Ulysses or odyssey is English word of Greek origin that means an adventurous journey. The story mainly focuses on a Greek hero who is consistently in pursuit of achieving something big which has never been achieved before. He sets himself to be a part of a bloody battle called the Trojan War. He shows extra ordinary dedication by living without his wife Penelope whose contribution will also be discussed in the paper and his Telemachus. It is an epic which narrates the story of a hero and how things turn out when he returns to his kingdom after a gap of twenty years. The epic shows the struggles faced by Penelope the unsung heroine of the play; she keeps her suitors at bay and also protects her son Telemachus from getting killed. The people wanted to kill Telemachus in order to gain control over the kingdom of Ithaca. Ulysses is a great epic that shows more struggles than one and it is truly a great epic which has all the makings of a great epic. This paper will throw light upon this great epic and a comprehensive analysis of the character of Penelope will also be provided in this paper.
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The character of Ulysses is very famous and it is mainly associated with two epics namely the Iliad and the Odyssey both these great epics were written by homer. Ulysses was a Greek king who went on an expedition in the later parts of his life leaving his kingdom, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus all alone. His son was born just when he was about to leave for the Trojan War which was supposed to be a bloody battle.
“I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vexed the dim sea: “(Ulysses, 21 February 2009). These lines were said by the great king Ulysses. These lines clearly show the intent of the great king. He says that he will refrain from resting and wasting his life. He says that he has enjoyed his life and he does not want to waste it by remaining idol. He wants to conquer and to make a mark for himself and the same motivates Ulysses to participate in the Trojan War.
The will of Ulysses becomes the highlight of this Epic. He is extremely motivated even after being the king of Ithaca. He wants to prove to the world that he can achieve and conquer even in his old age. He is so motivated in the Epic that he does not even think about his son Telemachus and his wife Penelope. Telemachus is a very important character in Ulysses. He gets really worried about his kingdom after the departure of his father. He gets tensed about the suitors who come and try their luck to please Penelope with the intension of taking over the kingdom. Telemachus also goes on a journey to find his father Ulysses so that the happiness and the prosperity of the kingdom of Ithaca get restored. Odyssey is all about the struggle of various characters. It all starts with the voyage of Ulysses. He is in pursuit of happiness and struggles hard to find the same in the Epic. Telemachus is in pursuit of his father to ensure that his kingdom remains prosperous and Penelope is in pursuit of ideas to ensure that she does not succumb under pressure in the absence of her husband Ulysses. So Ulysses is about the struggle and the hardship faced by the different characters of the Epic. Ulysses reflects on his past and feels good that he has achieved something but when he realizes that he is not satisfied living a domestic life with Penelope, he decides to live his life to the fullest and to explore and relive his past. Age takes a toll on Ulysses and his fellow sailors but his will and his motivation keeps him going really strong. He advices all his sailors to be brave and to fight till their last breadth. His fighting spirit and his never say die attitude speaks volumes about his character in this great Epic. He openly declares that he wants to sail and explore beyond sunset and even beyond death. Such enthusiasm is truly unprecedented and shows a lot of courage in the character of Ulysses. Ulysses returns home after a long gap of twenty years and derives a lot of satisfaction from the fact that his wife remained very faithful to him and to his kingdom. Her contribution in this Epic will be discussed in the following part of the paper.
This part will throw light upon the character of Penelope and the way she reacted in the absence of Ulysses to safeguard the kingdom against the suitors. A comprehensive analysis of her reactions will be presented in this part.
Penelope the Unsung Heroine of the Epic
“In Homer‘s Odyssey, Penelope is the faithful wife of Odysseus, who keeps her suitors at bay in his long absence and so is eventually rejoined with him. Prior to recent readings, her name had been associated with faithfulness.” (Cambridge University Press, 30 January 2009). Penelope is believed to be the faithful wife of Ulysses and she stood really strong in his absence. Women were known for the deeds of their sons and by their own deeds early on, Ulysses wanted his wife to be really faithful to him without looking at his own track record and Penelope certainly fulfilled this desire of Ulysses in his absence. Even though Ulysses goes on an expedition for many years, Penelope always spoke about him with respect and gratitude and the relationship between Ulysses and Penelope form the base of the story, the whole story revolves around these two most important characters. Women have always taken a back seat in most of the early stories but Ulysses is a bit different from the other stories, Penelope stands all alone protecting the kingdom of Ulysses changes the whole image of women taking a back seat.
Penelope could have easily married some suitor and the kingdom would have gone to the suitor but she did not do this in order to ensure that she protects the kingdom of her husband even in his absence and she stood by his wishes, he wanted her not to get married and she did exactly the same. “She waits twenty years for the final return of her husband during which she has a hard time snubbing marriage proposals.” (The Odyssey, P 628, 30 January 2009). She waited for twenty long years for her husband to come back, this clearly goes to show that she was a woman of character and self control, had it been any other woman, she would have surely failed to resist the temptation of getting married again. She had a lot of persistence and composure, her image had been overshadowed because of Ulysses, and this is because he is the protagonist in the play and the contribution of his wife Penelope has never come to the limelight. It is very fair to say that she never gets the appreciation that she deserves because of the overshadowing nature of the character of Ulysses.
“In order to avoid choosing a husband, Penelope came up with a plan. She announced that she was weaving a shroud for Laertes, her father-in-law. She said that, once she had finished, she would choose from among the many suitors.” (Penelope, 30 January 2009). This goes to show her faithfulness and her thoughtful attitude, she decides to protect the kingdom against all odds and she succeeds in doing so, the Poem is also about the struggle of Ulysses and Penelope to get back together after twenty years of long gap.
Penelope wove during the day to keep her suitors at bay and removed it at night so as to buy herself some time. She certainly succeeded in keeping all her suitors at bay and in protecting the kingdom in the absence of the king for twenty long years. Penelope’s loyalty has been discovered by the people off late and she features in many paintings, poems, prose etc.
“Men in The Odyssey only value women who they can use for physical needs and wealth, such as the women in the underworld that Odysseys encounters, and Penelope. Homer shows us how men in The Odyssey consider women less important than men. We rarely hear of women throughout the book. When we do, we are shown that men did not consider women important and are careless with their relationships with women, as we see in Odysseus’ relationship with Penelope. While Odysseus expected Penelope to stay faithful even after he was gone for twenty years and was unfaithful to her many times, through his relationship with Calypso. But today women are able to have accomplishments other than those of Penelope and the other woman Odysseus encountered in the underworld; they have the same opportunities and are treated as equals by men.” (Treatment of Women, 30 January 2009)
Homer. The Odyssey, Book XVI, in The Iliad & The Odyssey. Trans. Samuel Butler. p. 628.
Penelope. In Trojan War. Web.
The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
Treatment of Women in Homer’s Odyssey.” Web.
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Ulysses. In The Victorian Web. Web.
W. Mackail, with Penelope in the Odyssey (Cambridge University Press, 1916), epitomizes the traditional view of the dutiful Penelope.