Goddess-Like Penelope (Part 1)


You may have picked up from previous entries that I really dig Penelope, but now you’ll start to understand why in this series!

There has been a great deal of work done in recent years to “reclaim” the Goddess. Women look to Her for spiritual guidance, for wisdom, for empowerment. They call out to Her by her various names. I myself participate in this new Goddess movement to some degree and it makes sense to me to see goddesses as archetypes guiding or reflecting human behavior. Furthermore, this seems to apply flawlessly to reading the Odyssey, especially as relates to the much-debated action of Penelope.

There are many goddesses in the Odyssey, Kalypso and Kirke come to mind, but it is the Olympian goddesses – specifically, Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Athena – who so nicely guide our perceptions of Penelope and the outcome of the story. These four only show up once all together, in the context of Penelope’s confusing metaphor describing the daughters of Pandareos:The Furies, by Suza Scalora

Hera gave them form and prudence surpassing all other women; pure Artemis gave them an lofty stature, and Athena taught them to do renowned works. When bright Aphrodite had ascended to holy Olympus seeking the accomplishment of a blooming wedding for the girls from thunder-loving Zeus (for well does he know everything, both what shall happen and what not happen to mortal humans) the Snatching winds came and snatched them away and gave them to the hated Furies to care for.

Each of these goddesses has a different gift to give the unfortunate Pandareides and they each have a similar role in the greater telling of the Odyssey. Nancy Felson-Rubin has already done a good job of identifying plot-types, however, by seeing the role of each goddess tied into the story more clearly, the function of those plot-types takes on a different meaning. Felson-Rubin states, “Until 23.205 [the end of the Odyssey] even the knowing reader feels suspense as to whether Penelope or Odysseus will happily reunite,” but I hope to show that what the audience, and the reader, feels is not suspense but empathy, suspense being impossible in a story where the end is known. And with a story this famous, who could fail to know the end?

Felson-Rubin, Nancy. “Penelope’s Perspective: Character from Plot.” Reading the Odyssey: Selected Interpretive Essays. Seth L. Schein, ed. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1996

Coming soon: Part 2 – the roles of the Goddesses


One response to “Goddess-Like Penelope (Part 1)”

  1. […] Odyssey and with some help from Jenny Strauss Clay, Nancy Felson-Rubin, and Sheila Murnaghan. Read Goddess-Like Penelope (Part 1), Hera-Like Penelope,  Artemis-Like Penelope,  Aphrodite-Like Penelope, and Athena-Like Penelope […]

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