The Odyssey revolves around its characters’ cunning. Both Odysseus’s and Penelope’s mental abilities are highlighted throughout the epic. Odysseus, who is often referred as “godlike”, and Penelope, who is referred as “circumspect,” are two characters that have been characterized as having a high level of mental ability throughout the epic poem. Odysseus, who is clever, uses it to rid his house of unwelcome suitors. Penelope uses hers to protect herself and her people by making Odysseus prove his identity. This book has a strong theme about using disguises or hidden identities to get the results you want. Odysseus is one of many characters who use disguises and hidden identities to achieve their goals. This theme plays a significant role in this novel. Penelope’s scene in Book 23 where she tests Odysseus for his true identity highlights how important cunning is to both Penelope and Odysseus.

Penelope has a characteristic of caution that is most evident in the Book 23. Penelope has been wary since Eurykleia first mentioned Odysseus returning. She says, “Dear nursing, the gods made you mad …/. Then they made you go awry …'”. “…Penelope’s emotions get the best of them for a moment. She jumped out of bed and ran to the old lady, who was crying. She then spoke to the woman …/ “Come dear nurse and tell me the truth,/ whether Odysseus has returned to his home …'”” (XXIII 32-36). She believes that Odysseus is a god-made ruse. She tells Eurykleia, “You know/ that he is welcome in the palace, to everyone, but especially to myself and to the son I gave birth to./ However, this story, as told by you, is not true. Instead,/ someone of the immortals have killed the haughty lovers in anger …'”. Although she wishes that Eurykleia was right, she still follows her own caution. She knows that she will be emotionally hurt if she believes. Desperate to know for sure, she will not accept that Odysseus returned until she can confirm it herself.

Penelope’s awareness of how the gods’ tricks have affected her decision to reject Odysseus is another factor that makes her reluctance. She believes the Trojan War was the result of gods’ meddling and refuses her participation in such an event. She claims that “the gods caused us misery/in jealousy… There are many who plot for evil advantage.” Helen of Argos/ would not have fallen in love with a foreigner if she knew that warlike Achaians sons would return her/ to her beloved father’s land. She is therefore protecting herself and her people by being cautious. Penelope refused to follow Helen’s example, as her actions caused much destruction and strife to her country and people. Penelope, like Odysseus, has a gift of understanding the gods’ ways and philosophies. This allows them to have a much better relationship with the gods. Odysseus experiences this many times on his return journey. Odysseus is able to resolve things in a positive way with each god he deals with. Odysseus is able to use his mental powers in order to deal with both mortals and gods.

Penelope meets Odysseus after she has roused herself to see the dead lovers and the killer. Penelope is unsure about her actions as she descends. She asks herself: “…should she stay away from her husband and confront him,/or should she go up to his face and kiss it, holding his hands? (XXIII.86-87). She chooses to follow her head over her heart, as she always does. She does not give up, even under the criticism of her own son and Odysseus. She says: “‘…[If it is true that he came home, then let’s find better and more effective ways to identify each other. She is determined and Odysseus’s response is surprising. He smiles when she suggests the plan.

Odysseus is known for his cunning and he displays it in Book 23 as he deals with the suitors. Odysseus is aware that brute power will not suffice to deal with the multitude of suitors. His intelligence must be used. Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar to gain entry into his home without being noticed. He then executes his plan to kill the suitors after gaining entry. To succeed, he needs to carefully plan out the steps and consider all options. His initial reaction is a smile when Penelope says she wants to check his identity. He accepts it despite all he’s been through to get home safely. He smiles at Penelope because she is so clever. They share a bond through mutual respect for their mental abilities. He is eager to show his abilities to the woman who shares such a close bond.

Penelope does not use the same straightforward questions as we’ve seen before when a host tries to find out the true identity of a guest. Except for Polyphemos IX, it is normal to feed guests and then ask them questions afterward. Odysseus has done this in Pylos, Sparta and Scheria. Penelope, on the other hand, decides to play a trick on Odysseus and suggests that their marriage mattress, which is built around a growing olive tree, should be moved. Penelope, however, only has the option of moving the bed if she cuts down the olive. Odysseus knows that, so he reacts with anger, telling the lady: “What you said has deeply hurt me. What man/ moved my bed? Even a highly-skilled expert would find it difficult to shift the position of the bed, unless God himself were to come and help. The bed was made by me alone.//////////////////////////////I do not know,/////////////////////////////, dear lady///////////////////////////// I cannot tell you now//// Penelope accepts Odysseus after all: “…[“Her knees and heart went slack” as she recognized Odysseus’s clear proofs. She then ran up to him and kissed her head …”. Odysseus finally finds his soulmate and the journey is over.

Odysseus & Penelope can live in peace after the Odyssey. They did not receive this gift; they earned it through their own actions. The life they desired was theirs because they were not impulsive, emotional, or rash. Instead, they were collected and restrained. Their relationship and love proved to be as strong and unchanging as the marriage mattress that served as a symbolic representation. As the bed is built around the tree, their marriage is built on a foundation that will never change – the undying love between them and the unbreakable bond they share.


  • louiedawson

    Hi, my name is Louie Dawson and I'm an educational blogger and school teacher. I've been writing and teaching kids about stuff like math, science, history, and English since 2010. I hope you enjoy my work!

Cunning As A Defining Trait In The Characters Of The Odyssey


Hi, my name is Louie Dawson and I'm an educational blogger and school teacher. I've been writing and teaching kids about stuff like math, science, history, and English since 2010. I hope you enjoy my work!

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