Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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In The Odyssey, which line does Penelope ask for death?

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Asleep in her bedroom, Penelope is visited by the goddess Athena, though she does not realize it. Athena makes Penelope taller and more shapely, smooths away the fine lines on Penelope's face, and whitens her fair skin to look like ivory; Athena wants all the suitors to marvel at her beauty. When Penelope wakes up,

she rubbed her cheeks with her hands, and said: "Ah, in my utter wretchedness soft slumber enfolded me. Would that pure Artemis would even now give so soft a death, that I might no more waste my life away with sorrow at heart, longing for the manifold excellence of my dear husband, for that he was pre-eminent among the Achaeans."

(lines 200-206)

Penelope wishes that Artemis would take pity on her and give her an easy death, like slipping into a soft sleep, so that she won't have to continue living so sorrowfully. She is surrounded by aggressive suitors who press her to make a decision that she doesn't want to make. Penelope continues to love her missing husband, who she feels was perfect—especially compared to the suitors.

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Penelope wishes for death in Book 18, lines 202-204, of Homer's masterpiece, the Odyssey. Specifically, she laments:

How I wish chaste Artemis would give me a death so soft, and now, so I would not go on in my heart grieving all my life, and longing for love of a husband excellent in every virtue.

The reason Penelope wishes for death is that she misses her husband, Odysseus, and does not want to remarry. Unfortunately, Odysseus has been gone nearly two decades, and all signs indicate that he is dead. To make matters worse, her family, many suitors, and even Odysseus himself (prior to his departure for Troy) have pressured her to remarry, so she does not feel like she truly has a choice in the matter. All she can do is delay the inevitable.

This hopelessness, which causes her to weep throughout the epic and leads the reader to sympathize with her plight, leads her to wish for death. Thankfully, this wish is not fulfilled, for Odysseus returns home, slays the suitors, and reclaims his rightful place as king of Ithaca.

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