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Penelope's Renown

Penelope's Renown: Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey

Marylin A. Katz
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 236
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv6gr
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    Penelope's Renown
    Book Description:

    Noted for her contradictory words and actions, Penelope has been a problematic character for critics of the Odyssey, many of whom turn to psychological explanations to account for her behavior. In a fresh approach to the problem, Marylin Katz links Penelope closely with the strategies that govern the overall design of the narrative. By examining its apparent inconsistencies and its deferral of truth and closure, she shows how Penelope represents the indeterminacy that is characteristic of the narrative as a whole. Katz argues that the controlling narrative device of the poem is the paradigm of Agamemnon's fateful return from the Trojan War, narrated in the opening lines of the Odyssey. This story operates not only as a point of reference for Odysseus' homecoming but also as an alternative plot, and the danger that Penelope will betray Odysseus as Clytemnestra did Agamemnon is kept alive throughout the first half of the poem. Once Odysseus reaches Ithaca, however, the paradigm of Helen's faithlessness substitutes for that of Clytemnestra. The narrative structure of the Odyssey is thus based upon an intratextual revision of its own paradigm, through which the surface meaning of Penelope's words and actions is undermined though never openly discredited.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6187-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. GLOSSARY OF GREEK TERMS
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Chapter One INDETERMINACY AND INTERPRETATION
    (pp. 3-19)

    Toward the end of theOdyssey, in the second of the underworld scenes, the shades of the suitors slain by Odysseus and his son encounter those of the Trojan War heroes. Agamemnon is in the midst of explaining to Achilles how he came to be cheated of both his homecoming (nostos) and his renown (kleos), when the arrival of the suitors’ shades interrupts his narrative. The suitor Amphimedon explains the suitors’ collective fate, and includes an account of Penelope’s weaving and the contest of the bow. Whereupon Agamemnon, overcome with admiration, addresses a congratulatory apostrophe to Odysseus, his living counterpart:...

  6. Chapter Two THE CONSTRUCTION OF ABSENCE (BOOKS 1–4, 11)
    (pp. 20-53)

    TheOdysseyopens with an announcement that its subject is the man Odysseus and his homecoming, but Odysseus himself does not appear as a character in the narrative until Book 5. This absence from the text is not simply a nonpresence, a not being there; it is endowed in the first four books of the poem with a particular shape and form, centering, as I shall argue in this chapter, on the House of Atreus story. It is this story which initiates the action proper in the poem, for this is themythosthat Zeus takes up when he begins...

  7. Chapter Three COMING HOME/GOING HOME (BOOKS 13, 15, 16)
    (pp. 54-76)

    In the exchange between Agamemnon and Odysseus in the firstnekyia, at approximately the midpoint in the narrative, Clytemnestra, Penelope, and Helen appear together for the only time in the poem. Odysseus, having heard the sad story of Agamemnon’s murder, reflects sorrowfully on the disasters brought to the House of Atreus “through women’s counsels” (γυναιϰείας διὰ βουλὰς, 11.437) and refers to both Clytemnestra and Helen. Whereupon Agamemnon warns Odysseus about Penelope, while assuring him at the same time that he has nothing to fear from her (11.441–44). The conjunction of the three women is a significant one, and I...

  8. Chapter Four WHAT DOES PENELOPE WANT? (BOOKS 18, 19)
    (pp. 77-113)

    Penelope’s actions and intentions in the section of theOdysseywhere she figures prominently have long constituted what scholars call acrux(“point of difficulty”) of interpretation orzetema(“interpretive issue”). Her appearance before the suitors and solicitation of gifts from them has exposed her to the suspicion of lasciviousness; and her failure to recognize Odysseus in Book 19 has raised questions about the direction of her thoughts. The debate on these matters began in antiquity and was elaborated into a subordinate tradition that competed with the “vulgate” of a chaste and faithful Penelope (Jacobson 1974:246). For example, the scholia...

  9. Chapter Five THE CONSTRUCTION OF PRESENCE (BOOKS 17–21)
    (pp. 114-154)

    The overall homecoming sequence includes the omens and foreshadowings of Book 17, the appearance before the suitors in 18, thehomiliaand the decision to set the bow-contest in 19, the sorrowful dreams of Book 20, and the setting of the contest in Book 21; it culminates in theanagnōrismos(“recognition scene”) of Book 23. It is this sequence which requires interpretation, and whose narrative coherence in the text as we have it must be explained. We have seen already that the analytic reading splits this narrative into two or more principal segments, and generally regards Penelope’s appearance before the...

  10. Chapter Six DUPLICITY, INDETERMINACY, AND THE IDEOLOGY OF EXCLUSIVITY (BOOK 23)
    (pp. 155-191)

    As many commentators have observed, the principal narrative trope of the second half of theOdysseyis disguise and recognition. Hölscher, for example, describes “the basic motifs of the return of Odysseus [as] ‘hiding’ and ‘revelation’ ” (“Verbergung und Enthüllung,” 1939:67), and Thornton remarks, “ ‘Concealment’ and ‘Disclosure’—which are of course complementary to each other—are the dramatic ideas on which the second half of theOdysseyis built” (1970:124–25).¹ In addition, this aspect of the poem has been the subject of two full-length studies in recent years. Murnaghan’s book (1987) addresses the theme directly, and Pucci’s investigation...

  11. Conclusion INDETERMINACY IN THE ODYSSEY
    (pp. 192-196)

    At the beginning of theOdysseythe story of Agamemnon’snostosdisplaces that of Odysseus from the narrative foreground: when Zeus first addresses the assembled divinities on Olympus, he begins by calling to mind the sorry fate of Agamemnon upon his return home from the Trojan War. At the end of theOdyssey, in the secondnekyia, the story of Odysseus’snostosdisplaces that of Agamemnon: when Agamemnon is on the point of relating his own return to Achilles, the suitors appear, and Amphimedon’s account of the return of Odysseus takes the place of Agamemnon’s intended story. In Agamemnon’s address...

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 197-208)
  13. INDEX LOCORUM
    (pp. 209-216)
  14. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 217-223)