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Publication Date

Winter 2016


This paper focuses on the simile comparing Penelope to a lion encircled by men in Odyssey 4.791–94. Lion similes in Homeric poetry typically depict warriors in combat situations and so the description of Penelope as a trapped predator facing battle is surprising. The encircled beast of the simile is in a dangerous situation, but the lion’s plight is left unresolved as Penelope falls asleep. Many critics note the connection between Penelope the lion and Odysseus, who is compared to the same animal on five occasions in the poem, most notably in Books 22 and 23 after he slaughters the suitors. Yet most dismiss the simile concerning Penelope as atypical or, as Stephanie West summarizes its scholarly reception in her commentary on Odyssey 1–4, “inept.” While the lion simile plays an important part in connecting Penelope with both Odysseus and the theme of revenge, its significance extends beyond this basic function. Looking backward to the epic of Gilgamesh and glancing sideways to Iliadic lions, I argue that the lion simile of Odyssey 4 evokes war and its consequences by suggesting a kind of mourning that gives rise to the wrathfulness and thirst for revenge that, within the context of the Odyssey, creates the impetus for Odysseus’s return.

Document Object Identifier (DOI)



Martha Malamud


Johns Hopkins University Press


Baltimore, MD

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