The Penelopiad

Odysseus Character Analysis

Odysseus is Penelope's husband, Telemachus's father, King of Ithaca, and the hero of the Greek myth of the Odyssey, upon which The Penelopiad is based. Odysseus is described as short-legged, barrel-chested, and extremely clever. He has a deep voice that contributes to his profound powers of persuasion and his superior storytelling abilities. Odysseus is also an expert sailor. Odysseus marries Penelope after cheating to win a running race for her hand. He is kind to Penelope, who falls in love with him. Odysseus's own feelings towards Penelope are less clear. After being summoned by Menelaus, Odyssey wages war against the Trojans. However, he does not return until long after the war is done. During the years he is gone, some suggest that he was completing the heroic deeds recounted in the Odyssey, while others suggest those stories were only to cover up his philandering and waywardness, and his lack of a desire to return home. When Odysseus does eventually return, he kills Penelope's Suitors and executes her Maids, leaving him with profound, irreconcilable guilt.

Odysseus Quotes in The Penelopiad

The The Penelopiad quotes below are all either spoken by Odysseus or refer to Odysseus. 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:
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Canongate Books edition of The Penelopiad published in 2006.
Chapter 9 Quotes

‘Helen hasn’t borne a son yet,’ he said, which ought to have made me glad. And it did. But on the other hand, why was he still—and possibly always—thinking about Helen?

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus, Telemachus
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

If word got around about his post, said Odysseus in a mock-sinister manner, he would know I’d been sleeping with some other man, and then—he said, frowning at me in what was supposed to be a playful way—he would be very cross indeed, and he would have to chop me into little pieces with his sword or hang me from the room beam.
I pretended to be frightened, and said I would never, never think of betraying his big post.
Actually, I really was frightened.

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

Rumors came, carried by other ships… Odysseus had been in a fight with a giant one-eyed Cyclops, said some; no, it was only a one-eyed tavern keeper, said another… Some of the men had been eaten by cannibals, said some; no, it was just a brawl of the usual kind, said others… Odysseus was the guest of a goddess on an enchanted isle, said some… and the two of them made love deliriously every night; no, said others, it was just an expensive whorehouse, and he was sponging off the Madam. Needless to say, the minstrels took up these themes and embroidered them considerably.

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus
Related Symbols: Weaving and Fiber Work
Page Number: 83-84
Explanation and Analysis:

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I had such a clear picture in my mind—Odysseus returning, and me—with womanly modesty—revealing to him how well I had done at what was usually considered a man’s business. On his behalf, of course. Always for him. How his face would shine with pleasure! How pleased he would be with me! ‘You’re worth a thousand Helens,’ he would say.

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 18 Quotes

He then said that he’d made the decision he’d had to make—he’d gone in search of his father, since no one else seemed prepared to lift a finger in that direction. He claimed his father would have been proud of him for showing some backbone and getting out from under the thumbs of the women, who as usual were being overemotional and showing no reasonableness and judgment. By ‘the women’, he meant me. How could he refer to his own mother as ‘the women’?

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus, Telemachus
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 19 Quotes

I didn’t let on I knew. It would have been dangerous for him. Also, if a man takes pride in his disguising skills, it would be a foolish wife who would claim to recognize him: it’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness.

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

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I then related a dream of mine. It concerned my flock of lovely white geese, geese of which I was very fond. I dreamt that they were happily pecking around the yard when a huge eagle with a crooked beak swooped down and killed them all, whereupon I wept and wept.

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus, The Suitors, The Twelve Maids
Related Symbols: The Maids’ Deaths
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 25 Quotes

Then he told me how much he’d missed me, and how he’d been filled with longing for me… and I told him how very many tears I’d shed while waiting twenty years for his return, and how tediously faithful I’d been, and how I would never have even so much as thought of betraying his gigantic bed with its wondrous bedpost by sleeping in it with any other man.
The two of us were—by our own admission—proficient and shameless liars of long standing. It’s a wonder either one of us believed a word the other said.
But we did.
Or so we told each other.

