The more time I spend translating Penelope’s speech and scenes, the more “heroic” she seems to become—possessing superhuman strength, pursuing fame, potentially being the recipient of cult honors.
It makes me wonder what she meant to the historical women of archaic and classical Athens. Three potential clues might be 1) the existence of women cult heroes, 2) women-only festivals, and 3) the importance of weaving in the ancient world, practically (for the time and skill it demanded in a time before mass production), artistically (in its intersections creatively with pottery design), and conceptually (in how the ancient Greeks conceptualized the world).
It does not feel like a great leap to imagine women reciting their own version of the Odyssey, from Penelope’s point of view, in which she is the hero who Athena patronizes. It surely feels like the Odyssey provides enough material to work with. Here are two passages from Odyssey 19 that I worked on earlier this summer:
“Stranger, friend, let me tell you truly about the excellence seen in my form.
The immortals destroyed it when [the Achaeans] went to Ilion
From Argos, and with them went my own, my husband Odysseus.
If he were to come back, longing to care for my life,
In this way, my fame would be greater and more beautiful.
But now, I grieve for myself, for so great are the ills a superhuman force has set against me.” (19.124-9)
“While [the suitors] urge for a wedding feast, I spin schemes to trap them.
My first was a large cloth, which a god breathed into my consciousness,
Making it stand on a great loom, to be woven in a large room,
Subtle and well-fitted. Straightaway, I spoke among them.” (19.137-40)
What do you think?