Analysis of Penelope as Moral Agent in Homer’s Odyssey

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In her essay "Penelope as Moral Agent," Helene Foley attempts to discuss Penelope, a major character in Homer's the Odyssey, in terms of Classical Athenian portrayals of women and, as her title suggests, in terms of what she calls a "moral agent." In her introductory paragraph she lays out guidelines as set down by Aristotle and his contemporaries that constitute a moral agent: the character must make an ethical and moral decision "on which the actions turns...without critical knowledge of the circumstances" (Foley 93). To this end, Foley ultimately decides that Penelope meets these standards and adds that her social, familial and personal responsibilities play integral roles in making that decision. Foley's examples and her in-depth analysis of the Odyssey all support her thesis as I have interpreted it to be. There are, however, problems in her comparison of the Odyssey and outside texts (especially that of Carol Gilligan), inconsistencies in citations and style, and examples that either have little or nothing to do with her thesis. The largest problem with this essay that I could find is the ignorance of a few facts that could possibly be construed as being in opposition to her findings. Since I am not familiar with and have not read any of the outside texts to which Foley refers (Aristotle's Oedipus Tyrannos, Poetics, Politics, and Ethics, the Hippocratic medical texts, and the feminist theory of Carol Gilligan), I can only assume that her interpretations of these texts are correct. In any case, she uses Aristotle and Hippocrates in order to develop a historical framework against which she can judge Homer's fictitious character Penelope. This method would have led to a good argument if she had included in her analysis an ... ... middle of paper ... ...to be true about Odysseus' whereabouts. It is this former aspect of her thought process in making the decision to present the bow to the suitors as a more pressing concern to Penelope and ultimately makes her decision for her. Works Cited and Consulted Diana Buitron-Oliver and Beth Cohen, "Between Skylla and Penelope: Female Characters of the Odyssey in Archaic and Classical Greek Art," pp. 29-58. Richard Brilliant, "Kirke's Men: Swine and Sweethearts," pp. 165-73. Helene Foley, "Penelope as Moral Agent," in Beth Cohen, ed., The Distaff Side (Oxford 1995), pp. 93-115. Jennifer Neils, "Les Femmes Fatales: Skylla and the Sirens in Greek Art," pp. 175-84. Marilyn Arthur Katz, Penelope's Renown: Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey (Princeton 1991). Nancy Felson-Rubin, Regarding Penelope: From Courtship to Poetics (Princeton 1994).

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