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 26 Quotes

Your client’s times were not our times. Standards of behaviour were different then. It would be unfortunate if this regrettable but minor incident were allowed to stand as a blot on an otherwise exceedingly distinguished career. Also I do not wish to be guilty of an anachronism. Therefore I must dismiss the case.

Related Characters: Odysseus, The Twelve Maids
Related Symbols: The Maids’ Deaths
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

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Odysseus Character Timeline in The Penelopiad

The timeline below shows where the character Odysseus appears in The Penelopiad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: A Low Art
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Odysseus’s account, Penelope thinks, was always so “plausible,” and many people believed his account of things... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
...and tell them not to be like her. Penelope admits that she always knew that Odysseus was tricky, but that she pretended not to see that side of him. Instead, she... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Chorus Line: A Rope-Jumping Rhyme
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
...In their poem, the Maids address an unknown second person (who turns out to be Odysseus) who they accuse of killing them. They describe their hanging, dwelling on their feet twitching... (full context)
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The Maids note that Odysseus was armed with words and a spear. The Maids say that they cleaned the blood... (full context)
Chapter 6: My Marriage
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Penelope asks about one barrel-chested man below, and the maid tells her he is Odysseus, the son of a lesser King of provincial Ithaca. Odysseus is not considered a serious... (full context)
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Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Penelope wonders aloud how fast Odysseus can run, since the contest to marry her is a running race. One maid remarks... (full context)
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Helen states that she thinks Odysseus would make a good husband for Penelope, and that if she went to Ithaca with... (full context)
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...but Penelope is speechless. Helen tells Penelope not to worry, and that both she and Odysseus are supposedly clever, so Penelope will be able to understand the things that he says.... (full context)
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Because she was in bed, Penelope did not watch the race itself, which Odysseus won through cheating. Uncle Tyndareous helped Odysseus win by drugging the other contestants’ wine and... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Penelope then recounts a rumor she heard that she “was the payment” for something Odysseus had done for Tyndareous during the competition for Helen’s marriage. Odysseus made the contestants swear... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...who had to share the throne of Sparta with Icarius, wanted the throne for himself. Odysseus, rather than moving to Sparta, would take Penelope away to Ithaca, keeping Penelope’s sons from... (full context)
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Regardless of why, Odysseus won. Penelope remembers Helen smiling during the marriage, happy that Penelope was moving to Ithaca,... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Scar
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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When the door was closed on Odysseus and Penelope, Odysseus sat Penelope down on the bed and told her that, unlike what... (full context)
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Penelope later learned that Odysseus was not the type to fall asleep immediately after sex, which she says was a... (full context)
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Penelope then tells the reader about Odysseus’s family history. Odysseus’s grandfather, Autolycus, was supposedly descended from the god Hermes, giving him his... (full context)
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Returning to the story of Odysseus’s scar, Odysseus told Penelope that Autolycus invited him to collect gifts he inherited. Odysseus went... (full context)
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In turn, Penelope told Odysseus about being thrown into the sea and then saved by ducks. Odysseus sympathized with her,... (full context)
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After a few days, Odysseus announced that he would be taking Penelope and her treasures back to Ithaca. This annoyed... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Trusted Cackle-Hen
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...may have been averse to the sea because of her bad experience as a child. Odysseus rarely came down to see how Penelope was feeling, spending most of his time on... (full context)
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...she was older (her father did not want to give Penelope any potential rival for Odysseus’s attention), Actoris died soon after arriving on the island, leaving Penelope totally alone. (full context)
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Penelope cried often but tried not to let on to Odysseus how unhappy she was. Odysseus continued to be attentive to her needs, and she often... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Penelope asked Odysseus if he had found the hidden way into her heart, and Odysseus smiled and told... (full context)
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
...food was good and plenty, and over time Penelope began to adjust. She liked having Odysseus for a husband, as he was so well respected and his advice so often sought... (full context)
