Quora answer: Who is the Greek god watching over Penelope?

Apr 08 2013

The answer to this question is Dionysus.

Athena and Dionysus are nihilistic opposites of each other. Athena is born from the head of Zeus and Dionysus from the thigh. The opposite of this pair is Apollo and Artemis, the gods of male and female initiation in Greece. Apollo is a wolf god and Artemis is associated with bears. Young girls are initiated into bear clans as the young men are initiated into Wolf clans. Thus Apollo and Artemis represent the young and uninitiated coming to fruition as full adult members of the community. This natural separation between the male and female initiations is contrast with the liminal Athena who leads men in war outside the city and the effeminate Dionysus who leads the women who go mad outside the city to wander insane in the wilds tearing things apart and eating them raw, as well as cavorting with Satyrs. Maenads are the female worshipers of Dionysus, the only god to have known death and thus associated with Hades to whom the wives in the city are wed as they are bound to their hearths.

So when I read the Odyssey I kept wondering where Dionysus was, as he is the opposite of Athena and must be there somewhere. Then at some point I realized that he was in the suitors around Penelope. The suitors behavior is a drunken brawl which is a perfect exemplification of the sort of atmosphere that Dionysus engenders. And the point is that Dionysus is protecting Penelope, because all of the suites are preventing any one of them from actually capturing her as his own. You have to remember that the suitors are the sons of the crew of Odysseus which the Odyssey was written to exonerate him from the charge of having caused their death. He actually kills both generations one during the journey and the other on his return. Once we recognize that Dionysus is there protecting Penelope though the suitors all trying to get her to marry them, then the story becomes much more balanced because we realize that the Odyssey is a journey between these liminal and nihilistic extremes. It starts with Odysseus having been freed by Athena from the clutches of the nymph Calypso that holds him hostage on an island of Ogygia at the center of the sea. Odysseus was there for so long because he had made her angry by the violations during the looting of Troy. Odysseus was blamed for that by Athena. See The wrath of Athena: gods and men in the Odyssey  by Jenny Strauss Clay.

Odysseus was lost between the nihilistic opposites of Agamemnon who wanted to do sacrifices on the beach, and Menelaus who wanted to flee. Odysseus first fled but then returned to miss the sacrifices on the beach. Agamemnon who tarried arrived home first and was killed by his wife. Menelaus who fled arrived home later and had to live with the infamy of his wife’s disloyalty that brought the deaths of so many. But the one who could not decide whether to flee or stay to sacrifice was the most delayed of all in his returning. His trick caused Troy to fall and thus he was in the eyes of Athena responsible for the atrocities committed during the sack of Troy. This is why Athena was angry with him and why she let him languish so long on the island at the center of the sea, i.e. lost in oblivion.

Meanwhile Dionysus caused the suitors to be thwarted in their marriage suit with Penelope. None could take her because all wanted her and they together kept her safe from any one of them. The best book about this isArchery at the dark of the moon: poetic problems in Homer’s Odyssey  by Norman Austin. See also
Meaning and being in myth  by him.

Essentially the Odyssey travels between the two limits of Ogygia and the Archery in the Dark of the Moon. Athena actively helps Odysseus home after her anger subsides, and Dionysus passive helps preserve Penelope from a fate worse than death, being less than perfect as a wife by marrying someone else while her husband may still be alive. Penelope stands for everything that resists the fate of the Maenads, i.e. going mad and breaking out of the prisons of their homes. Penelope in order to avoid her fate worse than death unravels during the night what she revels during the day of her embroidery. This unraveling at night is a key metaphor for the turning back of time, and the reweaving of fate. We can think of Athena’s change of mind concerning Odysseus as one of these unravelings and reweavings. Odysseus was raveled into oblivion on  Ogygia where he was destined to be immortal. But little did that nymph Callipso know that Odyssues and woven his wife and his lives together by making their wedding bed part of the tree of life, Yaddrasil. Thus he was bound to Penelope in a perfect marriage that gave meaning to everything he does. Penelope is the opposite of Helen, she is the one who resists temptation and keeps to her vows even when her husband is away for a very long time. Helen weaves scenes of war and Penelope weaves scenes of peace, and loyalty, and contentment, and honor. When she unweaves her embroidery and then reweaves it she acts as if she were a Norn/Fate and remakes time, makes it into a time of reunion. She weaves new meaning into her world and prompts Athena to reunite her with her lost husband. And she can do that because her marriage to Odysseus is locked into the roots of the tree of life that holds everything in its embrace.

