What are some differences between Athena and Penelope in The Odyssey?

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Athena is an immortal goddess, and Penelope is a mortal queen. That is probably the largest difference between the two characters in The Odyssey . Athena is also a goddess of war and battlefield strategy. While Penelope uses her wits to get out of choosing a suitor, she is not...

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Athena is an immortal goddess, and Penelope is a mortal queen. That is probably the largest difference between the two characters in The Odyssey. Athena is also a goddess of war and battlefield strategy. While Penelope uses her wits to get out of choosing a suitor, she is not a warrior and has no fighting prowess of which to speak. Athena is also known for being a bachelorette (some myths have her married to Hephaestus, though it is unclear if the union was ever consummated) while Penelope is one of the most famous wives in ancient literature. Penelope is also a mother; Athena is not.

Because of her immortal powers, Athena knows where and in what condition Odysseus is throughout the story, while Penelope cannot be sure if he is alive. And while both characters love Odysseus, Athena does not seem to feel any romantic or sexual love for him the way Penelope does.

One other big difference between the two women is that Athena was present as a character in The Iliad. She had influence on the war itself, and there are an abundance of myths concerning her outside of The Odyssey, while Penelope mostly exists in the Greek mythological canon as Odysseus’ wife.

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I would say that one of the defining differences is that Athena is a goddess, while Penelope is mortal. Throughout the Odyssey, there is a recurring theme in which the mortality and limitations of the human condition are contrasted against the immortality and far greater power of the gods.

This is reflected in the contrast between Athena and Penelope themselves. Penelope is ultimately restricted by the cultural paradigms of Ancient Greece in ways that Athena (being a goddess, rather than a mortal woman) is able to escape. While Penelope is highly intelligent and crafty, much of her cunning is dedicated to delaying maneuvers. There is a stark imbalance of power between herself and the Suitors, and, for all her considerable intelligence, she ultimately remains bound by the expectations society has placed upon her. Penelope has very little real authority within the highly masculine world of the Ancient Greeks. By contrast, Athena has a far greater ability to actively shape events. She is a goddess (and a war goddess, at that); Penelope is not.

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The most important and obvious difference between Athena and Penelope is that Athena is a goddess and Penelope is a mortal. This, in the Homeric epics, is primarily a difference of power and longevity, since the gods behave very much like the mortals. However, Athena's power means that she can resolve matters such as Odysseus's reunion with Telemachus comparatively easily and can even manipulate the gods in his interest. Penelope has to be far more careful and resort to subterfuges, such as unweaving the shroud at night, in her attempts to outwit her suitors.

In their relationships with Odysseus, both Athena and Penelope love him but Athena, his divine protector, is more like a mother than a wife. Again, the difference is largely one of power. Penelope, a woman in a man's world, can try to protect Odysseus's kingdom by the sort of trickery at which Odysseus himself excels but without the options of direct action and violence that are open to him. Athena is not a woman but a goddess, and the sexes are more equal on Olympus than on earth, meaning that Athena can not only bend men and women to her will, but can match herself against male gods to improve her protégé's position.

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Both Athena and Penelope are quite clever, but Athena is ultimately capable of commanding men and Penelope is not.  Athena successfully manipulates the gods to allow Odysseus to finally come home (and escape the lusty Calypso); she instructs both Telemachus and Odysseus (instruction which they accept), and she is generally successful in all her pursuits, including keeping the peace in Ithaca at the end of the poem (when the suitors' families are enraged by their ignominious deaths and attempt to wage war on Odysseus and his family).  Penelope is ultimately unable to keep the suitors from plundering Odysseus's stores, slaughtering his livestock, drinking his wine, and so forth.  She deceives them for a while, insisting she will marry one of them when she completes the weaving of a burial shroud which she unravels a little each night so that she never finishes.  However, the suitors find out and force her to complete it.  Athena can get her own way, but Penelope really must rely on her husband and son.

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The only power that Penelope has is her wisdom.  She is a bright woman.  She was clever with the weaving of the shroud for her father-in-law and with testing Odysseus at the end with her trick of moving his bed.  However, she does not have any of the strength or warrior knowledge that Athena has.  Athena is the goddess of war and wisdom, is known for her scheming and her craftsmanship. 

As for relationships, Penelope has the love of Odysseus and always will.  Athena shows love towards him (or perhaps it's just admiration), although she never pursues him in that way.  Athena came directly from the head of Zeus--fully grown, etc.  She is immortal.  Penelope is a mortal, has a son, and will grow old and die with Odysseus. 

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