What is the theme of epistle 1 of Ovid's The Heroides

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In epistle 1 of Ovid's The Heroides, Penelope addresses the absent Ulysses (Odysseus in the Greek tradition) and asks him to return home to his family. Her request expresses a wife's fear and longing in the midst of great trials. Let's look at this in more detail.

Penelope laments her husband's absence long before she reaches the end of her “letter." She has wondered if Ulysses is staying away on purpose and recounted the suitors who are eating up his property. Now she turns Ulysses' attention to his family, perhaps trying to inspire a bit of guilt in him and a sense of responsibility.

There is Telemachus, the son of Ulysses and Penelope, who she fears might not survive this onslaught of suitors. She writes that he deserves the protection and help of a father who can train him in the arts of war.

She then turns to address Laertes, Ulysses' father, now an old man. She describes the difficulty he faces as he tries to hold on to life long enough to see his son once more and to pass peacefully in his care.

Finally she begins to discuss herself. Penelope is becoming an “aged woman” and is besieged with suitors. She lacks a husband to protect her and does not have the power to resolve the problems she faces.

The passage makes it clear that Ulysses needs to come home right away. His family needs him much more than whatever is holding him back, and Penelope begs him to think of their needs.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on