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Penelope of The Odyssey Term Papers

In Book XXIII of The Odyssey, Penelope recognizes her long-absent husband Odysseus when he identifies their conjugal bed as consisting of a bed-post hewn from an ancient olive tree around which the room had been constructed.  The post was fixed in the ground with the roots of the tree and therefore the bed could not be moved by any human force.  The marriage bed thus becomes the symbol of the ultimate goal of Odysseus’ wanderings; the fixed point: planted in the soil by nature, made by human hands, and immovable even by the gods.  Playing a much more dynamic and active role in the plot and characterization of The Odyssey, Penelope becomes the personification of this goal of fixedness, while remaining an independent and multifaceted entity. She, an embodiment of the qualities manifested in concrete terms by the marriage bed, is a central defining image that is mirrored and metamorphosed through the various other situations and characters.

The key to Penelope’s essence, chameleon yet fixed, is her femininity. The various women Odysseus encounters, mortal and divine, and the various situations in which he finds himself embroiled because of them are all resolved when he at last reposes with his wife in the bed constructed with his own hands.  All these female characters, from Calypso and Circe to Nausicaa and Helen, embody elements of femininity which are only fulfilled in Odysseus’s lawful wife, Penelope.  Besides being a forceful character in herself, the complexity of Penelope’s nature pervades The Odyssey.

The olive tree, which not only supports, but is an inextricable part of the marriage bed itself, “growing within the precincts of the house, in full vigour”, is protected by “strong walls of stone and a roof to cover them”, with “doors strong and well-fitting” which had been fashioned by Odysseus himself (Odyssey, XXIII).  The olive tree’s endurance, like that of Penelope, draws on something outside the endless desires, strivings and mistakes of men and gods – it is a living being, thriving on its direct connection with the soil of the earth, in a natural relationship with its environment, self-sufficient in its fullness and protected by the strong walls built by the absent husband.  Thus the olive tree, which finds its personalized agent in the will of Penelope, is the culminating image of The Odyssey

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