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The Odyssey

The Odyssey


by Homer

Penelope Timeline and Summary

  • For three years, Penelope has put off choosing a husband among the suitors by saying that she must first finish weaving a shroud for Laertes. Each day she weaves and each night she unravels her day’s work. Thus she delays for three years until a treacherous maid spills the beans.
  • Penelope is forced to complete the shroud and now has no more excuses to continue delaying her choice.
  • Penelope comes down from her room during a banquet to request that the singer sing a song – not one about the Trojan war – because it saddens her to listen. Her son scolds her, so she goes back upstairs.
  • The town crier brings Penelope news that her son has sailed to Pylos and that the suitors are planning to ambush and kill him when he comes back.
  • Penelope prays to Athene to bring her son home safely.
  • Athene sends Penelope a dream of her sister, Iphthime, who tells her that Telemachos will come home safely by the will of the gods.
  • Penelope asks her for information about her husband, but is denied.
  • Several days later, Eumaios the swineherd arrives with the information that Telemachos has returned home safely. As instructed by Odysseus, he whispers the news to Penelope so that no one else will hear.
  • Simultaneously, a runner comes bearing the same news. Unfortunately, he shouts it from the rooftops, so there goes the whole "discreet" thing.
  • Penelope asks her son twice about news regarding Odysseus and gets information on her second try.
  • She feels a small seed of hope stirring within her at the news that Odysseus was seen alive not long ago, but she conceals her optimism.
  • Penelope is told by Theoklymenos that Odysseus is already on the island, much to Telemachos’s chagrin. But she doesn’t believe him.
  • As Antinoös causes trouble for the beggar in the great hall below, Penelope hears and tells her maid to send the man up to her for questioning.
  • Eumaios returns with a message to the frantic Penelope that the beggar will come up later tonight when the suitors are asleep. Penelope realizes this is prudent.
  • Penelope, feeling frisky under the influence of Athene, goes down to scold her son while standing promiscuously in front of the suitors.
  • The suitors are stunned by her superhuman beauty, thanks to Athene. Each lusts after her and vows to win her for himself.
  • Penelope flirtily laments to her suitors that none of them have courted her properly. She wants gifts, which they scramble to bring her. Odysseus, watching, is amused, in a "my wife’s still got it" kind of way.
  • Penelope meets the beggar up in her room that night and asks for information regarding her husband.
  • Odysseus, disguised as the beggar, gives her false information. He says he has hosted Odysseus recently and that the man is indeed on his way home.
  • The Queen does not believe him, so she asks for details of Odysseus’s appearance, which the beggar flawlessly provides.
  • Penelope is overcome with emotion and welcomes the beggar as a friend.
  • After Penelope orders a foot bath for her guest (where Eurykleia discovers the true identity of the beggar), she asks him to interpret a dream for her. In it, an eagle kills and scatters her flock of farm geese.
  • Actually, the eagle then explains that he represents Odysseus and the geese represent the suitors, but still, Penelope is somehow at a loss.
  • So beggar Odysseus reaffirms the eagle’s claim.
  • Penelope remains unconvinced.
  • The Queen decides to wait no longer. She issues a contest the next day in which the winner will be the man to string Odysseus’s old bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads. She promises to marry the suitor who wins.
  • Penelope scolds Antinoös for trying to scare the beggar away from competing.
  • Telemachos tells Penelope to go upstairs because this is a man’s affair and obviously no concern of a woman, since it’s not taking place in the bedroom. She obeys. Chick power yet again.
  • After the slaughter, Eurykleia comes to Penelope with the news that Odysseus is back and has killed all the suitors. Penelope does not believe her.
  • Penelope remains skeptical even when she sees her husband standing before her. She insists that the real Odysseus would know their secret sign.
  • Penelope is only convinced after she tricks Odysseus into revealing their secret – the fact that their marriage bed is carved straight from live olive roots and cannot be moved.
  • She welcomes him back tearfully.
  • The happy couple spends a blissful night together where they make love and exchange stories of the twenty long years.
  • The next morning, as Odysseus goes off to visit his father, he orders Penelope to lock herself and all the women upstairs to keep them safe from any townspeople who want to avenge the murders of the suitors.