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When Odysseus tells the story of his visit to the underworld, he is in the presence of the Phoenicians and must find the approval of their Queen in order to gain aid to return home. Consequently, his tale includes the conversations he had with many women, including his mother. This emphasis on the females he encounters there is part of a recurring theme within the Odyssey. Odysseus is only able to return home because of loyalty and aid from powerful women such as his wife Penelope and the goddess Athena.
In their conversation Odysseus mentions Agamemnon(murdered by his wife and her lover after returning home from Troy) again and then questions her
"Tell me again what my wife intends doing, and in what mind she is; does she live with my son and guard my estate securely, or has she made the best match she could and married again?'"(Book 11)
The theme of loyalty and marital fidelity is repeated. If Penelope is not loyal to her husband, he will not be able to return to Ithaca as king, becoming as Agamemnon.
Their conversation also falls upon Telemachus:
"He has no comfortable bed nor bedding; in the winter he sleeps on the floor in front of the fire with the men and goes about all in rags, but in summer, when the warm weather comes on again, he lies out in the vineyard on a bed of vine leaves thrown anyhow upon the ground. He grieves continually about your never having come home, and suffers more and more as he grows older."(Book 11)
Throughout the Odyssey there are references to the destruction and disconnect created by war, both between generations and within communities. Ultimately, Odysseus' return home will end this disconnect. Similarly, his relationships with characters such as Penelope, Athena, and his mother when she gives him information essential for him to return home aim to rectify the torn connections created by a decade of war.
The section in the House of Death is interesting in the way it places importance yet again on women and their role in helping Odysseus to return home, but also how the theme of loyalty is stressed, which is a very important part of the whole text. In characters such as Circe and Athena, Odysseus in many ways is shown to be dependent upon women for the success of his journey, and this is something that is stressed in this particular episode, where somehow he must gain the approval of the Phoenician Queen in order to return home. In the conversation he has with his mother, Odysseus asks her about Penelope and in particular whether she is still waiting for him:
Tell me again what my wife intends doing, and in what mind she is; does she live with my son and guard my estate securely, or has she made the best match she could and married again?
What makes this question even more interesting is that Odysseus has spoken to the shade of Agamemnon, who was killed by his wife when he returned from Troy to his homeland. There is an interesting parallel set up, and Odysseus is keen to work out whether he might face a similar fate, or whether Penelope, unlike Clytemnestra, has stayed loyal to her husband during his long period of absence. Therefore what this scene in the House of the Dead highlights is the importance of the role of women in this text and the way that Odysseus is so many times dependent on them for his safe arrival back at Ithaca, and also the theme of loyalty that is highlighted through his questioning about Penelope.
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