Penelope, the Queen of Ithaca
In Greek Mythology, Penelope is the Queen of Ithaca, wife of Odysseus, and mother of Telemachus. She is illustrated as a serious and diligent character, a faithful wife and mother, but one who lacks the enthusiasm for life and what it holds. She is compared in the Odyssey to Diana and Venus in the line, “Penelope came out of her room looking like Diana or Venus.” In other books, she is wearing a veil to hide her face, which is normal for the women in this time period, whenever she is seen in public with suitors. Throughout the books of the Odyssey, Homer never gives her any physical description. In the Odyssey, Penelope spends a lot of time without her husband due to his long absence during the Trojan War.
Throughout this period, many chieftains of Ithaca and nearby places become Penelope’s suitors. For about three years, Penelope worked day and night weaving a shroud for the funeral of Laertes, her father-in-law. She told the people and her suitors that she would choose her husband once the shroud was complete. Throughout the day, she worked on a great loom in the royal halls but at night, she secretly unraveled what she had done that past day. She devises this plan so that she will not have to give up on the return of her husband and be forced to remarry. This plan shortly fell apart when one of her servants eventually betrayed her and told the suitors what she has been doing. They believed that she has misguided the suitors for almost four years by leading on each one with promises but choosing none of them. After Odysseus returns home to Ithaca, the Queen publicizes that she will have a contest.
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In this contest, the suitors will be asked to string the great bow of Odysseus and shoot an arrow through a dozen axes. She tells all of them that she will become the wife of the man who can perform the feat. Penelope knows exactly what she is doing which is shown by the choice of this particular contest. Penelope suspects that one of the contestants who is dressed as an old beggar is actually her husband, King Odysseus, in disguise. This proves to be correct and in the end, King Odysseus wins the contest and is delighted to learn that Penelope has remained faithful.