According to the speaker in "An Ancient Gesture," what caused Penelope to employ this gesture?

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Penelope cries and wipes her tears on the corner of her apron for a number of reasons. First of all, she's tired after spending all day at her loom weaving a burial shroud that she then unweaves at night. This is part of the cunning trick she's playing on the many unwelcome suitors who've been eating her out of house and home since her husband Odysseus (Ulysses) left.

She's told the suitors that she'll choose which of them she'll marry just as soon as she's finished weaving the shroud. That explains why Penelope unweaves the shroud each night; she's trying to stall the suitors for as long as she can.

The speaker also tells us that Penelope has been indulging in this ancient gesture because of her husband's absence for so many years and because she doesn't know where he's been all this time. Under such circumstances, there's absolutely nothing Penelope can do except cry and wipe her tears on the corner of her apron.

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