lecture

Penelope II.

Identifications
— female sociality
— lies
— Eurycleia
— status (free, enslaved)
— Homeric women

1. Dora Wheeler, “Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night” (1886). Silk embroidered with silk thread. Image: Metropolitan Museum.

Dora Wheeler..jpg

2Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 2.93-112: Antinous speaking:

We suitors have not done you wrong.
Go blame your precious mother! She is cunning.
It is the third year, soon it will be four,
that she has cheated us of what we want.
She offers hope to all, sends notes to each,
but all the while her mind moves somewhere else.
She came up with a special trick: she fixed
a mighty loom inside the palace hall.
Weaving her fine long cloth, she said to us,
‘Young men, you are my suitors. Since my husband,
the brave Odysseus, is dead, I know
you want to marry me. You must be patient;
I have worked hard to weave this winding-sheet
to bury good Laertes when he dies.
He gained such wealth, the women would reproach me
if he were buried with no shroud. Please let me
finish it!’ And her words made sense to us.
So every day she wove the mighty cloth,
and then at night by torchlight, she unwove it.
For three long years her trick beguiled the Greeks.
But when the fourth year’s seasons rolled around,
a woman slave who knew the truth told us.
We caught her there, unraveling the cloth,
and made her finish it.

+Compare Penelope’s version: Odyssey 19.137-163 (p429).

3. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 9.312-314: Achilles speaking to Odysseus:

I hate that man like the very Gates of Death
who says one thing but hides another in his heart.

4. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.50-72; 89-97:

Then the queen,
her wits about her, came down from her room,
like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
Slaves pulled her usual chair beside the fire;
it was inlaid with whorls of ivory
and silver, crafted by Icmalius,
who had attached a footstool, all in one.
A great big fleece was laid across the chair,
and pensively Penelope sat down.
The white-armed slave girls came and cleared away
the piles of bread, the tables, and the cups,
from which the arrogant suitors had been drinking.
They threw the embers from the braziers
onto the floor, and heaped fresh wood inside them
for light and warmth. And then Melantho scolded
Odysseus again. “Hey! Stranger! Will you
keep causing trouble, roaming round our house
at night and spying on us women here?
Get out, you tramp! Be happy with your meal!
Or you will soon get pelted with a torch!
Be off!” Odysseus began to scowl,
and make a calculated speech. “Insane!
You silly girl, why are you mad at me?”

Penelope
had listened warily, and now she spoke
to scold the slave. “You brazen, shameless dog!
What impudence! I see what you are doing!
Wipe that impertinent expression off!
You knew quite well — I told you so myself —
that I might meet the stranger in the hall
to question him about my missing husband.
I am weighed down by grief.”

5. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.370-381: Eurycleia speaking:

And when that poor Odysseus
stays at the palaces of foreign kings,
I think the women slaves are mocking him
as these bad girls are hounding you. You have
refused to let them wash you, to avoid
abuse. But wise Penelope has told me
to wash you, and reluctantly I will,
for her sake and for yours — you move my heart.
Now listen. Many strangers have come here
in trouble and distress. But I have never
seen any man whose body, voice, and feet
are so much like my master’s.

6. The other side of the Penelope loom vase (see wk 2). Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Odysseus (inscribed) wearing a hat (pilos) with staff and vessel; his leg is washed by the old slave woman, named Eurycleia in the Odyssey but here called “Antiphata” (in the inscription). Eumaeus (inscribed), the swineherd, stands behind. Image: perseus.tufts.edu.

Penelope loom vase b side.jpg

7. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.483-503:

“Nanny! Why are you trying to destroy me?
You fed me at your breast! Now after all
my twenty years of pain, I have arrived
back to my home. You have found out; a god
has put the knowledge in your mind. Be silent;
no one must know, or else I promise you,
if some god helps me bring the suitors down,
I will not spare you when I kill the rest,
the other slave women, although you were
my nurse.” With calculation, Eurycleia
answered, “My child! What have you said! You know
my mind is firm, unshakable; I will
remain as strong as stone or iron. Let me
promise you this: if you defeat the suitors,
I will tell you which women in the palace
dishonor you, and which are free from guilt.”
Odysseus already had a plan.
“Nanny, why do you mention them? No need.
I will make my own observations
of each of them. Be quiet now; entrust
the future to the gods.”

8. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.419-432:

“… But tell me now about the household women.
Which ones dishonor me? And which are pure?”
The slave who loved her master answered, “Child,
I will tell you exactly how things stand.
In this house we have fifty female slaves
whom we have trained to work, to card the wool,
and taught to tolerate their life as slaves.
Twelve stepped away from honor: those twelve girls
ignore me, and Penelope our mistress.
She would not let Telemachus instruct them,
since he is young and only just grown-up.
Let me go upstairs to the women’s rooms,
to tell your wife — some god has sent her sleep.”
The master strategist Odysseus
said, “Not yet; do not wake her. Call the women
who made those treasonous plots while I was gone.”

9. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.461-480:

Showing initiative, Telemachus
insisted, “I refuse to grant these girls
a clean death, since they poured down shame on me
and Mother, when they lay besides the suitors.”
At that, he would a piece of sailor’s rope
round the rotunda and round the mighty pillar,
stretched up so high no foot could touch the ground.
As doves or thrushes spread their wings to fly
home to their nests, but someone sets a trap —
they crash into a net, a bitter bedtime;
just so the girls, their heads all in a row,
were strung up with the noose around their necks
to make their death an agony. They gasped,
feet twitching for a while, but not for long.
Then the men took Melanthius outside
and with curved bronze cut off his nose and ears
and ripped away his genitals, to feed
raw to the dogs. Still full of rage, they chopped
his hands and feet off. Then they washed their own,
and they went back inside.

