The concept of heroism, and how it must be applied to Greek epic, has acquired an ambiguous status, as it has become infiltrated with modern-day conceptions of heroism that are perhaps less misogynistic than the ancient. While strong women are present in ancient texts, they would not have been elevated to a heroic status in the same way as men.
In The Odyssey, Penelope herself is heroic. Some merely dub her a temptress, but it is her loyalty and sagacity that bring her closer to the status of heroine. Like her husband, she is quick-witted, staving off suitors by repeatedly weaving the shroud by day, unpicking it by night; and instead of resigning herself to marrying one of them, she devotedly awaits Odysseus‘ return. Such steadfastness in the face of adversity is surely heroic, as she strives in the name of love.
One must also consider Telemachus, who develops considerably throughout the narrative. It could be argued that Athene helps him to realise his full potential as a man as he sets off on the journey to find his father and prove himself a hero. However, the ambiguity lies in whether a hero is truly a hero if his heroic qualities are dependent upon the gods. Athene tells Telemachus, “I think the gods have blessed both your birth and your progress to manhood.“ This dependence probably would have been acceptable in the Greek concept of heroism, portraying Telemachus as deserving godly assistance - however, it perhaps does not work in the same way today, where allegiance to the divine is not fundamental to societal structure. This therefore does not exclude Telemachus entirely from the heroic status - but the manner in which he slaughters the women at the end of the epic is very difficult to perceive as heroic in any modern paradigm.
These points should not be applied to Telemachus in isolation, however - the epic’s protagonist is also aided considerably by the gods. In The Odyssey XI, for example, the phra...