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Odysseus’s mother and father still lived in the castle with them, though Penelope suggests that Anticleia... (full context)
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Odysseus’s former nurse, Eurycleia, gave Penelope even more trouble. She had been in the household for... (full context)
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...She told Penelope all about the local nobility and professed to be an expert on Odysseus’s tastes, having nursed him since childhood. Because of this, Eurycleia was possessive of him, and... (full context)
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...was trying to get pregnant. She was the only person Penelope could talk to besides Odysseus, and gradually Penelope got used to her. When Telemachus was born, Eurycleia was a huge... (full context)
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Odysseus was happy with Penelope when she gave birth to Telemachus, and he told her proudly... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Chorus Line: The Birth of Telemachus, An Idyll
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The Maids state that they, who would eventually be killed by Telemachus and Odysseus, made the same journey from the Fates’ cave across the oceans of their peasant mothers’... (full context)
Chapter 11: Helen Ruins My Life
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...became used to life in Ithaca, despite all the challenges and her lack of authority. Odysseus, meanwhile, was in complete charge of the kingdom, with only minor interference from Laertes. (full context)
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Penelope also spent a lot of time in the room she shared with Odysseus. The room had a special bed in it, and one of the posts of the... (full context)
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In the bed, Penelope and Odysseus enjoyed their time together, either having sex or talking. Odysseus told Penelope many stories about... (full context)
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...Penelope, “disaster struck” because of Helen. A captain from Sparta arrived in the harbor and Odysseus invited him to dinner. During his visit, the captain informed them that Helen had run... (full context)
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As Odysseus listened to the story, he stayed quiet. That night, however, Odysseus told Penelope that he... (full context)
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Odysseus insisted that he must, but when the time came he did try to get out... (full context)
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Palamedes, however, found Odysseus out. Palamedes put the infant Telemachus in front of the ox and donkey that were... (full context)
Chapter 12: Waiting
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Penelope continues her narrative following Odysseus’s departure. He was away in Troy while she stayed in Ithaca. Time passed and Telemachus... (full context)
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At last the songs described Odysseus coming up with the strategy of building a wooden horse to invade the city, and... (full context)
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...day Penelope would climb up to the top floor of the palace to look for Odysseus’s ships, but there was no sign of them. Other vessels carried rumors of what had... (full context)
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...embellishing them freely. In front of Penelope, they only sang the best versions, in which Odysseus came across as clever and good, only unable to come home because the gods or... (full context)
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Anticleia died during Odysseus’s absence, blaming Penelope for everything. Eurycleia and Laertes aged. Laertes turned toward a farming life,... (full context)
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...oversaw farms and became an expert at animal husbandry. Her goal was to build up Odysseus’s estate for when Odysseus returned, so he would be proud of her, tell her “you’re... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
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...the day, Penelope kept up a cheerful appearance for Telemachus’s sake, telling him stories of Odysseus and insisting that everything would be wonderful when he came home. (full context)
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...ships began appearing in the harbor. People asked Penelope if she would consider remarriage if Odysseus had, in fact, died. Penelope ignored these questions, and news—or rather, rumors—of Odysseus continued to... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Chorus Line: The Wily Sea Captain, A Sea Shanty
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
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...the Twelve Maids while wearing sailor costumes, in which they give their own account of Odysseus’s travels as told in The Odyssey. The song describes Odysseus setting sail from Troy with... (full context)
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The Maids toast to Captain Odysseus, describing him as “gallant” wherever he is, whether in the trees or in the arms... (full context)
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Following that, Odysseus sailed past the Sirens’ island while tied to the mast, so he would not be... (full context)
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Finally, Odysseus escaped on a raft and was ultimately found by Nausicaa’s maids on a beach while... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Suitors Stuff Their Faces
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...a recent run-in in the fields of asphodel with Antinous, one of her suitors after Odysseus’s disappearance. Penelope says that usually Antinous struts about and shows off, but that as soon... (full context)
