What is it that differentiates one individual from another? What do we identify a person as? Is it possible to recognise an individual in different ways? Caught in this quandary are the readers of Odyssey who are guided through various ways of recognising Odyssey. His scar, his essence, his personal secrets, what is it that really individualises him? It is Penelope’s way of recognising Odyssey that will be the central analysis of this paper. The idea of Penelope needing more than a somatic identifier to accept the man presented before her as her husband, brings out with it another theme of deceptive appearances that were present in the society at that given time. To a large extent, this form of deception was caused by Gods who often took various mortal forms and had the ability to transform any mortal into different physical beings. It is her testing Odysseus that leads me to question as to what role does recognition of an individual play in building various themes in the poem.
As readers we are presented with two differing identifications: his physical appearance that satisfies the old nurse and Telemachus, and the personal secrets that satisfy Penelope. We see Penelope trying to defend her questioning by saying that she ‘always cringed with fear some fraud might come’ (p.462) and going on to show that it was the deception by the gods that she was really concerned about. Perhaps it is my personal identification of gods as the almighty and ideal living creatures that makes this accusation so stark, but it does intrigue me as to what role then did the gods play? Penelope’s cries ‘the gods, it was the gods who sent us sorrow’ (p.462) leave their mark in my mind. It is a direct accusation to the gods that she makes and this makes this passage very significant. However, the gods do not manage to creep into her married life and this is symbolised by the ‘bed’ (p.462). It is representative of their marriage and personal lives that are left untouched and this is used by her to identify her husband.