Faithfulness and “The Odyssey”

Faithfulness is hard to come by these days. There are too many stories of divorce and broken commitments and not enough of marriages that actually thrive and prosper. But what could an ancient book, such as The Odyssey possibly have to offer about this topic? Believe it or not, the subject is rampant throughout the entire work. However, I will mostly just focus on the faithfulness expressed by Odysseus’ wife Penelope. I many ways, she should be copied by modern women today in the institution of marriage.

Ultimately, Penelope’s faithfulness is expressed through her love for husband. This does not mean, however, that she just strongly loves her husband. It means that she wants the best for him and truly cares about him and his well-being. The most important test for true love is time. Penelope makes it known that she truly loves her husband. For twenty years she waits for him to return and stalls the suitors. If that’s not true love, then only God could say what it truly is.

Penelope also displays incredible faithfulness in her stalling of the suitors from acquiring her. She still believes, if only a little bit, that Odysseus may once again return home. So, she devises a scheme to keep them occupied. She begins a large tapestry and allows the suitors to believe that once she completes it, she will choose a suitor to marry. However, what they do not figure out for nearly three years is that she disassembles what she has worked on each night, in an attempt to keep the men at bay. In the end, her plan is foiled by one of her youngest maids, who falls for one of the suitors and tells him of her ploy. But, the principle of her actions still remains.

Going even further, Penelope is extremely skeptical of people whenever they bring news of, or claim to be Odysseus. She refuses to believe that Odysseus is close at hand when many tell her so and she even refuses to believe Odysseus himself when he reveals himself to her finally. The only way she will consider him to be her husband is if he uses their special sign: the olive-wood bed which Odysseus built himself. When at last she does believe him, they enjoy an emotional reconciliation. The prospect that she refuses to believe anyone is her husband unless he answers one question correctly, their secret code, is beyond understanding for some. It is incredible faithfulness on her part.

Though The Odyssey may not be a great source for answers to tough moral issues, at least it gives us a fair picture of a good wife’s faithfulness. Penelope can at least be idolized in one of the three ways listed to be an example-setting wife for others. She shows that her love for Odysseus lasts through the years, that she still hopes he’ll return one day, and that she guards her heart closely so she is not deceived. These could be considered virtues to conform to, however, Penelope did not do everything right, because all humans are fallible. But God and His word are infallible,[1] and so the Bible is the ultimate goal to aspire to, with faithfulness or any other virtue.

[1] 1 Timothy 3:16-17

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