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Hera-Like Penelope (Part 2.1)

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This is a series on Penelope, who rocks and everyone should know more about. The breakdown is based on my reading (in ancient Greek, thank you very much) of the Odyssey and with some help from Jenny Strauss Clay, Nancy Felson-Rubin, and Sheila Murnaghan. Read Part 1 below.

Hera is in some ways the least obvious connection to Penelope. Penelope is not described as being like her, and Hera’s part in the Odyssey is much smaller than in the “prequel,” (six mentions to the Iliad‘s 115 or so) having no active role at all and only passing mention in metaphor. That said, it is still possible to construct a specific identity from the examples.

It is significant that three out of the six examples are formulaic phrases actually referring to Zeus: “Zeus, mighty husband of Hera.” It seems from the construction that the Father (that would be Zeus) gains power from his association with her, and reinforces the common theme of homophrosyne – this awesome idea of being-of-the-same-mind – and the unstoppable power of a strong couple. The other two examples are describing the protection that Hera has provided for other heroes, specifically Agamemnon (you remember his wife Clytemnestra?) (4.512) and Jason (impossible to forget his fling with Medea) (12.55). These examples emphasize the savior aspect of the goddess, and one that is particularly focused on a safe nostos, or homecoming.

In many ways, it would be easy to imagine this story as the brainchild of the Queen of the Gods (Hera) instead of the virgin Goddess of Wisdom (yep, Athena! the real power in this story). This connection is only heightened by the passage quoted in part 1, where Hera gives Clytie and Cameira (the daughters of Pandareos) form and prudence, the two things for which Penelope is most renowned. In fact, it would be easy to see the relationship of Penelope and Odysseus as mirrored in the relationship of Hera and Zeus (at least as far as that relationship is portrayed within the Odyssey).

But Hera’s domestic power, while able to keep kings safe through scary straits, is not equipped to aid women with long-term separation from their partners (as is the unfortunate case of Penelope). In fact, as we see in other myths, Hera is often involved in tracking her wayward hubby down – something that is certainly not an option in Penelope’s position. Because this plot-type is not even among the options listed for Penelope, Hera’s role in the Odyssey is relatively minor, but she still serves to remind the audience of the “connubial fidelity” both she and Penelope embody.

Next up: Artemis-Like Penelope (Part 2 continued)


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