chapter  8
14 Pages

Bitter constraint? Penelope’s web and “season due”

ByLAURIE O’HIGGINS

Introduction 1 Three times in Homer’s Odyssey – near the beginning, three-quarters along in the story, and at the end – the tale of Penelope’s web is narrated (Hom. Od . 2.89-110; 19.136-61; 24.125-48). The suitor Antinoos relates the story to Telemachus as a rebuke for the latter’s complaint about the suitors’ depredations upon the household. Penelope herself tells the story to the beggar in Book 19. In Book 24, in an Underworld scene, one of the now dead suitors, Amphimedon, relates the story to Agamemnon. Each time the narrator is different, and yet the three tellings are remarkably similar. Penelope tells her suitors that she must fi nish a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, before she marries again. She weaves by day and unweaves by night until a serving maid or maids betray her and she is compelled to fi nish. Although it purports to be the story of a ruse discovered, the impasse inexplicably remains. Penelope continues to defer marriage until the story segues into the contest of the bow and the fi nal denouement.