Penelope Mourns the Absence of Ulysses. A.M. 2840.
This is one of a group of drawings by British artist and book illustrator Edward Francis Burney, depicting scenes from Greek and Roman history and mythology. When Ulysses was called to fight in the Trojan Wars, he and his wife, Penelope, were parted for twenty years. Penelope was approached by many suitors during Ulysses' absence, but deferred all of them by saying that she could not marry until she had finished weaving a burial shroud for her elderly father-in-law, Laertes. She is shown here in front of a loom. Unbeknown to the suitors, she unravelled her day's work each evening. One of her maids told this secret to her suitors, and so to appease them she announced that she would instead marry the suitor who could string her husband's bow, which required great strength to use, and use it to shoot an arrow through a row of double-bladed axes. Penelope is holding the bow in Burney's drawing, contemplating the challenge ahead. Ulysses returned in disguise and took up the challenge, succeeding and reuniting with his wife.