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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