Ulisse has been away for twenty years, fighting the Trojans alongside his Greek
comrades. Following the sacking of Troy, he spent many years trying to reach
his homeland. Throughout Ulisse’s long absence, Penelope has waited patiently.
Despite the advances of several suitors, she remains loyal and faithful to her
The action is set in Ithaca.
Human Frailty acknowledges that it must submit to Time, Fortune and Love,
concluding that Man is indeed a pitiful victim.
Penelope awaits Ulisse’s return. She cannot be consoled by Ulisse’s old nurse,
Ericlea. The servants, Melanto and Eurimaco comment on the pains and pleasures
of their own love. They would prefer Penelope to yield to her suitors who swarm
Ulisse has washed up on a beach in Ithaca. He doesn’t know where he is or
how he got there. Disguised as a young boy, the goddess Minerva appears and
tells Ulisse that he is home. Dropping her disguise, Minerva instructs him to bathe
in the nearby sacred waters: this will alter his appearance to that of an old beggar,
thereby allowing him to enter his palace unrecognized and outwit the suitors who
seek Penelope’s hand.
Melanto urges Penelope to forget about Ulisse and love another.
Eumete, an old man loyal to Ulisse, pities Penelope’s suffering. He dreams
of a freer, happier world. Iro, a social parasite who lives off Penelope’s suitors,
mocks Eumete. Now disguised as an old beggar, Ulisse enters and warns Eumete
of the imminent return of his sovereign.
Minerva brings Ulisse’s son Telemaco back to Ithaca, where he is
welcomed by Eumete. Eumete presents the old beggar to Telemaco. Ulisse is
revealed in his true form and father and son are overwhelmed with joy at being
reunited. They plan their return to the palace.
Melanto and Eurimaco discuss Penelope’s unswerving devotion to Ulisse. The
suitors continue to make their advances towards Penelope, but she skilfully resists
them. To raise her spirits, they offer her an entertainment. Eumete announces the
return of Telemaco and the imminent return of Ulisse, news of which disconcerts
the suitors. They plot to murder Telemaco and decide to redouble their wooing of
Minerva outlines to Ulysses a plan to remove the suitors.
Telemaco tells Penelope of his recent travels and how Helen of Sparta
foretold that Ulisse would kill the suitors and reclaim the kingdom.
Antinoo, one of the suitors, reproaches Eumete for bringing into the palace
a repulsive beggar (Ulisse once again in disguise). Iro taunts the beggar and they
fight. To everyone’s surprise, the beggar wins the contest. Penelope offers the
victor her hospitality.
Each of the suitors in turn presents Penelope with extravagant gifts in an
attempt to win her love. She declares that she will marry whoever is able to draw
Ulisse’s bow. None of the suitors is able to do so. The beggar asks to enter the
contest though he will not claim the prize should he win. He succeeds where the
suitors failed and, invoking Minerva’s protection, kills them.
Iro grieves for the suitors: he now has no one to sate his large appetite and
wishes therefore to die.
Penelope refuses to believe Eumete’s claim that the beggar is Ulisse; even
Telemaco cannot convince her. She fears being the plaything of the gods.
Ericlea has seen through Ulisse’s disguise and considers whether or not to
reveal his true identity to Penelope. Ulisse enters as himself, but Penelope fears it
is a trick. Even when Ericlea offers irrefutable proof that it is indeed Ulisse,
Penelope remains unconvinced. Only when Ulisse correctly describes the quilt on
their nuptial bed, does Penelope accept that he is her husband and they are
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