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Telemachus and Penelope in front of a tapestry weaving frame, drawing from a 5th centruy BC vase painting

Statue of Penelope in the Vatican, maybe inspired by the Vase painting

Penélopê (Πηνελόπη) is a character of the Odyssey, one of the two great epic poems (the other being the Iliad; both are attributed to Homer) of ancient Greek literature. Penelope is the wife of the main character, the king of Ithaca Odysseus (also known as Ulysses) and daughter of Icarius and his wife Eurynome. She waits twenty years for the final return of her husband from the Trojan War, while she has hard times in refusing marriage proposal from several princes (such as Agelaus, Amphinomus, Ctessippus, Demoptolemus, Elatus, Euryades, Eurymachus, Irus and Peisandros, led by Antinous) for four years since the fall of Troy. For this reason, she is often regarded as a symbol of connubial fidelity.

Athena tells Penelope of her son return, John Flaxman

When Odysseus returned, his dog, Argos recognises him and immediately dies. Odysseus, disguised as an old beggar, sees that Penelope has remained faithful to him, pretending to weave a burial shroud for Odysseus' elderly father Laertes and claiming she will choose one suitor when she has finished. Every night for three years she undoes part of the shroud, until the suitors discover her plot.

Odysseus watched the suitors drink and take advantage of his family's hospitality, and challenges them to an archery contest. None of the suitors can string the bow, and Odysseus wins the contest and proceeds to kill them all with help from his son Telemachus, Athena and a servant, Eumaeus. Despite now being undisguised, Penelope still cannot believe her husband has really returned, and tests him by ordering her servant Euryclea to move the bed in their wedding-chamber. Odysseus protests that this can not be done since he had made the bed himself and knows that one of its legs was a living olive tree, and Penelope finally accepts that he is truly her husband.

Odysseus and Penelope Louvre CA860

Odyssey

Book 23: Odysseus and Penelope

In one story, after Odysseus' death, she marries his son by Circe, Telegonus, with whom she was the mother of Italus.

Penelope with the Suitors, Bernardino Pintoricchio (1454-1513), 1509

Silvana Mangano as Penelope in the film Ulysses (1955)

Ulysses' Homecoming (Odysseus and Penelope), Honore Daumier

Penelope , Leonidas Drosis 1873

Margaret Atwood , The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus , Canongate U.S. , ISBN 1841957178


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