The Penelopiad

Water Symbol Icon

In Penelope’s life and narrative, water takes on a special but ambiguous significance. Penelope is the daughter of a Naiad, or a Greek fresh water spirit, a fact that immediately links her to water. In addition, as a child, Penelope’s father Icarius nearly drowned her in the ocean before a flock of ducks brought her to shore. Throughout Penelope’s life, her near-death experience stays with her, giving her an intense fear of the sea. During Penelope’s trip to Ithaca, she feels sick the entire time, highlighting the strained relationship Penelope has to the ocean. This may represent Penelope’s troubled relationship with her mother, since later, in one of the Maids’ songs, the Maids refer to the fluid in a mother’s womb as an ocean. However, it is also water that serves as Penelope’s inspiration to weave Laertes’ shroud as a diversion tactic to avoid marrying one of the Suitors. Penelope thought of the weaving scheme after remembering her mother’s advice to “be like water” by staying patient and persistent. According to her mother, rather than using force, water finds ways around obstacles to get where it’s going. In short, water may represent Penelope’s connection to the female body and to her mother—relationships that are painful and strained for Penelope, but important nonetheless.

Water Quotes in The Penelopiad

The The Penelopiad quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. 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 7 Quotes

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.

Related Characters: Penelope’s Mother (The Naiad) (speaker), Penelope
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

Nine months he sailed the wine-red seas of his mother’s blood…
In his frail dark boat, the boat of himself,
Through the dangerous ocean of his vast mother he sailed
From the distant cave where the threads of men’s lives are spun,
Then measured, and then cut short
By the Three Fatal Sisters, intent on their gruesome handicrafts,
And the lives of women also are twisted into the strand…

Related Characters: The Twelve Maids (speaker), Telemachus , The Fates
Related Symbols: Weaving and Fiber Work , Water
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 23 Quotes

‘Only twelve,’ she faltered. ‘The impertinent ones. The ones who’d been rude… They were notorious whores.’
‘The ones who’d been raped,’ I said. ‘The youngest. The most beautiful.’ My eyes and ears among the Suitors, I did not add. My helpers during the long nights of the shroud. My snow-white geese. My thrushes, my doves.

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Eurycleia (speaker), The Twelve Maids
Related Symbols: The Maids’ Deaths , Water
Page Number: 159-160
Explanation and Analysis:
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Water Symbol Timeline in The Penelopiad

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in The Penelopiad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: My Childhood
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...that, when she was a baby, her father ordered her to be thrown into the ocean. Penelope believes this was because of a prophecy that Penelope would weave her father’s shroud,... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Penelope returns to the story of Icarius throwing her into the sea, saying that she may only have invented the shroud prophecy to make herself feel better.... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Regardless, Penelope says, she was thrown into the sea, although she does not remember it. Someone else told her the story when she has... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...of a Naiad, however, drowning her was not a smart plan. Her connections to the water and its creatures caused a flock of ducks to rescue her. As a result, Icarius... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...much like children. Penelope thinks that if her father had not thrown her into the sea, her mother might have done so herself because of her inattentiveness and moodiness. Penelope attributes... (full context)
Chapter 6: My Marriage
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
...the bride’s dowry “trash” because most of them ended up in the bottom of the sea. Those that didn’t were put instead in palaces with no royals living in them, and... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...Penelope thinks that this custom is why, after Icarius tried to throw her into the sea, he became so attached to her. Penelope then questions again why he tried to kill... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Scar
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Chorus Line: If I Was A Princess, A Popular Tune
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...loved by a young hero. The chorus then encourages the maid to sail across the ocean, warning that it is dangerous but that hope will keep her afloat. (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...“destiny.” The chorus repeats its refrain, encouraging the maids to sail away, warning of the sea’s danger, and saying hope will keep them afloat. The Maids then curtsy and one maid,... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Trusted Cackle-Hen
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...trip lying down or throwing up. She thinks she may have been averse to the sea because of her bad experience as a child. Odysseus rarely came down to see how... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Chorus Line: The Birth of Telemachus, An Idyll
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...killed by Telemachus and Odysseus, made the same journey from the Fates’ cave across the oceans of their peasant mothers’ blood until they came to shore after nine months. When Telemachus... (full context)
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...been easy. They ask themselves if they would have been capable of pushing his head underwater and blaming it on the waves. Then they command the audience to ask the Fates,... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Suitors Stuff Their Faces
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
...to bar them from the palace. Instead, she remembered her mother’s advice to “behave like water” and “flow around them”—she pretended to encourage the Suitors, but insisted that she must know... (full context)
Chapter 17: The Chorus Line: Dreamboats, A Ballad
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...them is during sleep. During their sleep, the Maids dream that they are sailing at sea, wearing red dresses, and sleeping with the men that they love. (full context)
Chapter 19: Yelp of Joy
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...she saw Odysseus’s scar on his thigh, Eurycleia yelled for joy and knocked over the water basin. Some people say that Penelope did not notice this, but in reality she had... (full context)
Chapter 24: The Chorus Line: An Anthropology Lecture
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...see their hanging from the boat, according to this reading, as a connection to the sea, whose tides are dictated by the moon. (full context)
Chapter 27: Home Life in Hades
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
Penelope then explains how spirits can be reborn by drinking from the “Waters of Forgetfulness,” wiping their past lives from their memories. Penelope notes, though, that this does... (full context)
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
Penelope admits that she is right, and that she will never drink from the Waters of Forgetfulness because she cannot take the risk. After all, the next life may be... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
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Odysseus, Penelope notes, drinks the water very often. When he comes back to the afterlife, he acts happy to see Penelope... (full context)