Angelica Kauffmann, 1764, Penelope at her Loom
Penelope was the wife of Odysseus in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey.’ It takes Odysseus ten years to return to Ithaca after the Trojan War, and whilst he is away, Penelope is visited by many suitors, all vying to become her new husband. Even though Odysseus really does push his luck (ten years to get home?!), Penelope stays faithful and comes up with a clever strategy to delay the decision to marry again: she begins to weave a burial shroud for Laertes, the elderly father of Odysseus, stating that once the shroud is complete, she will choose a suitor to marry. However, though Penelope weaves in the day, she unravels her work by night, thus the cloak stays unfinished.
After her plan is discovered, Penelope announces that the man she chooses to wed will be the one who can shoot an arrow through twelve axes using Odysseus’s bow. She believes that the weapon can be mastered by no one, bar Odysseus, as it had once belonged to Eurytus, the grandson of Apollo. Meanwhile, Odysseus finally returns and hears of Penelope’s faithfulness. He decides to disguise himself and enter the contest set by Penelope, which he of course wins and then proceeds to kill all of the other suitors. A little bit dramatic, I’m sure you’ll agree. And they say chivalry is dead.