10. bell hooksAll About Love (2001: 37):

“Males learn to lie as a way of obtaining power, and females not only do the same but they also lie to pretend powerlessness. In her work Harriet Lerner talks about the ways in which patriarchy upholds deception, encouraing women to present a false self to men and vice versa. In Dory Hollander’s 101 Lies Men Tell Women, she confirms that while both women and men lie, her data and the findings of other researchers indicate that “men tend to lie more and with more devastating consequences.” For many young males the earliest experience of power over others comes from the thrill of lying to more powerful adults and getting away with it. Lots of men shared with me that it was difficult for them to tell the truth if they saw it would hurt a loved one. Significantly, the lying many boys learn to do to avoid hurting Mom or whomever becomes so habitual that it becomes hard for them to distinguish a lie from the truth. This behavior carries over into adulthood.”

11. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 23.178-184:

“…Now, Eurycleia, make the bed for him
outside the room he built himself. Pull out
the bedstead, and spread quilts and blankets on it.”
So she spoke to test him, and Odysseus
was furious, and told his loyal wife.
“Woman! Your words have cut my heart! Who moved
my bed?”

English translations: Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018); Homer’s Iliad, Robert Fagles (1990).

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lecture

Epic Heroines or Antagonists? Penelope.

Identifications
— 
Penelope
— women and speech
— masculinity

1a. [Drawing of] Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Penelope, seated on a stool. Telemachus with spears. Loom. Cloth with pegasus and griffin pattern. Image: perseus.tufts.edu.

penelope loom vase.jpg

1b. a modern retelling…

2. Penelope’s name derived from pēnē (πήνη) = “the threads of a spool.” Or…?:

3a. Tatiana Blass (2011), “PENÉLOPE.” Chapel of Morumbi (São Paulo, Brazil). Photography: Everton Ballardin.

Tatiana-Blass-Penelope-12.jpg

Tatiana-Blass-Penelope-1.jpg

3b. weaving as a literary metaphor; from antiquity to modernity:

4. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 6.429-444. Andromache and Hector. 

[Andromache speaking] “Nay, Hector, thou art to me father and queenly mother, [430] thou art brother, and thou art my stalwart husband. Come now, have pity, and remain here on the wall, lest thou make thy child an orphan and thy wife a widow. And for thy host, stay it by the wild fig-tree, where the city may best be scaled, and the wall is open to assault. [435] For thrice at this point came the most valiant in company with the twain Aiantes and glorious Idomeneus and the sons of Atreus and the valiant son of Tydeus, and made essay to enter: whether it be that one well-skilled in soothsaying told them, or haply their own spirit urgeth and biddeth them thereto.” [440] Then spake to her great Hector of the flashing helm: “Woman, I too take thought of all this, but wondrously have I shame of the Trojans, and the Trojans’ wives, with trailing robes, if like a coward I skulk apart from the battle.”

5a. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 1.325-344:

They were sitting calmly,
listening to the poet, who sang how
Athena cursed the journey of the Greeks
as they were sailing home from Troy. Upstairs,
Penelope had heard the marvelous song.
She clambered down the steep steps of her house,
not by herself — two slave girls came with her.
She reached the suitors looking like a goddess,
then stopped and stood beside a sturdy pillar,
holding a gauzy veil before her face.
Her slave girls stood, one on each side of her.
In tears, she told the holy singer, “Stop,
please, Phemius! You know so many songs,
enchanting tales of things that gods and men
have done, the deeds that singers publicize.
Sing something else, and let them drink in peace.
Stop this upsetting song that always breaks
my heart, so I can hardly bear my grief.
I miss him all the time — that man, my husband,
whose story is so famous throughout Greece.”

5b. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 1.345-361:

Sullen Telemachus said, “Mother, no,
you must not criticize the loyal bard
for singing as it pleases him to sing.
Poets are not to blame for how things are;
Zeus is; he gives to each as is his will.
Do not blame Phemius because he told
about the Greek disasters. You must know
the newest song is always praised the most.
So steel your heart and listen to the song.
Odysseus was not the only one
who did not come back home again from Troy.
Many were lost. Go in and do your work.
Stick to the loom and distaff. Tell your slaves
to do their chores as well. It is for men
to talk, especially me. I am the master.”
That startled her. She went back to her room,
and took to heart her son’s deliberate scolding.
She went upstairs, along with both her slaves,
and wept there for dear Odysseus,
until Athena gave her eyes sweet sleep.

5c. Emily Wilson on Telemachus: 

6. Ira Glass, “Freedom Fries,” in This American Life 545, Jan. 23. 2015. 

7. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Advice to Bride and Groom 31 = Moralia 142d. 

Theano [=wife? of philosopher, Pythagoras], in putting her cloak about her, exposed her arm. Somebody exclaimed, “A lovely arm.” “But not for the public,” said she. Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything  in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.

8. Dio Chrysostom (1st/2nd c. CE), Speech 33.38-39. 

Well then, supposing certain people should as a community be so afflicted that all the males got female voices and that no male, whether young or old, could say anything man-fashion, would that not seem a grievous experience and harder to bear, I’ll warrant, than any pestilence, and as a result would they not send to the sanctuary of the god and try by many gifts to propitiate the divine power? And yet to speak with female voice is to speak with human voice, and nobody would be vexed at hearing a woman speak. [39] But who are they who make that sort of sound? Are they not the creatures of mixed sex? Are they not men who have had their testicles lopped off?

English translations: Homer’s Iliad from old Loeb reproduced by Perseus. Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018). Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom from old Loebs reproduced by Lacus Curtius.

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