We were pleased to welcome Professor Olga Levaniouk (U. of Washington) for an Open House Discussion on Penelope & Weaving. Our discussion was informed by the descriptions of Penelope’s weaving in Scrolls 2, 19, and 24—especially the focus passages below.
You can watch the recording in the frame below, or on our YouTube channel.
Odyssey ii 85–128
 “Telemakhos, insolent braggart that you are, how dare you try to throw the blame upon us suitors? We are not the ones who are responsible [aitioi] but your mother is, for she knows many kinds of craftiness [kerdos]. This three years past, and close on four,
 she has been driving us out of our minds, by encouraging each one of us, and sending him messages that say one thing but her mind [noos]means other things. And then there was that other trick she played us. She set up a great tambour frame in her room, and began to work
 on an enormous piece of fine fabric. ‘Sweet hearts,’ said she, ‘Great Odysseus is indeed dead, still do not press me to marry again immediately, wait – for I would not have skill in weaving perish unrecorded—till I have completed a shroud for the hero Laertes, to be in readiness against the time when
 death shall take him. He is very rich, and the women of the district [dēmos] will talk if he is laid out without a shroud.’ “This was what she said, and we assented; whereon we could see her working on her great web all day long,
 but at night she would unpick the stitches again by torchlight. She fooled us in this way for three years and we never found her out, but as time [hōra] wore on and she was now in her fourth year, one of her maids who knew what she was doing told us, and we caught her in the act of undoing her work,
 so she had to finish it whether she would or no. The suitors, therefore, make you this answer, that both you and the Achaeans may understand – ‘Send your mother away, and bid her marry the man of her own and of her father’s choice’;
 for I do not know what will happen if she goes on plaguing us much longer with the airs she gives herself on the score of the accomplishments Athena has taught her, and because she knows so many kinds of kerdos. We never yet heard of such a woman; we know all about
 Tyro, Alkmene, Mycenae, wearer of garlands, and the famous women of old, but they were nothing to your mother, any one of them. It was not fair of her to treat us in that way, and as long as she continues in the mind [noos] with which the gods have now endowed her, so long shall we go on eating up your estate;
 and I do not see why she should change, for she gets all the honor and glory [kleos], and it is you who pay for it, not she. Understand, then, that we will not go back to our lands, neither here nor elsewhere, till she has made her choice and married some one or other of us.”
Odyssey xix 124–158
“Stranger, the immortal gods robbed me of all excellence [aretē], whether of face or figure,
 when the Argives set sail for Troy and my dear husband with them. If he were to return and look after my affairs I would have more fame [kleos] and would show a better presence to the world. As it is, I am oppressed with care, and with the afflictions which a superhuman force [daimōn] has seen fit to heap upon me.
 The chiefs from all our islands – Doulikhion, Samē, and wooded Zakynthos, as also from Ithaca itself, are wooing me against my will and are wasting my estate. I can therefore show no attention to strangers, nor suppliants,
 nor to people who say that they are skilled artisans, but am all the time brokenhearted about Odysseus. They want me to marry again at once, and I have to invent stratagems in order to deceive them. In the first place a superhuman force [daimōn] put it in my mind to set up a great tambour-frame in my room, and to begin working upon
 an enormous piece of fine needlework. Then I said to them, ‘Sweethearts, great Odysseus is indeed dead, still, do not press me to marry again immediately; wait—for I would not have my skill in needlework perish unrecorded – till I have finished making a shroud for the hero Laertes, to be ready
 against the time when death shall take him. He is very rich, and the women of the district [dēmos] will talk if he is laid out without a shroud.’ This was what I said, and they assented; whereon I used to keep working at my great web all day long,
 but at night I would unpick the stitches again by torch light. I fooled them in this way for three years without their finding it out, but as time [hōra] wore on and I was now in my fourth year, in the waning of moons, and many days had been accomplished, those good-for-nothing hussies my maids
 betrayed me to the suitors, who broke in upon me and caught me; they were very angry with me, so I was forced to finish my work whether I would or no. And now I do not see how I can find any further shift for getting out of this marriage.
Odyssey xxiv 120–148
 And the spirit [psukhē] of Amphimedon answered, “Agamemnon, son of Atreus, king of men, I remember everything that you have said, and will tell you fully and accurately about the way in which our end was brought about.
 Odysseus had been long gone, and we were courting his wife, who did not say point blank that she would not marry, nor yet bring matters to an end, for she meant to compass our destruction: this, then, was the trick she played us. She set up a great tambour frame in her room and began to work
 on an enormous piece of fine needlework. ‘Sweethearts,’ said she, ‘Great Odysseus is indeed dead, still, do not press me to marry again immediately; wait – for I would not have my skill in needlework perish unrecorded—till I have completed a shroud for the hero Laertes, against the time when
 death shall take him. He is very rich, and the women of the district [dēmos] will talk if he is laid out without a shroud.’ This is what she said, and we assented; whereupon we could see her working upon her great web all day long,
 but at night she would unpick the stitches again by torchlight. She fooled us in this way for three years without our finding it out, but as time [hōra] wore on and she was now in her fourth year, and the waning of moons and many days had been accomplished, one of her maids who knew what she was doing told us,
 and we caught her in the act of undoing her work, so she had to finish it whether she would or not; and when she showed us the robe she had made, after she had had it washed, its splendor was as that of the sun or moon.
If you have comments, questions, or observations about the passages and themes discussed, members can continue discussing this topic in the Forum, here.
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