Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Penelope (not Cruz, Homer!)

Don't you hate it when you're about to go to bed and are then struck with the powerful urge to write about something? Well, I do.

Anyway, I was just about to crawl into bed when I looked at my Waterhouse calendar and saw this picture of "Penelope and the Suitors" for August. Now, Waterhouse is possibly my favourite painter ever, so you really should all see the picture:

So yes, Penelope. Penelope always interested me because she is simultaneously a case that can be used with feminism and against it. Thus she is alternately hated and--actually, I think I've seen more feminists dislike her. I mean, from a strictly black and white standpoint, she does sit at home like a good little Greek woman defending her man while he's off sleeping with goddesses and witches and such. One of the few women held up as a good model for women in Greek mythology, she is now despised by a lot of people who think she was stupid to wait around for the likes of player Odysseus.

But I think there's still a flip side to this. I, at any rate, do tend to admire Odysseus at times (and despite his sleazy asshole-ishness) for his wily use of his brain to get out of situations, and Penelope shows these same qualities (which is actually what makes them such a good couple). And in some ways, Penelope is even more adept at this than Odysseus. She somehow keeps a houseful of greedy and hormonal suitors in line for twenty years. And despite the misguided loyalty, I do have to admire her for having the capacity to be so loyal. Then again, with the pack of suitors she had, why on Zeus' zany earth would she want one of them? Either way, I have to give the girl credit for having a little self respect. So, Odysseus was a wanderer--doesn't really mean Penelope had to stoop to his level. I wouldn't have blamed her if she had, but I do have to admire her strength. It's not the kind of strength Medea had (everything comes back to Medea with me :-D), but it's just as good, in my opinion. And while Odysseus himself may not mesh well with feminism, I'm not sure that Penelope and her actions shouldn't. She was clearly a woman capable of taking care of herself. And in her situation, it really just might have been her own self-respect that kept her away from those suitors, not simply that she was being a good, obedient little Greek wife. She did, after all, show a little more defiance than one would expect to be desirable in a typical meek housewife.

And I do believe that's part of the problem I had with Atwood's Penelopiad. I really don't think it's necessary for Penelope to be so much on the defensive for her actions.


Blogger Aine Bina said...

Yeah, Penelope isn't bad. She does seem to whine a lot though, from what I remember. In Odysseus's offense, some of those women didn't give him a lot of choice in becoming their concubines.

So, you know how my dreams tap into mythological truths? Today I had a dream that Cassandra was actually supposed to marry the Devil, since Zeus couldn't remarry and have a proper heir, and the devil had to have one instead. And Apollo was flying her there, but she actually tricked him into dropping her off at Troy, so she used him as some sort of airplane service. And she cried and it scalded him, or something. It was a weird dream.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

Yeah, I go back and forth between liking Odysseus and being vaguely annoyed.

And WOW you have interesting dreams. o_O

12:48 AM  
Blogger Myrtle said...

Just dropping in to say that I enjoyed this post. I wish I had some clever comment.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

Aww, thanks for the comment!!

8:56 PM  

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