Loyalty (n. ) – the act of showing faithfulness or devotion to a person, country, group or cause. Loyalty is essential for many reasons. Being loyal means you are willing to make self-sacrifice and do things for others to help them succeed. It means standing by somebody or something that you believe in, no matter what. Countless people have died showing loyalty for their country and for people they love. In Ancient Greece, loyalty to one’s family, friends, and acquaintances was viewed as essential, if not absolutely indispensable.
Today still, almost all people see loyalty as an extremely substantial part of a strong relationship, and those whose lack loyalty are often shunned and ridiculed (e. g. Tiger Woods). Throughout The Odyssey, this value is reflected through the actions of Odysseus’s wife, Penelope. Although not a textbook hero by any means, Penelope’s loyalty was essential to the development of the story; otherwise, Odysseus’s twenty year journey would have been for naught.
While Odysseus is away and enjoying all his different excursions, Penelope is able to resist the long line of suitors waiting to take her hand in marriage and stay loyal to him, showing her faith in Odysseus, her unmatchable patience, and her at-times overlooked intelligence. Showing faith in someone or something is never easy. For instance, even as a diehard Braves fan, it’s sometimes hard to keep faith when your team is down in a critical game, the umps are doing everything within their control to prevent a win, and frankly, all looks lost. But from time to time, if you stick with something for long enough, it just might payoff.
Penelope displays an uncanny faith in Odysseus, waiting over twenty years for him to return from what many said was an impossible voyage. Even Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, did not believe that Odysseus was still alive, and he even told Eurymachus that, “there is no more hope for my father’s homecoming” (Homer 38). Having faith in someone, especially someone who happens to be your spouse, is a must, because having faith shows that you have trust in your partner’s ability, and without that trust, it’s easy to interfere with what they are doing or do something rash, such as killing yourself, that you might regret later.
Take King Aegeus, from another Greek myth, as an example; he threw himself off a cliff after seeing that the ship that was supposed to return with his son, Theseus, did not hoist the right flag which was supposed to signify that Theseus had survived. Aegeus immediately killed himself in vain, demonstrating a lack of faith in his son. It turns out that Theseus had indeed survived and the crew had simply forgotten to put up the right flag. In retrospect, King Aegeus’s lack of faith and impetuous reaction led to his unnecessary death.
Without a doubt, you can see why having faith in someone or something can be so crucial, and even life-saving in some extreme cases. Penelope shows a sizable amount of faith in Odysseus. Her mood throughout the story is rather resistant and stubborn when it comes to her husband. She always manages to avoid the possibility that Odysseus may never return. She acts as if Odysseus is guaranteed to return, even though no one else believes it. She even predicts developments that happen later in the story with unfathomable accuracy.
In Book 16, Penelope says that she wishes that “Odysseus would come now among the suitors” and that “they would all find that death was quick” (Homer 256). Later, Odysseus happens to return, and the suitors happen to be slaughtered quickly, just like Penelope unknowingly prophesies, making her look like a genius. Although Penelope is not supposed to have any knowledge of Odysseus’s travels, it is almost as if she actually does know what’s going on, prompting us to wonder exactly what the extent of Penelope’s knowledge is. Penelope’s belief in Odysseus and his return is nothing short of inexplicable, and not to mention, miraculous.
Fortunately, it paid off, and Odysseus did eventually come home. Without her faith in Odysseus, Penelope easily could have given up and remarried, leaving for an extremely complicated situation for when Odysseus returned. While many readers of The Odyssey would definitively say Odysseus had a tougher go of things, Penelope, while not facing the physical challenges Odysseus withstood, had a mental battle that she refused to lose, proving the importance of her loyalty in The Odyssey. Additionally, in her efforts to stay loyal to Odysseus, Penelope shows off her smarts – using them to evade the seemingly endless barrage of suitors.
Without her quick wit and well thought out tactics, Penelope and her house would have been quickly overrun by the suitors. Penelope clearly understood the position she was in, and devised cunning ways to keep the suitors at bay. An example of her trickery and deception is the shroud she is “weaving” for Laertes. She says to the suitors, “Now that the great Odysseus has perished, wait, though you are eager to marry me, until I finish this web, so that my weaving will not be useless and wasted” (Homer 41), when all along she actually unweaves her day’s work each night, without the knowledge of the suitors, leaving the shroud forever incomplete.
