The Odyssey

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Penelope Character Analysis

Odysseus's wife and Telemachus's mother. In the beginning of the story, Penelope's most prominent qualities are passivity, loyalty, and patience (along with beauty and skill at the loom) – the age-old feminine virtues. She does very little but lie in bed and weep. But from the start we are given to understand that she possesses other hidden qualities. The trick of the loom, which she weaves and unweaves in order to hold the suitors at bay, matches the cunning of any of Odysseus's plans. Her final scene, in which she mentions the bridal bed built around the olive tree, shows her cleverness as well: she tests Odysseus just as he has tested her. Theirs is a marriage of wits.

Penelope Quotes in The Odyssey

The The Odyssey quotes below are all either spoken by Penelope or refer to Penelope. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Odyssey published in 1996.
Book 21 Quotes

Shame?...
How can you hope for any public fame at all?
You who disgrace, devour a great man's house and home!
Why hang your heads in shame over next to nothing?

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Antinous, Eurymachus
Page Number: 21.369-372
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, is in the court of Ithaca, surrounded by arrogant suitors. Odysseus asks to handle a heavy bow that--little known to anyone else--was once his property. While the suitors are reluctant to give the bow to a mere beggar, Penelope convinces them to hand it over, arguing that the suitors have already embarrassed themselves enough by squatting in another man's house. In general, she angrily criticizes the suitors for disrespecting Odysseus's memory, and abusing the sacred law of hospitality.

Penelope's speech reinforces her status as a moral center of the poem. Penelope sees firsthand the rudeness and cruelty of the suitors on her property; moreover, she's fully aware of the laws of hospitality, which the suitors are breaking by spending far too much time in the court. It's interesting to note that Penelope's criticism is enough to convince the suitors to hand over the bow to Odysseus, setting in motion the slaughter that follows. The suitors may not be good men, but they're self-aware enough to feel shame and embarrassment about some things--i.e., they know they're doing wrong by living on Odysseus's property, or at least they feel ashamed of being scolded by the woman they're trying to woo.

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Book 24 Quotes

What good sense resided in your Penelope –
how well Icarius's daughter remembered you,
Odysseus, the man she married once!
The fame of her great virtue will never die.
The immortal gods will lift a song for all mankind,
a glorious song in praise of self-possessed Penelope.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Odysseus, Penelope
Page Number: 24.213-218
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the ghost of Agamemnon, confined to the Underworld, crosses paths with the ghosts of the various suitors Odysseus has just slaughtered. Agamemnon is glad to hear that Odysseus has reclaimed his place in Ithaca, because it proves that Penelope was a good and faithful wife to him. Agamemnon was murdered by his own wife, but he's pleased to hear that Penelope really is a loyal, moral woman.

Even if Agamemnon is trapped in the Underworld forever, he's gets some relief with the knowledge that not all marriages are treacherous, and Odysseus has come to a happy ending. Furthermore, Agamemnon's speech reminds us that, in a way, Penelope is another true hero of the poem: her intelligence and faithfulness will be remembered for just as long as Odysseus's wiliness and strength. Furthermore, both king and queen are ultimately most praised for their self-restraint--Odysseus when he allowed himself to be disguised as a humble beggar, or chose to give up glory in pursuit of his ultimate goal, and Penelope when she chose to remain loyal to Odysseus, despite all indications that he would never return from Troy.

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Penelope Character Timeline in The Odyssey

The timeline below shows where the character Penelope appears in The Odyssey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...flies to Ithaca to speak to Odysseus's son Telemachus. Droves of men courting Odysseus's wife Penelope have been feasting for years in Odysseus's court, pestering Penelope and depleting the resources of... (full context)
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Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
Penelope comes down from her chambers and asks the bard entertaining the suitors to stop singing... (full context)
Book 2
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Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
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Antinous replies that Penelope is to blame for the suitors' behavior. Penelope promised to choose a husband once she... (full context)
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Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Telemachus responds that to send Penelope back to her father would be a disgrace, and would meet with anger from both... (full context)
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...hears news of his father's death, he will give him a proper burial and encourage Penelope to marry again. Odysseus's friend Mentor reproaches the crowd for their indifference and inaction in... (full context)
Book 4
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
...his way back home. The court herald Medon overhears their plans and describes them to Penelope. The queen is grieved to learn of Telemachus's absence; she prays to Athena to save... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Meanwhile, the suitors gather a crew of twenty men and prepare a ship. Penelope lies in bed tormented; when she falls asleep, Athena sends a phantom in the shape... (full context)
Book 5
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
...husband; after all, she cannot be less fair than his wife. Odysseus replies that though Penelope is not as fair as Calypso, he still yearns for home. They fall asleep in... (full context)
Book 11
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...let his mother drink the blood, and suddenly she recognized him. She told him that Penelope still grieved and waited for him, that his estate was still in Telemachus's hands, and... (full context)
Book 13
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...for fear of inciting Poseidon's anger. She tells Odysseus about the suitors' treachery and about Penelope's loyalty. Odysseus realizes he might have died Agamemnon's ignoble death had Athena not warned him,... (full context)
Book 16
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...than tolerate their insulting behavior. Telemachus asks Eumaeus to go to the palace and tell Penelope that her son has returned home safely, but to tell no one else, not even... (full context)
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Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
...town later. Odysseus further instructs Telemachus to keep his return secret – even from Laertes, Penelope, and Eumaeus. (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Both Eumaeus and a herald from Pylos report to Penelope that Telemachus has come home. The suitors are dismayed to hear the news. They gather... (full context)
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Penelope emerges from her chambers and confronts Antinous about his schemes against Telemachus. She reminds him... (full context)
Book 18
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Athena inspires Penelope to come down and speak to the suitors. The queen tells the suitors that if... (full context)
Book 19
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Memory and Grief Theme Icon
...of the weapons as part of their plan. Telemachus goes to sleep, and soon after Penelope comes to question the strange visitor, and she and Odysseus-the-beggar sit down to have a... (full context)
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Penelope asks her maids to bathe the stranger, but he refuses such a luxury; instead, the... (full context)
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When the nurse leaves, Odysseus-the-beggar resumes his conversation with Penelope. She asks him to interpret a dream in which an eagle flies down from the... (full context)
Book 20
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
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...Telemachus loudly chastises the suitor, but Odysseus remains calm. Another suitor urges Telemachus to convince Penelope to take another husband, and Telemachus refuses yet again. Athena makes the suitors break into... (full context)
Book 21
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Penelope sets out Odysseus's bow and axes, and announces to the suitors that the archer that... (full context)
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...up like the drunken Centaur Eurythion, who was mauled by his hosts the Lapiths. But Penelope urges the suitors to let the stranger try his luck; there is no shame in... (full context)
Book 23
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Eurycleia tells Penelope that Odysseus has finally come home and killed the suitors. The nurse mentions the telltale... (full context)
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Athena changes Odysseus back into a handsome younger man. He chides Penelope for her cold welcome and tells the nurse that he will sleep alone. To test... (full context)
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Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Odysseus warns Penelope that he must make one more long, dangerous journey before they can settle down in... (full context)
Book 24
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...so many noble young men have died all at once. Amphimedon describes the suitors' courtship, Penelope's loyalty, and Odysseus's revenge. Agamemnon is glad that Odysseus's wife was more faithful than his... (full context)