Match Made in Heaven.

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Match Made in Heaven

Nan Ni

"There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends."



That bard created such two people in The Odyssey, their contrasting roles concealing the similarities in their natures. Both Penelope and Odysseus dealt with "a world of pain", but in very different settings: she wastes away at home, while he faces a myriad of adventures and sufferings around the Greek world. Although Homer assigned them dissimilar parts in his epic, however, his story still reveals striking resemblances between Odysseus and Penelope: they possess positive qualities and several faults in common as well as one major dissimilarity, all of which are the secrets to their long and blissful marriage and help them to see "eye to eye."

One can easily see why Ithaca's king and queen remained happily united for so many years when looking at the shining characteristics they share. Both are wondrously loyal, even when faced with an abundance of temptations. Over the course of twenty years, Odysseus knew countless lovely women, from Nausicaa to Calypso, yet he remained determined to return to his wife. Likewise, Penelope had her choice of one-hundred and eighty of the best men in Greece all vying for her hand, but she still "falls to weeping for Odysseus" every time she thinks of her beloved husband. Undoubtedly, The Odyssey's happy ending could not have occurred without their mutual fidelity. Cunning brilliance is the second attribute common to both Odysseus and Penelope, and it served to reunite them as much as their reciprocal devotion did. Odysseus is known as the "man of twists and turns", and presumably, he used his acumen to select a wife who could match him in matters of the mind. Being the hero of the story, Odysseus's brains are flaunted by Homer in his every action, from his escape from the Cyclops to all the creative stories he fabricated. But Penelope's wisdom can also be detected within the text, and is crucial to the plot. For example, take the often-retold story of her web, woven and unwoven to keep the suitors at bay for three years, or when in Book 18, she coyly elicited expensive gifts from each suitor to compensate for some of her husband's squandered estate. One can also adduce the test she devised for the suitors as a confirmation of her sagacity: "The hand that can string this bow with the greatest ease…he is the man I follow." Penelope knows very well that it is highly unlikely that one of her brazen suitors could muster the strength needed to shoot "his polished bow": it was just another clever way postpone marriage. Had Penelope not "sp[un] out her wiles", much like her husband had done abroad, the lovely queen of Ithaca would probably have been coerced into an unwanted union long before Odysseus returned.

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Not only are the queen and king of Ithaca alike for possessing dominant traits of loyalty and astuteness, they also share several shortcomings. Firstly, although they are devoted enough to pine for each other for two decades, neither were one hundred percent loyal to their spouse. Odysseus did not remain faithful to Penelope, sleeping with Circe, then Calypso, and perhaps some mortal women unworthy of being mentioned as well. Odysseus claims that he lay with the Circe for the sake of diplomacy, but if so, then why did he stay in her "arching caverns" for over a year, leaving only ...

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