Penelope’s Similarities to Stereotypical Ancient Greek Women

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Penelope exhibits several identical traits to Hesiod’s Pandora, which is shown by her immense physical charm, renowned weaving ability, and through her cunning method of deceiving the suitors for three years. By using her immense feminine charm and cunning intelligence, Penelope perfectly fits the model of a stereotypical ancient Greek woman, as defined by Pandora. Her beauty enables her to enchant and bring pain upon the suitors who desperately want to marry her, and her skillful weaving and cunning nature allows her to deceive the suitors and ultimately bring them immense suffering. 

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Penelope is described as extremely beautiful, likewise to Pandora, which allows her to entrance and attract men using her beauty. After Pandora’s creation, the poem states, “... Immortal gods and mortal men/ were amazed when they saw this tempting snare” , which displays the temptation’s caused by women to males. This temptation brought forth from the opposite sex is an aspect of stereotypical ancient Greek women, “from which men cannot escape. From her comes the fair sex;/ yes, wicked womenfolk are her descendants.”  Due to her beauty, Queen Penelope projects an alluring charm that attracts over 100 suitors to vie for her hand in marriage. One description of Penelope’s appearance compares her to Aphrodite, “Then the queen/ her wits about her, came down from her room, / like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.” Penelope’s alluring charm, comparable to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, is one major aspect of stereotypical ancient Greek women, who are sources of temptation for men. 

During her creation, Zeus ordered Athena to teach Pandora the skills he believed necessary for the first mortal woman in ancient Greek society. The skills that Pandora acquired under Athena’s guidance define the stereotypical skills required for ancient Greek women. Among those skills was expertise at weaving, “Athena was to teach her skills and intricate weaving”. Penelope fits this attribute of a stereotypical ancient Greek woman, as she is renowned for her weaving ability. During her process of deceiving the suitors, Penelope used her weaving ability to recreate the death shroud of Laertes daily, “she came up with a special trick: he fixed/ a mighty loom inside the palace hall. Weaving her fine cloth, she said to us” . Moreover, her weaving ability is so great, Antinous, one of her many suitors, comments,” Athena blessed her with intelligence, / great artistry and skill...” , which shows that Penelope was indeed talented, like Pandora. Not only does Penelope have the charm and skills of a stereotypical ancient Greek woman, she is extremely cunning and clever. 

Penelope exhibits several instances of her cunning nature throughout the Odyssey, from her method of deceiving the suitors for over three years, to her testing the beggar who claims to be her late husband, Odysseus. This trait of possessing a deceiving nature originates from Pandora, “...ordered Hermes the pathbreaker and Slayer of Argos/ to put in her the mind of a bitch and a thievish nature.” Since Pandora received a cunning nature from Hermes, and intelligence from Athena, stereotypical ancient Greek woman can be defined as deceiving and wise. An instance where Penelope demonstrates these characteristics is her process of fooling the suitors for several years, “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.”. Penelope uses her intelligence to avoid answering the suitors, while also respecting the rules of her society, and in turn deceiving everyone for three years. 

Beyond simply deceiving her suitors for over three years, she also helped set in motion their swift demise. Pandora was created by the gods to bring pain and suffering on to mankind, “but the women with her hands removed the great lid of the jar/ and scattered its contents, brining grief and cares to men. / Only Hope stayed under the rim of the jar.”. In other words, this means that the actions of stereotypical ancient Greek women cause men great suffering. Furthermore, upon Odysseus’ arrival in Ithaca as a disguised beggar, Penelope sets up a contest to determine if the stranger was truly her husband. The contest she proposed was something only Odysseus could win, and by granting the victor her hand in marriage, she elaborately set up the brutal slaughter of the suitors, “...Your motives are no secret. / You want to marry me. I am the prize. / So I will set a contest. This great bow/ belonged to godlike King Odysseus. If anyone can grasp it in his hands/ and string it easily, and shoot through all/ twelve axes. I will marry him....”  By setting this impossible challenge, Penelope ensures that none of the suitors have any chance of winning her hand in marriage and tests the identity of the beggar she suspects is Odysseus. Immediately after the contest concludes, Odysseus and Telemachus begin their slaughter of the suitors, granted by Penelope’s wise course of actions. Penelope’s actions throughout the Odyssey bring pain to the countless suitors who crave her, and eventually death to those men, just as Pandora brought suffering to humanity. Just as Pandora brought suffering to mankind, Penelope lead her suitors to their timely deaths. Through this Penelope exhibits another fundamental characteristic of a stereotypical ancient Greek woman, bringing pain upon others. 

Pandora, the first female created by the gods, is extremely beautiful, skilled, and remarkably cunning. Since she was the first mortal woman, Pandora represents a prototype and stereotypical woman in ancient Greek society. Following this definition, Penelope perfectly fits the model of a stereotypical ancient Greek women, as she possesses the same characteristics as Pandora. Penelope’s beauty attracts men from all over Greece to come court her and attempt to gain her hand in marriage. Her beauty represents the sexual temptation that stereotypical ancient Greek women possess, and how it lures men in. Furthermore, Pandora was taught “intricate weaving”, among other skills, from Athena, which means that women in ancient Greek society must possess certain skills. Renowned for her weaving ability, Penelope fits the model for ancient Greek woman perfectly, as she has the skills necessary for a woman in ancient Greek society. Beyond her great weaving ability, Penelope’s cunning nature and intelligence is another aspect that allows her to fit the mold of a stereotypical woman. She uses her cunning nature to develop and execute a method that allows her to comply with the expectations of society, while also avoiding the suitors. Pandora brought pain and diseases to mankind through her actions, which means that stereotypical ancient Greek women are a source of suffering. This attribute of causing pain can be seen in Penelope from her method of neglecting the suitors, to her elaborate scheme to set in motion their deaths by the hands of her husband. Penelope embodies the same traits that Pandora was created with, which allows her to perfectly fit the image and model of what a stereotypical woman in ancient Greek society should be.  

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