Throughout the epic, the revenge against the suitors is referred to as a “blood wedding.” They have been courting death, perhaps literally. After all, it is Queen Persephone of the underworld who governs the spirits of the dead. Hard and cold, the goddess’ mortal equivalent may in fact be Penelope.

The climax is set in motion by of all people, Penelope. She in capitulation announces a contest that will determine her husband. She will marry whoever can use Odysseus’ bow to shoot an arrow through twelve axes. Penelope has surrendered… or has she? Penelope is as much a trickster as Odysseus. It’s possible she held this contest, expecting that none would have the strength. After the suitors fail to draw the bow, Odysseus takes his turn. He succeeds and promptly turns the bow against his foes. Odysseus, Telemachus, and two servants take up arms against the army of suitors. At one point the battle turns against them. However, Athena upholds her promise and leads Odysseus to victory. The battle turns into a slaughter.

Penelope, cunning, cold, and suspicious, doesn’t believe that Odysseus could possibly have returned. Thus she puts him to the test. Telemachus responds with indignation but Odysseus sends him away. This is between husband and wife. We come to learn why Odysseus sought so desperately to return to Penelope. The two are of the same mind. She is also the one person Odysseus actually trusts. Disregarding Agamemnon’s advice, Odysseus proceeds to tell her everything.

One challenge still looms though: retribution. We have learned that gods don’t take abuses perpetrated against their offspring lightly; the same holds true for mortals. The lords of the realm learning of the their sons’ death, prepare to take revenge. The cycle of revenge is the central theme of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s tale as well. For without intervention the cycle is never-ending and disrupts the welfare of families, cities, and nations. Athena, like in that tale, arbitrates a peace and installs order. Perhaps this is the message Homer wanted to convey with this epic: to end this cycle and allow peace to reign.   

Advertisements