Odysseus is crying lost in oblivion and she hears he cry. It resounds through the wood of Yadrassil and is heard in the bubbling waters of the wells that are enfolded in the roots of the world tree.

The gods are perhaps the attuning ones. But that means that they are the ones most attuned. And it is the firmness of Penelope that causes them to become attuned to her desire to have her husband back, and thus turn back time, and reveal what is lost in oblivion to be recognized once again after so many years. We emphasize wrongly the homecoming of Odysseus. But without Penelope’s steadfastness there would be no home to return to. Penelope literally moves heaven and earth due to her persistence and faithfulness. The attuning ones are attuned to the depth of her commitment and they come to the rescue of Odysseus in oblivion and come to her rescues when the Suitors arrive to make her take one of them as her new husband, and thus taking the riches of Odysseus. Penelope and Odysseus have a marriage in which they join each other in supporting their friends and fighting their enemies. The whole purpose of the Odyssey is to show that nothing can stand against such a marriage as this which is a union merged to the roots of the tree of life itself and though which the whole of the world is given meaning. This is opposed to the marriages of Menelaus and Agamemnon which are nihilistic opposite fates in their union with their wives. One is killed by his wife and the other lives forever with an adulteress. The Marriage of Odysseus and Penelope is so strong time, even lostness in oblivion, cannot destroy it. In fact it is such a marriage that though its binding can reweave time itself and thus produce meaning of great depth in a meaningless world full of nihilistic opposites. Even the Gods of nihilism Athena and Dionysus participate in the reweaving of time based on the intention of Penelope to recover her husband even though she cannot leave her room.

What is untold is the story of the revelations of the goddesses that was the journey of Penelope during the years of her husband’s absence. Penelope confronted every goddess with her demand for the return of her husband and the upholding of the vows made upon the roots of the tree of life in their marriage bed. This insistent and unwavering demand was the means of the turning back of time and the reweaving of fate as she did dree her wyrd. It was not the tears of Odysseus calling out across the sea that turned the gods to attune to him as he tried to attune to them. He was wailing because a deep part of him was lost, his wife and his sacred marriage to her which was the perfect alchemical marriage that gave rise to the Far War, that kept them apart for whom their son was named. This mutual longing was strong enough to move heaven and earth. But it was the steadfastness of Penelope who made it possible with her demand that was made by continuing to dwell in her room in her husbands house without allowing any others to distract her or take her away. This demand of steadfastness challenged the gods and caused the world to turn on their axis. After all Odysseus feigned madness so as not to leave his wife. And it was only when his son was set before the crazy plow that his reason was seen to be intact. In other words rather than killing his child as did Agamemnon did, Odysseus gave up feigning madness when his child was in peril. Everything that Odysseus including the trick of the Trojan horse was designed to cut short his stay away from home and his wife and child and especially his father. Odysseus unlike Achilles sees his father again. And unlike Achilles does not draw his son into the conflict. All of the Metis of Odysseus is in service of this higher purpose of maintaining the marriage with Penelope and the household and their child’s life. His heroism is for her. And that is because he can recognize the difference between friend and foe, just as she can recognized her much changed returned husband. They are perfectly attuned to each other, and thus the attuning ones assist them in the preservation of that perfect attainment in the sacred marriage that holds up heaven and earth though the world tree. That is became this is the foundation for all the meaning in the world, and distinguishing it from its nihilistic alternatives is more important than anything else because it upholds the meaningfulness of the world itself.



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