Once upon a time there lived a beautiful queen named Penelope who was carefully weaving a white linen roll. It was to be a gift for her husband whose return she anxiously awaited each day. For years the king had been away in the Trojan War. Each and every day she would say his name over and over again, somehow hoping he would hear the cry of her aching heart.
One day, many great chiefs and princes, all in search of wives, set sail for Ithaca to try to win Penelope's hand. They assured the lonely queen that her husband, the king, had died in battle, and that it would be best for the people of Ithaca and for her own protection that she pick one of them to be her own husband.
But Penelope, with tears in her royal eyes answered, "Heroes and most honored Princes, I refuse to believe what you say. I am certain that my noble husband lives, and I must faithfully keep his kingdom for him till he returns. I am weaving a white linen roll for him even now."
The chiefs and princes stubbornly refused to return home and daily reminded her of her need for a husband and Ithaca's need for a king.
Weeks passed by, and still Penelope did not bend, but continued to faithfully weave her linen roll in hopes of the king's return. The chiefs and princes tried every possible persuasion, but to no avail. The group of hopeful suitors moved into the palace, drinking the royal wine and consuming the royal food. They refused to depart until Penelope chose one of them to marry.
A weary and reluctant Penelope finally agreed to choose a new husband as soon as she finished weaving her white linen roll, if the king had not returned by then. Weeks passed, and still she kept weaving. However, by night she would secretly unravel all the thread she had woven during the day. Eventually her scheme was discovered.
A leader among them, Agelaus, called the assembly together and addressed Penelope in a loud voice. "Queen Penelope," he fumed angrily, "your stubbornness has left us no choice but to take this matter into our own hands. We have seen your trickery in delaying the completion of your cursed linen roll, and we will stand for it no longer. Finish it by tomorrow and select your new husband before noon, or we will choose him for you! We will not wait another day!"
The next afternoon all the suitors gathered to await Penelope's royal decision. Just as she entered the banquet hall, a strange beggar quietly crept into the assembly. His tired head was hidden beneath a tattered hood, and a ragged cloak wrapped itself around his decrepit body. He hobbled to the back of the hall quietly, unnoticed save for a few mocking sneers from the suitors as he passed. Penelope began to speak, capturing the attention of all present.
"Chiefs and Princes," said Penelope with a knot of grief in her regal throat, "we will leave this decision to fate. Behold, I am holding the great bow of my husband, the king. Each of you must try your strength in bending it, and I will choose the one amongst you who can shoot the most accurate arrow."
"Agreed!" cried the suitors, and they eagerly lined up to test their strength.
One after the other struggled to bend the great bow. Then losing patience, each of the gallant nobles threw it down and strode away.
"Only a giant could bend that bow of iron!" they moaned.
"Perhaps the filthy old beggar would like to test his strength," one mockingly yelled with a sneer.
At that, the beggar rose from his chair and went with halting steps to the head of the hall.
"You old fool!" the suitors howled in derision as the dirty traveler picked up the great bow.
Suddenly an amazing change came over the stranger. The decrepit traveler straightened his back and rose to his full height, and even in a beggar's rags it was impossible not to notice that this weary traveler was every inch a king. Then, without effort, he bent the bow and strung it as everyone in the great hall looked on in astonishment. The king had returned!
The suitors were speechless. Then, in sheer panic, they turned and fled for their lives. But the arrows of the king were swift and accurate, and not a one missed its target. There wasn't a suitor who escaped the vengeance of the king that day.
Penelope ran to her hero, who was clothed in rags, and embraced him. Then with the voice of an angel she said, "I have faithfully kept your kingdom, my noble king!" She tenderly presented him with a soft white linen roll. "I have spent years weaving this gift in hopes of your return. On the day I finished it, I was told to choose a husband." Then, placing a tender kiss upon his soiled cheek, she said, "And I choose you."
* From "Homer's Odyssey" by Richard Lattimore, as quoted in "When God Writes Your Love Story" by Eric and Leslie Ludy :)