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...can tell her why the Suitors risked their lives through their behavior towards her and Odysseus, despite warnings from Prophets and from Zeus. She remarks that she was hardly a divine... (full context)
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According to Penelope, the Suitors did not show up directly after Odysseus left. For the first ten years of Odysseus’s absence, they knew he was alive because... (full context)
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The Suitors said that they would continue to feast off of Odysseus’s estate until Penelope chose one of them as her new husband. They would occasionally make... (full context)
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...like this gossip, because she was trying to ensure that Penelope would remain faithful to Odysseus. (full context)
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...there were too many of them anyway. All the men on the island loyal to Odysseus had gone with him to Troy. Since Penelope did not want a full-blown fight, she... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Shroud
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Penelope reminded the Suitors that an oracle foretold Odysseus’s return, but the Suitors countered that prophecies are always ambiguous. Finally, in public, Penelope had... (full context)
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...guest to sleep with a maid without the master of the house’s permission. But without Odysseus present, the Suitors had sex with and raped the Maids without thinking twice. (full context)
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...Penelope their plans. Penelope also told them to say nasty things about herself, Telemachus, and Odysseus, to keep the Suitors from suspecting their loyalties. Several of the girls did fall in... (full context)
Chapter 16: Bad Dreams
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...states that this was the worst part of her trials, and that she cried constantly. Odysseus still did not return and Telemachus began ordering his mother around. He started challenging the... (full context)
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...asleep and dreamed. On the night that Medon told her about Telemachus, she dreamt that Odysseus was having his brains eaten by the Cyclops, that he swam to the Sirens, and... (full context)
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...safely, and that the gods did not want her to suffer. When Penelope asked about Odysseus, however, her sister refused to answer. Penelope thought that the gods did in fact want... (full context)
Chapter 18: News of Helen
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...called him a child and told him that he could have been killed, and then Odysseus would blame her when he returned. (full context)
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...still a little hurt from their earlier conversation, asked if Telemachus had discovered anything about Odysseus on his trip. Telemachus informed Penelope that he went to visit Menelaus. Penelope asked if... (full context)
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...had inherited his ancestors’ gift for lying. Penelope thanked him and left to pray for Odysseus’s safe return. (full context)
Chapter 19: Yelp of Joy
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...are bored. For twenty years, Penelope’s prayers went unanswered, but after her last prayer for Odysseus’s return, he showed up wearing beggar’s clothes in the courtyard. (full context)
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Odysseus’s rags were a disguise, since he wanted to figure out what was going on at... (full context)
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Penelope did not tell Odysseus that she knew, however, because it would be dangerous and because she did not want... (full context)
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Penelope did not have time to tell the Maids Odysseus’s true identity, so they continued to unwittingly insult the family to the Suitors in front... (full context)
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When evening arrived, Penelope went to see “the beggar,” who claimed to have news about Odysseus and who assured Penelope that he would be home soon. Penelope cried and said that... (full context)
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Penelope then asked the beggar for advice, saying that she planned to take Odysseus’s bow and challenge the Suitors to a shooting competition, with herself as the prize, in... (full context)
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...eagle with a crooked beak killed all of her beloved geese, causing her to weep. Odysseus interpreted the dream for her, saying that the geese must be the Suitors, and that... (full context)
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...says that in the songs, they often say that Penelope ordered her Maids to wash Odysseus’s feet and that he refused because he did not want to be ridiculed by them.... (full context)
Chapter 20: Slanderous Gossip
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...them to give her expensive gifts and recuperate some of her losses. Penelope insists that Odysseus approved of her behavior. (full context)
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...god Pan. Penelope wonders who would believe such nonsense. Some people take Anticleia’s silence to Odysseus regarding the Suitors in the afterlife as proof that Penelope slept with them. Penelope argues,... (full context)
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Other people allege that Odysseus did not reveal himself to Penelope when he first arrived back in Ithaca because he... (full context)
Chapter 21: The Chorus Line: The Perils of Penelope, A Drama
