What are the roles of Helen, Athena, and Penelope in The Odyssey?

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Helen was the Queen of Sparta, who had previously inspired the Trojan War. Telemachus visits Helen and Menelaus when he seeks information on his father. She and Menelaus reminisce about the Trojan War, and her husband later tells the story of his own return voyage homeward, during which he relates...

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Helen was the Queen of Sparta, who had previously inspired the Trojan War. Telemachus visits Helen and Menelaus when he seeks information on his father. She and Menelaus reminisce about the Trojan War, and her husband later tells the story of his own return voyage homeward, during which he relates that Odysseus had still been alive in captivity.

Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare. One of the dominant personalities in The Odyssey, she acts as Odysseus's patron, advocating for him among the other Olympians and assisting him in his return to Ithaca. She also spurs Telemachus to embark on his own journey.

Penelope is the Queen of Ithaca and Odysseus's wife. While enduring Odysseus's lengthy absence, she must outwit the suitors who, by way of her remarriage, seek to take over the kingdom.

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Helen--she is actually the reason that Odysseus is originally separated from his wife and home.  A married woman, Helen supposedly chooses Paris over her husband, and the Trojan War begins.  Odysseus dutifully leaves home for Troy and fights in the Trojan War, a war that would have never begun if not for Helen (according to the epic poem).

Athena--the goddess of wisdom and war, Athena is Odysseus's goddess.  She is similar to a patron saint would be for Catholics.  She watches over him, helps in times of needs, and sometimes directs him back to the right route.

Penelope--the faithful wife of Odysseus who waits over 20 years for her husband's return. Her memory gives Odysseus the strength to continue even when he has lost everything and everyone on his journey.

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If you are just talking about what they actually do in the play (as opposed to what they stand for or more abstract things like that) here are the answers:

  • Helen, of course, was the cause of the Trojan War.  Odysseus is lost on the way home from that war, so Helen plays a part in that way.  Also, Helen realizes that Telemachus is Odysseus's son and that allows her husband to tell him that Odysseus is still alive.
  • Athena guides Odysseus in his wanderings.  She takes his side and helps him get back to Ithaca.  Once there, she helps him kill all the suitors.
  • Penelope is Odysseus's wife.  She fends off the suitors until Odysseus can make it back home.
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