How has Penelope delayed the suitors?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Odysseus, king of Ithaca, is gone for twenty years. After a certain amount of time, it's assumed he is dead. Penelope, his wife, finds herself with 108 suitors. She holds to her faith, however, that her husband will return. She doesn't want to marry any of these suitors, so she devises strategies to delay having to make a decision. 

Her chief strategy is to say she cannot remarry until she finishes weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus's father, Laertes. Every night, she unravels part of this garment, so for three years it remains unfinished. Unfortunately, one of her maid servants then betrays her. 

After that, she asks the goddess Artemis to kill her so that she doesn't have to remarry, though that strategy doesn't work. She also shows or pretends to show an interest in some of the suitors, apparently a pretense meant to buy time. Finally, she says that she will marry the suitor who can shoot an arrow from Odysseus's bow through twelve axe heads. She knows that this particular bow string is very hard to pull back, so hard that only Odysseus can manage to do it. When he returns in disguise, she offers him the challenge. After he is successful, he kills his wife's suitors.

Because she resists remarriage and does everything she can to avoid it, Penelope is considered a symbol of faithfulness in marriage. 

joe30pl eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Penelope claims to be weaving a death shroud for her father in-law Laertes, or in some translations, Odysseus himself. Each night she unravels the shroud, forcing herself to start work over the next night.

There is another tactic, which may or may not count. When the suitors demand she pick one of them, she comes up with the idea of stringing her husband's bow and shooting an arrow through twelve axes. Her husband is the only one who is capable of doing such a feat, but is she truly aware of her husband's return? The meeting before hand, where the idea to string the bow is born, could be taken both ways. Her tactics slow the suitors down for her husband to revel himself and clear his house of the men.