Penelope's Archery Contest: A Test Of Character

why does penelope choose an archery contest

In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope chooses an archery contest to determine who will marry her. She knows that only her husband, Odysseus, will be able to string his bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads. This contest is a way for her to avoid marrying one of her suitors, as she remains loyal to Odysseus.

Characteristics Values
To find a suitor to marry She was certain Odysseus would return
To see if any man can be as great as Odysseus She knew the outcome of the contest all along
To test the suitors' skill and physical strength To avoid marrying one of the suitors
To see if any suitor can complete the challenge To demonstrate her loyalty to Odysseus

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To find a suitor who can match Odysseus

In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope is certain that her husband, Odysseus, will return to her and their son, Telemachus, after fighting in the Trojan War. In the meantime, she is inundated with marriage suitors. To keep them at bay, she weaves a burial shroud for Odysseus, telling the suitors that she will choose one of them to marry once it is finished. However, at night, she unravels her weaving, ensuring the shroud is never completed.

Eventually, Odysseus does return, disguised as a beggar, and reclaims his kingdom. Penelope, led by the goddess Athena, decides to hold a contest between the suitors to determine who will be her new husband. She announces that they must string Odysseus's bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe handles. She knows that only Odysseus will be able to complete this challenge.

Penelope's choice of contest is significant. It is a way for her to test the suitors and ensure that she chooses a man who can match Odysseus's strength and skill. The bow is greatly loved by Odysseus, and he does not bring it into battle for fear of losing it. Penelope's decision to use it as the contest weapon suggests that she is aware of the suitors' true identities and is testing them.

During the contest, Telemachus, Odysseus's son, first attempts to string the bow but is stopped by Odysseus with a discreet signal. The suitors then try and fail, some even warming the bow with fire to make it more flexible, but to no avail. Finally, Odysseus asks for a turn, easily strings the bow, and shoots an arrow through the axe handles. At this point, he and Telemachus, both in battle armour, stand ready to kill the suitors and reclaim their honour.

The contest, therefore, serves as a way for Penelope to find a suitor who can match Odysseus, both physically and in terms of skill. It is a test that only Odysseus can pass, ensuring that Penelope can remain faithful to her husband while also finding a way to rid herself of the unwanted suitors.

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To buy time until Odysseus returns

While Penelope waits for Odysseus to return, she is inundated with suitors. To buy herself time, she tells them that she will choose a new husband once she has finished weaving a funeral shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. In the meantime, she works on the shroud during the day, only to unravel it at night. This deception goes on for three years, until her maid, Melantho, discovers her secret and reveals it to the suitors.

Penelope then comes up with another plan to delay her remarriage. She announces a contest, the winner of which will become her husband. The challenge is to string Odysseus' great bow and shoot an arrow through a row of twelve axes. Knowing that only Odysseus will be able to perform this feat, she buys herself more time, hoping that he will return soon.

Penelope's choice of contest is significant. It is a task that only her husband can accomplish, and it serves as a test of his identity. When Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, asks for a chance to try the bow, Penelope strongly supports the idea. This is despite the objections of Antinous, the leader of the suitors, who believes the beggar is beneath Penelope's class. Penelope counters that she is simply being hospitable, and that the beggar would not claim her as his bride.

Penelope's efforts to delay remarriage are often seen as a symbol of her fidelity to Odysseus. However, it is also suggested that she enjoys the attention of her suitors and is ambivalent about remarrying. Regardless, her decision to hold the archery contest is a pivotal moment in the story, allowing Odysseus to reveal himself and reclaim his rightful place.

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To test the suitors' suitability

In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, is pressed by suitors to choose a husband from among them while her husband is away. To stall for time, she weaves a burial shroud for Odysseus by day and unravels it by night, claiming she will choose a suitor once it is finished. However, after three years, her ruse is discovered, and she is forced to devise another way to buy herself more time. She announces an archery contest, with marriage to her as the prize. The challenge is to string Odysseus's old bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe handles.

The contest serves as a test of the suitors' suitability, as it is a challenge that only Odysseus can win. Penelope is certain that Odysseus will return, and she remains faithful to him. She knows that none of the suitors will be able to complete the challenge, and she even allows her son Telemachus to try his hand at it, knowing he will fail. The suitors themselves struggle with the bow, and some attempt to warm it with fire to make it more flexible, but to no avail.

