Penelope’s dream in the Odyssey

“But come, hear this dream of mine, and interpret it for me:
I had twenty geese round the house, they came up from the water
and I fed them on wheat: the sight of them warmed my heart.
But down from the mountain swooped a great eagle, with curved beak,
broke all their necks and killed them. They lay scattered
all over the hall, while the eagle soared up in the bright sky.
I wept and wailed, although it was only a dream,
and the fine-tressed Achaean women gathered around me
as I grieved sadly because the eagle had killed my geese.
But then back it came, perched on a jutting rafter,
and with the voice of a human caught me short, declaring:
‘Take heart, you daughter of far-famed Ikarios: this
is no dream, but a true vision, that will surely be fulfilled!
These geese are the suitors, and I, who before was a bird,
the eagle, have now at last come back as your husband,
who’ll unleash a grim fate on all the suitors.’”
Odyssey 19.535-549

I’ve been revisiting the Odyssey and falling in love with Penelope all over again. She’s such a brilliantly difficult character to read, so easy to overlook or dismiss, perhaps intentionally. Clever and canny, she’s perpetually sizing up her situation and carefully choosing her moves, crafting coded messages and engineering events, all without seeming to be doing very much at all. Yet Odysseus’ successful return can only be achieved through her.

Her scenes are some of my favorite moments in the Odyssey. In this one, she asks Odysseus, who is still disguised, to interpret her dream, in which Odysseus interprets her dream! Oh, the layers and layers of subtext…

Who are some of your favorite characters in epic? Favorite scenes?

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