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Next, Eurycleia, played by a maid, informs Penelope that Odysseus is back, and that she identified him by his scar. Penelope, played by a Maid,... (full context)
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...Penelope tells Eurycleia that it is up to her to save her and to save Odysseus’s honor. She tells Eurycleia to tell him that the Maids are disloyal so he will... (full context)
Chapter 22: Helen Takes a Bath
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...that Helen was capable of guilt, and Helen replies by asking Penelope how many men Odysseus killed for her. Penelope says it was “quite a lot,” and Helen replies that it... (full context)
Chapter 23: Odysseus and Telemachus Snuff the Maids
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...because Eurycleia drugged her drink. Eurycleia later described the events to Penelope, telling her how Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, watched as the suitors tried to string his bow for the... (full context)
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Then Odysseus shot Antinous in the throat and went on the kill all of the Suitors with... (full context)
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Odysseus then told Telemachus to hack the Maids up. However, Telemachus decided instead to hang the... (full context)
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Penelope corrected her, saying that Odysseus had hung the rape victims, the youngest, and the most beautiful Maids. Penelope did not... (full context)
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...her Maids’ assignments and wanted to kill the Maids to maintain her privileged position with Odysseus. Penelope still has not been able to confront her about it because every time she... (full context)
Chapter 24: The Chorus Line: An Anthropology Lecture
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...for the overthrow of a matriarchal cult of the moon by a patriarchal, male-god-worshipping religion. Odysseus’s marriage to Penelope was his way of cementing his power, according to the Maids. (full context)
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...would be hanged and have his genitals torn off to ensure a good harvest. However, Odysseus did not fulfill this role, and instead tore off the genitals of a goatherd and... (full context)
Chapter 25: Heart of Flint
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...Suitors and the Maids were murdered. Penelope had pretended not to believe that it was Odysseus who had killed the Suitors, continuing to pretend that she had not recognized him. She... (full context)
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When she left the women’s hall and went to the main one where Odysseus and Telemachus were sitting, she did not greet Odysseus right away—and Telemachus criticized Penelope for... (full context)
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Penelope told Odysseus that he couldn’t be her husband, since he, unbathed, looked so unlike the clean, well-dressed... (full context)
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Penelope and Odysseus then climbed into their marriage bed, which had gone unused for so long. Before they... (full context)
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Soon after Odysseus returned home, he left again to attempt to purify himself after the Suitors’ murders and... (full context)
Chapter 26: The Chorus Line: The Trial of Odysseus, as Videotaped by the Maids
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...perspective, takes the form of a transcript of a videotape of an imagined trial for Odysseus. The chapter opens with Odysseus’s defense attorney asserting Odysseus’s innocence in the murders of the... (full context)
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Apparently, the prosecutor finds Odysseus’s reaction to have been an overreaction, especially since the Suitors offered to compensate him for... (full context)
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...with ropes around their necks, yell and cause a commotion in the courthouse, alleging that Odysseus hanged them as well. The judge says that this allegation is new, and asks to... (full context)
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...the defense attorney clarifies that she means their master’s permission. The judge points out that Odysseus was not there to give permission, and that, whether the maids consented or not, they... (full context)
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...on the Furies. The Furies appear, and the Maids ask them to inflict punishment on Odysseus and hunt him down, never letting him rest. The Furies poise themselves to attack Odysseus.... (full context)
Chapter 27: Home Life in Hades
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...not know. Through using these windows opened by magicians, however, Penelope can keep track of Odysseus. (full context)
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Odysseus, Penelope notes, drinks the water very often. When he comes back to the afterlife, he... (full context)
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Penelope thinks that Odysseus means it when he says he wants to be with her, but that “some forces”... (full context)
Chapter 28: The Chorus Like: We’re Walking Behind You, A Love Song
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This chapter resumes the Maid’s commentary. First, they call Odysseus a number of names, from “Master of Illusion” to “Mr. Sleight of Hand.” They, the... (full context)
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The Maids assert that Odysseus should have given them a proper burial. Now, they follow Odysseus wherever he goes, tailing... (full context)
Chapter 29: Envoi
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...without any choice, and that they unfairly took the blame. Now, they say, they follow Odysseus and call out to him. The Maids transform into owls and then fly away. (full context)