Penelope’s first-person narration continues as she describes being handed over to Odysseus “like a package of meat.” Penelope reminds the audience that, during her time, meat was actually very highly valued, as they mostly ate meat and bread, and drank wine. Even the gods, Penelope mentioned, loved meat, though the mortals tricked them by giving them only bones and fat. Penelope says that the gods are not a smart as they let on. Since she is dead, Penelope can say that, but she would not have said it when she was alive, since gods would disguise themselves as mortals and could always be listening.
When Penelope describes herself as a “package of meat” being handed over to Odysseus, she emphasizes how marriage in Ancient Greece was a system that objectified women and turned them into prizes rather than people. As Penelope then describes the culture surrounding meat sacrifices to the gods, she expands the reader’s understanding of Ancient Greek religion and the behavior of the gods.
At Penelope’s wedding feast the guests gorged themselves on lots of free food, eating with their hands as was customary. None of the suitors who lost were upset, since, as Penelope puts it, it was like “they’d failed to win an auction for a horse.” Icarius, suspecting that Odysseus had tricked him, got drunk and angry. Odysseus, though, did not get drunk. Later, Odysseus would tell Penelope that only fools brag about drinking, and that drinking to excess leaves a man vulnerable to attack.
When Penelope describes the suitors acting like “they’d failed to win an auction for a horse,” she underlines the transactional nature of Ancient Greek marriage and how it degrades women to the point where they are seen as less than human. When Penelope describes Odysseus’s aversion to drinking, she expands the reader’s understanding of his highly calculating character.
Penelope, meanwhile, was too nervous to eat anything, worried that Odysseus would be disappointed in her when he finally saw her face unveiled and her body unclothed. Anyway, all the men were staring at Helen, not her. Penelope thinks this was actually lucky, because it distracted from her nervousness. Penelope was afraid because of all the stories she’d heard of how painful sex is, knowing that she would be expected to sleep with Odysseus on their wedding night.
Penelope’s anxiety regarding her body and sex suggests that the Ancient Greek culture surrounding female body image and sex was somewhat toxic, just as it is today. Penelope continues to compete with Helen, feeling insecure about her own lack of male attention. Meanwhile, stories about sex worry Penelope, as they only depict female pain, not pleasure.
Penelope’s mother attended her wedding, sitting on the throne next to Icarius with a pool of water from her recent swim collecting at her feet. Penelope’s mother made a speech to Penelope as they were changing her dress, telling her that “water does not resist” and encouraging her to be patient, persistent, and flexible like water.
Penelope’s mother’s speech to Penelope, which encourages her to adopt a mode of getting what she wants that is more traditionally feminine, becomes important later in the book, when Penelope thinks of it as she is devising her scheme to trick the Suitors.
After the ceremony, the party processed to the bridal chamber rowdily. The point of the event was to make the consummation of the marriage seem like a conquest, and so there was a gatekeeper outside to keep the bride from leaving in horror and to stop her friends from rescuing her if she screamed.
The fact that the marriage consummation is orchestrated like a mock rape disturbingly shows how Ancient Greek society normalized and even encouraged certain forms of rape and general violence against women.
When the door was closed on Odysseus and Penelope, Odysseus sat Penelope down on the bed and told her that, unlike what she had heard, he was not going to hurt her, but that she should scream and pretend that he was to satisfy the audience listening at the door. Penelope notes that one of Odysseus’s persuasive skills was that he would convince people that they had a common obstacle and needed to work together to solve it. Penelope did what Odysseus asked, mesmerized by his deep voice.
From Penelope’s first individual encounter with Odysseus, it is clear that Odysseus, a famed persuader and storyteller, has an excellent sense of his audience —both the people listening outside and Penelope. Odysseus is gentle in this interaction, far from the violent man that he will later become.
Penelope later learned that Odysseus was not the type to fall asleep immediately after sex, which she says was a common experience among her maids. Instead, Odysseus liked to talk, and enjoyed when Penelope would listen to his stories. When Penelope noticed the scar on Odysseus’s thigh, he told her the story of how he got it.
Odysseus’s natural inclination towards storytelling is apparent as Penelope learns his habit of storytelling after sex. The fact that Odysseus does not just sleep immediately after sex makes him seem sensitive and interested in Penelope as a partner.
Penelope then tells the reader about Odysseus’s family history. Odysseus’s grandfather, Autolycus, was supposedly descended from the god Hermes, giving him his craftiness. Autolycus’s daughter Anticleia was Odysseus’s mother, and she married King Laertes. However, there was also a rumor that Odysseus’s real father was Sisyphus, a tricky man who fooled Hades twice. If that is true, Odysseus had smart, scheming ancestors on both sides of his family.
Penelope’s descriptions of Odysseus’s lineage and his legacy of cleverness reflect Penelope’s greater interest in generational links and historical connections—like how, in the beginning of her own story, she thinks her story starts at the beginning of time. Penelope sees all stories as highly interconnected.
Returning to the story of Odysseus’s scar, Odysseus told Penelope that Autolycus invited him to collect gifts he inherited. Odysseus went to visit Autolycus and went hunting with his sons. A boar gored Odysseus during the visit, leaving him with the scar on his thigh. Penelope suspected that Odysseus was not telling her everything, and that perhaps there was foul play involved and Autolycus was trying to kill him. Penelope liked to think this because it made her feel like she and Odysseus, both almost killed by a relative, had something in common.
As Odysseus tells the story of his scar, Penelope gets the sense that Odysseus is leaving out some key information that casts his grandfather in a negative light. This highlights the fact that storytellers make narrative choices that intentionally or unintentionally obscure, hide, or omit the truth. Penelope’s attention to this possibility shows her own cleverness and understanding of narrative.
In turn, Penelope told Odysseus about being thrown into the sea and then saved by ducks. Odysseus sympathized with her, and then she cried. By the next morning, Odysseus and Penelope were friends, and Penelope began to develop loving feelings towards him. Odysseus acted like he reciprocated them.
Odysseus and Penelope connect over narrative and stories initially, showing the reader how their bond is based in this mutual interest. Yet Penelope also casts doubts on Odysseus’s honesty about his feelings towards her.
After a few days, Odysseus announced that he would be taking Penelope and her treasures back to Ithaca. This annoyed Icarius, but Tyndareous supported the move. Penelope states that the reader has probably heard that Icarius ran after her chariot as they left and begged her to stay with him. Then, the story goes that Odysseus asked Penelope if she would rather go to Ithaca or stay in Sparta. Penelope then pulled down her veil because she was too modest to state her desire to stay with Odysseus. Penelope says there is some truth to the story, but that in fact she had pulled down her veil to hide her laughter at the fact that her father, who had once tried to throw her into the sea, was now running after her. Penelope was happy to leave the Spartan Court and start a new life.
In the official version of Penelope’s departure from Sparta, Penelope drops her veil out of modesty. This male-centric narrative assumes that Penelope’s actions fit into a stereotypical mold of what is expected of women, unable to imagine that Penelope may have a more complex inner life. Penelope’s alternative version of events, which she offers here, shows how the classic, male-centric version of the story flattens Penelope’s character and minimizes her father’s past sins, while her own perspective reveals her somewhat defiant reaction.