The Penelope Tradition in Artistic Representations

Here Penelope sits grieving on her stool, wool basket beneath, as she is approached by one of her serving women--perhaps Eurycleia.

On this terracotta plaque, Odysseus is seen silencing Eurycleia, and Penelope is absent from the scene. The man to the left is presumably Eumaeus, and at the bottom left Argos, Odysseus' dog, who died after greeting him in Book 17, is seen represented as part of the scene.

Another (fragmentary) representation on a terracotta plaque of the footwashing scene. In this one, Penelope gazes pensively at Odysseus, who looks down at Eurycleia and holds his foot in the washing-basin. Telemachus stands in the center of the composition.

A Roman copy of a Greek statue of Penelope Grieving

A caricature-portrait of Penelope at the encounter with Odysseus, or perhaps receiving the suitors. Penelope's loom is represented on the left. This is a detail from a fifth-century bce vase.

Another detail from a vase, showing a friendly greeting between Odysseus and Penelope, paired so that they complement each other in the composition, and with the dog Argos' head directing the viewer's eye to the oversized arms and hands just about to clasp in a welcoming embrace.

A design from a gold finger-ring of the late fifth or early fourth century bce. Penelope sits in the familiar mourning pose, and it has been suggested that the purpose of this and other rings like it was to serve as symbols of faith between friends or couples.

An Etruscan mirror-cover from the early third century bce, whose composition resembles the vase detail shown above: Penelope and Odysseus paired; Argos between them looking upward. In this composition, however, Odysseus rests his foot on a stone and points toward Penelope; Penelope crosses her legs and keeps her arms folded. The bull's head at the top indicates that the scene is set at the altar of Zeus of the Courtyard, in the palace court outside the great hall. The Gorgon mask just below it may suggest Odysseus' association with Athena, who bore the Gorgon mask on her shield.

A Roman wall-painting from the first century ce, showing Penelope contemplating the stranger and pondering, while Eurycleia looks on from the doorway (upper left). Penelope's pose here is similar to that on the fragmentary terracotta relief of the footwashing shown above.

A modern (1842) caricature of the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus; lithograph by Honoré Daumier.

Last updated 17 January 2000