odysseus, Penelope is famous for her wiles and powerful intelligence. Like Odysseus, she appears as a figure who is both hated and loved by the Olympian gods. Unlike Odysseus, however, Penelope is a woman who remains responsible for the nurturing (indeed, the very survival) of her son and for the preservation of her home. Ultimately, Penelope’s constancy stands in poignant, deliberate counterpoint to Odysseus’s wanderings and adventures. In this seminar, we will consider the poetic representation of Penelope’s complex interiority with special attention to some of the remarkable similes in the closing episodes of the epic. We will examine the ways in which the Odyssey defines and blurs gender identity in the figure of Penelope, and we will conclude by asking what marriage – as an institution and as a poetic symbol – might mean in the epic.