Ethical Love in the Story of Odysseus and Penelope

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Thousands of years ago, the Greek hero Odysseus was written about by Homer in The Odyssey. But even before that time, stories and tales of his heroism had been passed around through word-of-mouth for what seemed like an eternity to those who could not read or write; they were told during long days when people went on with their lives without electricity and didn’t have anything better to do than tell each other tall tales from generation to generation.

Short description about Odysseus and Penelope

Odysseus, a king of ancient Greece and one of the most famous figures in history, was also an incredible father. Not just because he longs to return home for his family but because it is often referenced that Odysseus liked nothing more than being at home with Penelope telling stories about the adventures they had together. At the same time, he traveled around the world on business matters – all so she could use them as bedtime tales for their children before putting them to sleep.

Odysseus’s 20-year journey is a story that has been told and retold for centuries. The Trojan War, which lasted ten years, finally ended but not without the loss of many lives, including Odysseus’s son Telemachus who died in battle during the war’s final year. After returning home to Ithaca from Troy with his men, he finds out about Penelope being courted by other suitors because they assume Odysseus had perished on their voyage back; they were wrong.

There are happy endings to stories, and Homer’s Odyssey is one of them. But you must know the story first before I tell you how much Odysseus and Penelope mean to me.

Can love be ethical?

Romantic love is a complicated beast. We fall in love not because it’s the right thing to do but because we choose to let ourselves feel our emotions, yet sometimes they can be uncontrollable and go on without us being able to make any decisions about them.

In that sense, love itself seems to be a form of ethics. In both morality and love, we are required with radical freedom: without choice, there is no moral action left in us, for it would be imitation or obedience instead. Similarly, if I were actually obliged to experience real affection from someone else then the feeling wouldn’t be genuine as well since you can’t expect obligation from anyone who has their own free will – like myself!

In both cases, fear seems to be the main thing that keeps us from living a life of freedom. We all decide to stick to a set of rules because we hope others will do the same with us. This makes coexistence so much easier for everyone involved!

What would happen if we let go of our fear and were able to be free? Would a compass guide us, or what else might help steer the tides of feeling and desire that can overwhelm us?

The story of Odysseus and Penelope may help us find an answer.

After twenty years of fighting and adventure, Odysseus is ready to return home. For the first ten, he was in Troy during their war with Greece; for the second decade, his task has been resisting charms from a series of earth-bound women who posed as goddesses or nymphs. In order to do so, he had many encounters that were frightening giants on land and sea until Athena finally guided him back to 

For ten years, Penelope waited patiently for the end of the war and her husband’s inevitable return. But when he did not come back after ten long years, she became convinced that something had happened to him on his journey home from Troy.

Penelope may be the only one waiting, but she will not give up on her love.

Some people are much less patient than others. It’s unsurprising that when your husband doesn’t come home after a war has been finished, you’re suddenly shot back onto the eligible bachelorette list–every male within 50 miles and over 12 years old pours into Penelope’s palace to petition for her hand.

The ancient laws of hospitality dictated that Penelope could not kick them out, so these marriage-hungry parasites linger for years and years, eating Odysseus’ once prosperous kingdom into a hole. Not only that, they force the maidservants of the house to sleep with them while stealing off goods from surrounding villages– And every day there’s an unanswerable question asked by everyone in his court: “Penelope, when are you going to marry me?” 

Penelope is not going to give in when she knows her husband should be on his way home. Luckily, Penelope was just as intelligent and cunning as her husband and found many ways to stall them.

My favorite excuse from The Odyssey is when Penelope delays marrying her suitors by telling them she has to stitch a burial shroud for her father-in-law. She was so diligent about it every day, but they didn’t know that at night, before bedtime, she would pull out all the stitching and start over again!

The Contest

“Fine, I will marry one of you,” she announces one day. “But I want to make sure I marry the worthy man. So I have devised a test to determine who shall be my husband.”

The test is simple –

  1. String Odysseus’ great longbow by hand.
  2. Fire an arrow through the holes of 12 axes.

Odysseus watches the pitiful contest in his hall. He had finally made it back, but with 20 years and a household of suitors between him and Penelope, he doesn’t know for sure if she’ll accept him or not after all this time apart. Other Greek kings returned from war to be murdered by their wives – could’ve happened here too! After so much lost time together though, they are still married- that’s something at least.

Odysseus, the older adult who had disguised himself as a beggar long enough to exact his revenge on all of those that have wronged him over these many years, steps forward and quickly strings the bow. The suitors laugh at this weak old fool but quickly choke back their laughter when he shoots an arrow straight through its center with a flash of blinding light.

The Great Rooted Bed

Penelope heard the commotion in the great hall when Odysseus took out all of her suitors. She has a feeling that something is coming – something big – so she waits anxiously in the chamber next to her bedroom, with bated breath and quivering fingers until he walks through those doors. And then there’s him: home after 20 years away on his long voyage!

Love & Loyalty Odysseus and Penelope story

A wise man once said that “the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.” That’s why I loved Penelope and Odysseus. Theirs was a love that endured despite time passing or how much water under the bridge.

That’s why they are so happy. That is what it means to get a second chance, and when you finally find the person who has been missing from your life for two decades, then all of those years melt away into nothing but lost time that doesn’t matter at all in comparison because now you have them back.

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