Penelope was the wife of the ancient Greek warrior, Odysseus,
who fought ten years in the Trojan War and journeyed for ten more
years before returning home. Penelope waited for Odysseus's return:
during this wait, her son grew to maturity; her mother-in-law,
with whom she lived, died of grief, suiciding; and many suitors
courted Ithaca's queen. Her father-in-law retired to the hills,
living among the herders: she, alone, managed the household. As
was the custom, the suitors came to her home, exploiting her hospitality,
screwing her servants, insulting her son, insisting Odysseus was
dead and would never return. She developed a stratagem to delay
them against his return: every day she wove the shroud for her
father-in-law's eventual burial, and each night she unraveled
nearly all the day's work. For years, she kept the suitors away
until they found out about the unraveling from a servant. They
confronted her, and still she declined their posturing, seeking
the goddess's protection until Odysseus, in disguise, drew near.
Penelope's power is self-contained and not contingent
upon Odysseus's presence.
The series, Penelope's web, is about power: the
power of personal integrity amid the complexity of domesticity.
The web is a symbol of protection. It is about connections to
the dead and the living, about hope's secret struggle against
despair. It is about connections and threads, which may unravel
but remain connected to the true heart. It is about sending messages
across the wine-dark sea, never knowing whether they will be heard.
It is about protecting oneself, one's household in the face of
insults, adversity, transgression and abandonment.
Penelope's web of protection can be a metaphor to explore our
stewardship of the planet. We cannot neglect our duty, especially
to our urban environment; we can use our creative skills to devise
new strategies to protect our earth household, neither to exploit
nor abandon it. Nor can we await someone else to complete it.
Rather, we are the caretakers whose struggle retains the inheritance
for posterity and dignity for the honored guest.
Alice Dubiel October 1999
From The Women's Dictionary of Myth and Symbols
by Barbara Walker
Penelope's web is an interesting pattern of ten
small pentacles ranged around a central wheel of ten spokes. All
the pentacles together are composed of only two lines, as can
be seen by following their interlaced patterns with the eye. This
is a sign of protection like the simple pentacle, made even more
suggestively defensive by the ring of twenty outward facing points,
and the lines of connection drawing all sections together in the
center, as a unifying cause or concept draws people together for
the preservation of all.
The mythological figure of Penelope is especially
associated with preservation and protection because it was she,
with her constant refusal to cut the thread of like, who preserved
the life of her husband Odysseus through his many adventures,
even after a death curse had been laid on him by the Trojan Queen
and High Priestess of Hecate. Penelope, whose name means Ôveiled
one,' was really a title of the Fate-goddess who could determine
men's destinies by the treatment of her woven threads. When she
cut, the man would die. According to Homer, Penelope unwove her
web each night rather than cut the thread that represented Odysseus;
and so he escaped all dangers and eventually returned to his home.
From The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert
Fitzgerald, Book 5, ll. 315-35
A great wave drove at him with toppling crest
spinning him round, in one tremendous blow,
and he went plunging overboard, the oar-haft
wrenched from his grip. A gust that came on howling
at the same instant broke his mast in two,
hurling his yard and sail far out to leeward.
Now the big wave a long time kept him under,
helpless to surface, held by tons of water,
tangled, too, by the seacloak of Kalypso.
Long, long, until he came up spouting brine,
with streamlets gushing from his head and beard;
but still bethought him, half-drowned as he was,
to flounder for the boat and get a handhold into the bilge--to
crouch there, foiling death.
Across the foaming water, to and fro,
the boat careered like a ball of tumbleweed
blown on autumn plains, but intact still.
So the winds drove this wreck over the deep,
East Wind and North Wind, then South Wind and West,
coursing each in turn to the brutal harry.