Penelope's choice of contest reveals her cleverness and faithfulness. She knows that only Odysseus possesses the skill and physical strength to complete the challenge. By devising this contest, she buys herself more time and ensures that she will not have to marry any of the suitors.

When Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, asks for a chance to try the bow, Penelope strongly supports the idea. She counters the objections of Antinous, the leader of the suitors, by arguing that she is simply being hospitable to a guest. Of course, she knows that the beggar is actually Odysseus, and she is aware of his true identity.

Odysseus easily strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the axes, revealing himself to the suitors and reclaiming his rightful place as Penelope's husband and the king of Ithaca.

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To prove her loyalty to Odysseus

In choosing an archery contest as the means to select a new husband, Penelope demonstrates her loyalty to her absent husband, Odysseus, in several significant ways. Firstly, by setting a challenge that involves a test of skill and strength, she pays homage to Odysseus' prowess as a warrior. Penelope is aware of her husband's exceptional abilities in battle, and by making martial prowess a criterion for her suitors, she implicitly honors Odysseus and the qualities he embodies. This choice also serves as a subtle deterrent to the suitors, as it raises the bar for them to match Odysseus' legendary skill.

Moreover, the specific choice of an archery contest holds symbolic value. Archery was a skill closely associated with Odysseus, and by selecting this particular contest, Penelope is, in a sense, trying to evoke her husband's spirit. The bow used in the contest was Odysseus' own, adding further significance. This bow, which only he could string, becomes a symbol of his identity, and by using it as the instrument of the contest, Penelope is, in a way, inviting her husband to participate and defend his honor. It is as if she is saying that only a man who can match Odysseus' strength and skill deserves to replace him.

Penelope's loyalty is also evident in the way she designs the contest. The challenge involves shooting an arrow through a row of axe heads, a task that requires precision and strength—both qualities that Odysseus possessed. By setting this difficult task, Penelope is, in essence, creating a memorial to her husband's abilities, making it clear that any potential suitor must measure up to the high standard set by Odysseus. This design also serves as a subtle form of revenge against the suitors, who have been pestering her for years, as it forces them to confront the reality of their inadequacy in comparison to Odysseus.

The archery contest can also be seen as a way for Penelope to buy time, delaying the inevitable choice of a new husband. By setting a challenge that she knows will be difficult, if not impossible, for the suitors to achieve, she gains more time to remain faithful to Odysseus, even if only in spirit. This delay is significant because it demonstrates her unwavering commitment to her husband, even after his long absence. It is as if she is saying that until someone can prove themselves worthy of replacing Odysseus, she will remain loyal to his memory.

Finally, by choosing a contest that tests the suitors' physical abilities, Penelope is, in a way, rejecting the traditional notion of a woman's role in marriage. She is not simply looking for a suitor who can provide for her materially or offer social status; instead, she seeks a man who can match Odysseus' strength and skill—qualities that she values highly. In doing so, she demonstrates that her loyalty to Odysseus goes beyond societal expectations or practical considerations; it is a loyalty rooted in a deep appreciation for who he is and what he represents.

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To avoid marriage

In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope is faced with a swarm of suitors who have invaded her home while her husband, Odysseus, is away fighting in the Trojan War. Certain that Odysseus will return, she does not want to remarry and so devises a plan to delay their courtship. She tells the suitors that she will choose a husband once she has finished weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus's father, Laertes. However, she unravels her weaving at night, ensuring that the shroud will never be completed. This ruse works for three years until a treacherous maid exposes her deception.

Forced to come up with another plan, Penelope proposes an archery contest. She brings out Odysseus's bow and tells the suitors that she will marry whoever can string it and shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads. Knowing that only Odysseus has performed this feat before, she is confident that none of the suitors will succeed. The suitors' failure will give her a valid reason to avoid remarriage.

One by one, the suitors attempt the challenge but none can string the bow, let alone shoot an arrow through the axes. Finally, Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, steps forward and easily strings the bow. He then turns the weapon on the suitors, shooting them one by one. Penelope, witnessing the carnage, asks if she must now marry a beggar. Odysseus reveals himself as her husband, and the couple are reunited.

Penelope's choice of an archery contest as the means to determine her new husband is a clever strategy to avoid remarriage. She knows that the feat is impossible for the suitors, and by setting a condition that only Odysseus can fulfil, she ensures that she will not have to marry anyone else. The contest also allows her to buy time and delay the suitors' demands for marriage.

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