Penelope is a character who is very easy for me to relate to. When she recounts childhood, it is clear she did not have a very close relationship with her parents; her father having ordered her to be thrown into the sea at a very young age and her mother being an elusive Naiad. While neither of my parents attempted to drown me as a child, nor are they water nymphs, I too am not very close to my parents. She and I both have issues with trusting other people and as such, think of our self-sufficiency as a "virtue" of sorts. Penelope can be bitter at times, especially when she mentions her infamous cousin Helen. Penelope is younger than Helen, more intelligent, but less beautiful, and so even in the afterlife, she feels second-best.
Being the youngest in my family, I can empathize with the patronizing remarks and the feeling of being invisible when everyone favours the older sister (or cousin in Penelope's case). This petty feud between the two women is quite familiar to me, along with many other teenage girls I suspect. Contributing to this feeling of being second-rate is the fact that Penelope's own husband, Odysseus, originally competed for Helen's hand in marriage, along with "every king, prince and lord in all Greece." Penelope believes Odysseus cheated in the race for her hand in marriage, and that Tyndareus, her uncle and the father of Helen, helped him do so. One of the rumours behind why her uncle helped Odysseus cheat was that Penelope was the payment for a service Odysseus had provided him with during the competition for Helen: When they were all competing for Helen and things were getting more and more angry, Odysseus made each contestant swear an oath that whoever won Helen must be defended by all others if any other man tried to take her away from the winner. In that way he calmed things down and allowed the match with Menelaus to proceed smoothly.
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He must have known he had no hope himself. It was then – so the rumour goes – that he struck the bargain with Tyndareus: in return for assuring a peaceful and very profitable wedding for the radiant Helen, Odysseus would get plain-Jane Penelope. (36-37)However, in "The Judgement of Paris" of the Kerr-Bennet collection of Greek mythology.