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The Many-Minded ManThe "Odyssey," Psychology, and the Therapy of Epic$
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Joel P. Christensen

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501752346

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501752346.001.0001

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Penelope’s Subordinated Agency

Penelope’s Subordinated Agency

(p.175) 7 Penelope’s Subordinated Agency
The Many-Minded Man

Joel P. Christensen

Cornell University Press

This chapter offers a longer reading of Penelope alone to examine the ways in which her own agency is curbed by the expectations of social roles and varying levels of internalized oppression. It considers how the Homeric depiction of Penelope may be understood as relying on and re-enforcing psychologically damaging discourse about women. Even though Penelope is easily the most complex woman depicted in Homeric poetry, readings that emphasize her complexity tend to overlook the way her “behavior is imposed on her by her impossible role as faithful wife of a man who is absent.” The chapter then argues that Penelope's characterization is limited to traditional roles and hemmed in by cultural discourse about the weakness of the female body. In addition, Penelope's suffering is instrumentalized: the emotional cost of Odysseus's absence increases the value of his homecoming and delimits idealized behavior for a woman separated from her husband.

Keywords:   Penelope, social roles, Homeric poetry, cultural discourse, female body, women, agency

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