Eventually, her ploy is brought to light to the suitors, but not after she has managed to delay their advancements for a significant period of time. This prompts Antinoos to speak up at an assembly, stating that, “she[Penelope] is greatly resourceful…she has been denying the desires of the Achaians. For she holds out hope to all, and makes promises to each man, sending us messages, but her mind has different intentions” (Homer 41). Penelope somehow manages to postpone the suitors with her tactics for years on end, an incredible feat, especially for a single woman against a throng of suitors.
Furthermore, not only does Penelope use her head to delay the suitors, but she also uses it to test Odysseus when he finally returns. To make sure that he is not a suitor in disguise, Penelope tells him about her “new bed” that was given to her by a suitor. Knowing that only Odysseus would know that the bed he originally built for her was unmovable, Penelope discreetly confirms Odysseus’s identity by saying to her nurse: “Come then…make up a firm bed for him[Odysseus] outside the well-fashioned camber: that very bed that he himself built.
Put the firm bed here outside for him, and cover it over with fleeces and blankets with shining coverlets” (Homer 339-340). Of course, Odysseus passes her “test” and Penelope rejoices, but again, this shows that Penelope is someone who does not let much get by her. With her astuteness, Penelope is able to finally reunite with Odysseus, showing how essential her intelligence is. In order for her aptitude and her faith in Odysseus to actually amount to something, Penelope had to have patience and perseverance. The fact that she had to not only believe in Odysseus but also influence the suitors was enough – but to do it for twenty years!
Her ability to outlast the suitors and her own mental fortitude demonstrate absurd patience. Without patience, there are few tasks you can accomplish, and few problems that are solvable. Having patience is a key to overcoming something that seems extensive and overwhelming. Penelope’s patience is extremely admirable; after all, twenty years is nothing to scoff at. The most impressive exhibition of her patience was in fact after Odysseus returned and eliminated the suitors. At first Penelope was wary, when most would immediately have fallen into Odysseus’s arms.
This leads to Odysseus exclaiming, “No other woman, with spirit as stubborn as yours, would keep back as you are doing so from your husband who, after much suffering, came at last in the twentieth year back to his own country” (Homer 338). But, Penelope has legitimate reason to make sure it actually is Odysseus and not a suitor. After all, after twenty years of unrelenting attempts from the suitors, shape-shifting into Odysseus is not a ploy that could completely be put past them. Nonetheless, the restrain Penelope shows when first seeing Odysseus is something that few people in our world today would be able to replicate.
Keep in mind that the two have been separated for over twenty years. Penelope and her loyalty never falter during The Odyssey. Even at the end of the story, she is still nagging Odysseus like an over-protective mom, showing us that she never loses her patience through the book. Penelope’s patience is the most important factor that allows her to show loyalty to Odysseus. To recapitulate, Penelope’s faith, intelligence, and patience help illustrate the theme of loyalty in The Odyssey. Truly, she is the epitome of loyalty, no matter how you want to define it.
While Odysseus is away fooling around with Circe and Calypso, Penelope is staying away from the suitors at home, displaying unwavering loyalty even at the expense of Odysseus’s unfair “double standard. ” Loyalty is a huge theme in The Odyssey; it can be seen when Odysseus is loyal to Penelope and Telemachus by turning down Calypso’s offer for immortality, and when Telemachus shows loyalty to his family by going to look for Odysseus, but the prime example of loyalty is unquestionably Penelope’s efforts to stay loyal to Odysseus and her family.
Over the course of the story, Penelope does not change, which reinforces the theme. At the beginning of the story, the suitors tell of how Penelope tricks with her shroud weaving story, and they speak of how she manages to fool them for over three years. Near the end of the story, Penelope is still using her smarts to confirm Odysseus’s identity, with the same patience that she shows at the beginning of the epic when she is deceiving the suitors.
The theme of staying loyal to your loved ones never changes, as demonstrated by Penelope’s static characteristics. Her ability to trick the suitors, her patience, and her faith to Odysseus stay the same, showing the importance of sustaining loyalty for a long period of time. Through Penelope, Homer demonstrates to us why loyalty is important, and why you must always stay loyal, and although the story may focus on Odysseus, Penelope is an unspoken hero, making sure Odysseus’s story is possible.