Penelope and the Psychology of the Marginalized

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Penelope and the Psychology of the Marginalized considers the question: can we read Penelope as a coherent character, without changing the text of the Odyssey as it stands? That is, are her attitudes towards her husband and the suitors consistent throughout? Does she ever—uncharacteristically—waver on the verge of infidelity, or seem to know things she should not? Since at least 1859, many scholars have argued no coherent reading Penelope exists. Thus, if such a reading does exist, then generations of scholarship on Penelope are outmoded.This dissertation argues that a coherent reading of Penelope is possible, and that Second Wave Feminist theories of rape culture and sexual terrorism provide a solution to any discrepancies. Penelope’s environment is a rape culture; over a hundred heavy-drinking young men have besieged her home in the hopes of usurping her husband’s social standing through marrying her; and Penelope’s value as a wife depends on the public’s perception of her virtue, that is, her chastity. Thus, for as long as the suitors believe they might come to marry Penelope and take her on as their asset, they have reason not to devalue her through sexual violence, but not if they lose hope. At that point, it is in the suitors’ best interests to rape her and depreciate the value of Odysseus’ asset. In so doing, they will comparatively improve their own social standing in the zero-sum Ithacan hierarchy. If Penelope hopes to wait them out, then she needs to keep them suspended between the two courses of action. Any apparent variations in her stance toward these men or remarriage should be regarded as strategic performances. Paying closer attention to the other women of the household clarifies the danger Penelope faces: Twelve women and girls will be murdered before the poem’s end. To make this case comprehensively, this dissertation includes close readings of every one of Penelope’s scenes in the Odyssey in order, beginning with book one and ending with book twenty-four.

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258 pages


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Homer; Margaret Atwood; Melantho; Odyssey; Penelope; Rape Culture


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Pelliccia, Hayden

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Platt, Verity
Kirk, Athena

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Ph. D., Classics

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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