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Penelope’s Shroud

by J. Garvey

So for three years she was secret in her design, convincing
the Achaians, but when the fourth year came with the seasons returning,
one of her women, who knew the whole of the story, told us.
Wise Penelope was weaving her intricate shroud with intent,
unknown to the suitors, to unravel it to the moon’s face.
Grey-eyed Athene, disguised as a woman of Penelope’s
told her lady of the restless suitors and of their plan.
“Lady,” spoke Grey-eyed Athene, “The suitors want your hand
and impatiently they wait for you as you do for your husband.”
Wily Penelope smiled and said only this:
“Until I have finished my dear father’s shroud, they shall wait.”
The wife of Odysseus went back to her weaving, and Greyeyed
Athene took up Penelope’s hands:
“Of your husband’s fate I cannot say, but you must think for
yourself and for your son. He lays at the hands of the suitors,
the hands of the violent Antinoös. What is the best for young
Telemachus, for you? Antinoös becomes more and more
impatient with your refusals.” Penelope did not once turn
from her work as the disguised goddess spoke. Wise Penelope,
without turning from the shroud, simply answered:
“My patience has lasted twenty years for godlike Odysseus’s
return. What is keeping Antinoös’s from lasting a little
longer?” Goddess Gray-eyed Athene knew not what to do next.
She knew, if she couldn’t sway Penelope, it was
Telemachus who must find out about his father. Wise
Penelope would stall the suitors until godlike Odysseus
returned home, or until she heard definitive word of
his death.
As night fell, another maid was curious about her Queen.
While even the sun slept, Penelope was just beginning.
The queen admired her beautifully made funeral shroud by
a single candlelight, the fresh rows staring bright. With a breath,
she began her fourth year by delicately removing the
unsullied rows stitch by stitch. Under the cover of night,
Penelope thought she worked in peace, but a curious
woman lurked in the shadows. She watched the thread fall longer
and the shroud grow shorter. The woman knew what had to be done.
On the coming of the fourth year, the suitors snuck into Wise
Penelope’s chamber at nightfall. The captured Queen said
nothing in apology. Antinoös, the leader of the
suitors told her:
“You have fooled us long enough. You must finish this shroud without
trickery, and when you are done you must choose a new husband.
Our patience is thin and your ruses must end.” Penelope
said nothing in reply but bowed her head in understanding.
She would finish the shroud but she was in no means ready to
give up on her husband.
So, against her will and by force, she had to finish it.

J. Garvey is a rising Sophomore at the University
of Mary Washington. Her poem was
written as part of a final project in Professor
Pitts’ Freshman seminar entitled, “The Journey
to the Underworld in Myth and Film.”

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