Page 279. " Antinous nursed a secret hope that he himself might string the bow and shoot through all the iron rings. "

It is unclear whether the contest involved shooting the arrow through the rings attaching the axe heads to their handles, or through the rings at the end of the handles designed for hanging them as ornaments onto the wall. Since the former would require the archer to lie on the floor, the latter seems more likely.

Page 280. " Three times he made it quiver in his efforts to bend it; three times his strength failed "

In order to loose an arrow, the string that connects the tips of a bow must be stretched taut. This means that when stringing the bow, its limbs need to be bent so that the string can be slipped over. Depending on the strength of the bow, this can be an extremely difficult and physically exerting task. Penelope’s task is therefore twofold; a test of strength must be passed before even attempting the test of skill.


Page 281. " bring a large round of tallow from the stores, so that we young men can warm and grease the bow "

Tallow is rendered animal fat, like lard. Warming and greasing the bow would aid the process of trying to string it.

Page 284. " Remember Eurytion the famous Centaur! "

A Centaur and a Lapith fighting, metope from the south side of the Parthenon, ca.447–33 BC
Public DomainA Centaur and a Lapith fighting, metope from the south side of the Parthenon, ca.447–33 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
A Centaur is a mythical creature with the body of a horse and the head and torso of a human. Eurytion drank too much at the wedding of the Lapith king Peirithous and Hippodameia, and attempted to rape the bride, starting a famous battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs. This battle is represented in the sculptures of the Parthenon metopes on the south side of the temple.

Page 299. " bring some sulphur to clean the pollution, and make a fire so that I can purify the house "

The pollution being referred to here is not literal, but religious. The association of death, especially violent death, murder or suicide, was thought to pollute the area where it had taken place, as well as any objects involved (such as a noose). Pollution repelled the gods, which is why nothing associated with death (or birth) was allowed in sanctuaries. To expel the pollution, the area needed to be ritually purified; this might be achieved through fire (burning the pollution away), or with pure water (such as washing hands before a libation or sacrifice to the gods, or before entering a sanctuary).