The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad

Book - 2005
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Homer's Odyssey is not the only version of the story. Mythic material was originally oral, and also local -- a myth would be told one way in one place and quite differently in another. I have drawn on material other than the Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope's parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumors circulating about her. I've chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn't hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I've always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself. The author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin presents a cycle of stories about Penelope, wife of Odysseus, through the eyes of the twelve maids hanged for disloyalty to Odysseus in his absence.
Publisher: New York : Canongate, [2005]
Edition: First American edition
Copyright Date: ©2005
ISBN: 9781841957173
Characteristics: xv, 199 pages ; 21 cm


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ArapahoeTina Jul 27, 2018

Atwood turns her keen eye to the myth of Odysseus with a particular focus on the treatment of woman in the tale. Equally parts witty and indignant, this book brings fresh insight to an ancient story.

Jul 01, 2018

Interesting idea to tell the story from Penelope's viewpoint, but very weak in terms of insights or new ideas. As expected Atwood critiques the macho heroism of Odysseus, but her characterization is very one dimensional. Helen is only vain and seductive, Odysseus is only tricky, Penelope, surprisingly, is only the faithful wife, Telemachus is only a precocious youth.

The novel is strangely devoid of dialogue and the action is told second hand. This style doesn't let us get involved with the characters. The poetry is often stylized with forced rhymes.

The good things about this book are (a) it is very short and (b) at the end Atwood creates some mythology of her own about rebirth and which aspects of human character do not change over the centuries.

CMLibrary_sfetzer May 17, 2016

The Penelopiad is fascinating, strange, beautiful, and just the tiniest bit heartbreaking in all the right ways. It is a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus’ stoic and long-suffering wife Penelope. As Homer’s Penelope is essentially summed by the phrase “good wife,” Atwood has room to truly explore and create. Atwood crafts the story in a mixture of passages that have Penelope narrating from the grave, alternating between poetry and prose. Penelope focuses not only on her absent husband, but also on all the duties of a wife who must keep her husband’s estate from falling apart. The result is a brilliant, if fictionalized, look into the mind of one of history’s forgotten women.

forbesrachel Apr 01, 2013

A unique look at an ancient classic; Penelope is now made a central figure, and is given new depth of character. Clearly the Odyssey, and ancient Greece were well researched before this book was made.

bkilfoy Mar 28, 2013

A quick but brilliant read. Atwood creates a rich voice for Penelope as she recounts her life in a way that reframes her existence outside of that of her husband. Interspersed with Penelope's narrative are interjections from a chorus made up of the twelve maids who Odysseus had killed for colluding with the suitors. These often more poetic turns provide a different perspective again on the tale Penelope weaves. An intriguing exploration of a woman who in the original source text only matters in relation to her husband, Atwood creates a complex woman who remains an enigma even in her own tale.

crankylibrarian May 21, 2012

In the Underworld, Penelope reflects on her life with and without Odysseus, on the suitors (whose ghosts still annoy her) and on the serving maids she loved who met a terrible and unjust fate.

Nov 22, 2011

Now this is how you retell a classic story. This is the Margaret Atwood I love: spiriting through fields of asphodel in Hades instead of stumbling through the mosquito-infested backwoods of Canada. Atwood has a hell of an imagination, and in The Penelopiad a divine story has birthed itself out of her forehead.

In true Atwood fashion, The Penelopiad is not without fairly annoying interludes of poems, songs, ballads and other jarring forays from the prose … but what sublime, hilarious prose it is, and it makes the voyage worth it.

Nov 21, 2011

If reading the Odyssey is your kind of thing, you will probably enjoy a book like this, which riffs on the original story by telling Penelope's part in her voice - she now resides in Hades, and looks back at the main story and what she knew of Odysseus' travels while she held the royal estates as best as she could. Atwood started this when she wondered why Odysseus hanged the 12 maids of Penelope on his return; it's not explained at all in the original, and Atwood decided that exploring that question would open up the story of Penelope in its own way.
So: interesting story, nice variations and explanations of the original material, and something more for people who enjoyed Zachary Mason's book The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Jun 23, 2010

Read Homer's Odyssey first to get the full appreciation of it.
Some humorous parts. Better than I expected.

Dec 18, 2009

Greek mythology. We?ve all been there and done that, from memorizing the Greek Pantheon to studying The Iliad and The Odyssey. And so surely we can?t help but have noticed the raw deal that those ancient Greek women get?daughters sacrificed so their fathers can get a favorable wind to sail off to war, mothers? warnings dismissed when their young sons head out to die as heroes, wives left home alone while their husbands go adventuring for fame and the fortune of the gods. Odysseus (hero of the infamous Odyssey) has one of the most famous wives in Greek history: Penelope, who is abandoned for twenty years while Odysseus fights (and wins) the Trojan War and then gets lost at sea to tangle with the one-eyed giant Cyclops and sexy sea-nymphs like Circe and the Sirens. Penelope is left with a small son and a household to manage; as the years passed and Odysseus failed to return, the son becomes increasingly rebellious and the household is overrun by men looking to marry her and inherit Odysseus? substantial fortune. She manages to hold the suitors off and wait for her long-lost husband, but even he tests her thoroughly to determine her faithfulness once he finally returns. Today Penelope is renowned for her extreme patience--which, to be frank, is pretty boring. All that changes with author Margaret Atwood?s The Penelopiad, which sticks to the same old story but gives us Penelope?s unique perspective. We?re not too surprised to find that Penelope is intelligent and compassionate, but she also turns out to be equally the match of her notoriously wily husband. In the spirit of ancient Greek theatre, Atwood lets Penelope?s twelve maids, who Odysseus ruthlessly kills when he returns, act as the chorus to Penelope?s story; the result is a poignant, insightful twist on one of the oldest classics of all time, and it serves to answer an important question: Just what was Penelope up to all that time?

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Mar 04, 2019

Lyric Opera Book Club: The Penelopiad
The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood, is a shrewd, funny, and insightful retelling of the myth of Odysseus from the point of view of Penelope, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of The Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?


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"Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."
— Margaret Atwood (The Penelopiad)


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