Penelope

The day he left, Odysseus said that leaving was the hardest thing he had ever done. He told me he loved Telemachus and me, and that it was for our own good that he left. He said that he could not be a good husband and father if he stayed.

He left.

…..

Our marriage was unconventional. He asked my uncle for my hand, when all of Greece was pursuing Helen. I always knew that I was not beautiful, but he didn’t care. I was more than just a prize to him; he truly loved me. I was his staunchest ally, and he was my crafty Odysseus. When he left, my heart tore in two and he took part of it with him to far-off Troy. He left a part of it here in rocky Ithaca with me, though. Our son, Telemachus, looked like his father from a very early age. Every time I looked in his eyes, I feel the wound of my husband’s leaving again.

As he grew, I told him of my shrewd and strong Odysseus, and I tried to raise him to be a crafty warrior and leader of men like his father. He will never be my beloved Odysseus, but perhaps he will be as good a man in his own way. When the men began to return from the war, straggling back, I watched and waited with impatience. I took Telemachus down to the harbor almost daily, straining to see the white sails of my husband’s ship on the horizon. He never came. Eventually, I stopped watching.

The year Telemachus turned seventeen, our home was invaded. A horde of unmanly suitors descended upon us and attempted to win my hand. When I refused, they denied my right to remain a widow. I plotted, and schemed, and strove to impede their wooing, but my stratagems were undone by treachery from my maids. I told the suitors that I was still waiting for Odysseus, but they refused to listen. They spent long hours trying to persuade me that he was dead, and I might as well choose one of them before they destroyed my home and everything he had built. The cowards’ hours were wasted. I knew that he was dead. Nevertheless, I remained resolute. These effeminate bullies have no right to claim the proud Odysseus’s wife as their own. He would crush them for even trying. Telemachus will be able to do the same soon. After having known the intimacy of a marriage of equals, how could I consent to be a prize for boys? I am Odysseus’s woman, not a flighty girl that will fall into their arms.

…..

This year, Telemachus turned twenty-one. He has changed. Instead of rising to the suitors’ taunts, he deflects them and turns their folly against them. He daily grows more like his father: crafty, strong, and protective. On the other hand, he is definitely his own man—quieter, steadier, and less prone to the arrogance and boastfulness that often plagued his father. Today he will leave. He claims that he is searching for his father, and that he will return. He says that he loves me, and that he has to do this. He would not be Odysseus’s son if he stayed. He will probably never come back.

They say that it is hard to be a man. They have to leave us. They have to fight their wars and fulfill their tasks. They claim that this is man’s work, and that women are not strong enough to handle war and adventure, blood and sweat. At the end, though, they return home, to their wives and comfort. Is it not hard to be a woman, as well? Does it not require strength to endure the long, slow wait, to defend hearth and home against usurpers and intruders, never to know if your man is being faithful to you or even if he is ever coming back? It is hard to be a woman. It is especially hard to be a woman whose husband will never come back. Nonetheless, even though I am alone and unaided, I am glad Odysseus chose me. I am glad to be his woman.

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