The wife of the hero Odysseus* in Greek mythology, Penelope was celebrated for her faithfulness, patience, and feminine virtue. For the 20 years that her husband was away during and after the Trojan Warf, Penelope remained true to him and helped prevent his kingdom from falling into other hands.
Penelope's parents were Prince Icarius of Sparta and the nymph Periboea. Periboea hid her infant daughter as soon as she was born, knowing that Icarius had wanted a son. As soon as Icarius discovered the baby girl, he threw her into the sea to drown. However, a family of ducks rescued her. Seeing this as an omen, Icarius named the child Penelope (after the Greek word for "duck") and raised her as his favorite child.
When Penelope reached womanhood, Odysseus asked for her hand in marriage. Although reluctant to part with his daughter, Icarius agreed, and Penelope went with her new husband to his home on the island of Ithaca. Penelope and Odysseus were deeply in love, so it was with great sorrow that Odysseus later left her and their infant son, Telemachus, to fight in the Trojan War.
nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful
omen sign of future events
The Trojan War lasted ten years, and it took Odysseus another ten years to get home to Ithaca. During that time, Penelope received the attentions of many suitors. For a while, she put them off by saying that she would consider marriage only after she finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, who was grieving over Odysseus's absence. Each day Penelope would sit weaving the cloth, but at night she would secretly unravel her work. After three years, a servant revealed Penelope's secret, and she had to finish the shroud. When her suitors became insistent again, Penelope announced that she would marry the man who could shoot an arrow through the loops on a row of 12 ax heads.
Unknown to Penelope, Odysseus had arrived home disguised as a beggar. He wanted to review the situation in his kingdom before revealing his return. The disguised Odysseus won the archery contest and then killed all the suitors with help from his son Telemachus. At first Penelope would not believe that Odysseus was her husband, for the gods had hidden his identity from her. However, Odysseus revealed his true identity by telling Penelope a secret about their marriage that only they knew, and the loving couple were finally reunited.