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The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and…
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The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (2005)

by Margaret Atwood

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Myths (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,4512021,593 (3.62)8 / 468
  1. 90
    Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (rarm)
  2. 60
    The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel by Zachary Mason (alalba, jeanned)
    alalba: Both books offer alternative versions of the Odyssey.
  3. 50
    Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson (nperrin)
  4. 40
    Medea by Christa Wolf (spiphany)
  5. 20
    The Songs of the Kings by Barry Unsworth (smithal)
    smithal: Unsworth has a bitterly satiric, debunking approach to the Illiad story, which readers who enjoyed the Penelopiad should appreciate.
  6. 20
    The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis (SilentInAWay)
    SilentInAWay: Picks up where the Penelopiad leaves off...
  7. 10
    Sita's Ramayana by Samhita Arni (eclecticdodo)
    eclecticdodo: both books are retellings of traditional tales, from the woman's perspective, challenging traditional gender roles
  8. 10
    Black Ships by Jo Graham (ryvre)
  9. 21
    Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis (AnnaClaire)
    AnnaClaire: A different author retelling a different myth, but they still seem to fit together nicely.
  10. 10
    Achilles by Elizabeth Cook (Booksloth)
  11. 32
    Mythology by Edith Hamilton (sibyllacumaea)
  12. 10
    Eine ganz gewöhnliche Ehe. Odysseus und Penelope. Roman by Inge Merkel (spiphany)
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English (199)  French (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (201)
Showing 1-5 of 199 (next | show all)
I expected a bit more from this retelling of the Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope. But there was little more here than the myths provide, other than giving a voice to the 12 maids executed by Odysseus. ( )
  questbird | Apr 2, 2019 |
Another entry in the Canongate Myth Series. The second that I've had the pleasure of reading. I have to get my hands on more of these. Once I started with this I couldn't put it down.

This take on Penelope and The Iliad is wonderful for the skeptic's heart. Odysseus was more a bloodthirsty philandering wanderer than a hero. Penelope a long suffering wife who knew that she would not fare well without him, believes her own lies. The Chorus of slaves cuts to truth of the matter. It's a biting satire of modern (and ancient) revisionists. I loved it. ( )
  authenticjoy | Mar 29, 2019 |
I just couldn't get in to this one. It was pretty slow and I didn't really like any of the characters enough to care about what happened to them. I almost didn't even finish it but I pushed through. I'm beginning to think I am just not a fan of any mythology. ( )
  KeriLynneD | Mar 23, 2019 |
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood; (5*)

I am in the minority of persons who do not love Margaret Atwood. But, shocking to myself, loved this book.
The Penelopiad is the myth of Penelope and Odysseus. Penelope was the daughter of Icareus of Sparta and her mother was a water nymph. Her very competitive and holier than thou cousin was the lovely Helen of Troy. Penelope is seen in this tale as the constant and faithful wife, the mother of an angst ridden teenaged son, Telemachus, who wants his "portion". She is the lonely, ever wise, wife awaiting the long (nearly twenty year) return of her adventurous husband, Odysseus, who is off saving the world and having wonderful and dangerous adventures.
Penelope tells her tale from the world of the dead to the world of the living, and wants the living to know that she is/was not as she was thought and spoken of.
During Odysseus' years of absence she is suitored by many who assume he is dead and not likely to return. They would like to have her hand and to replace him as her husband and as leader of the realm. Penelope allows the suitors to encamp outside the castle and they proceed to "eat the castle out of house and home". Her twelve favored maidens sleep with some of the suitors, at Penelope's request, to gain information about Odysseus and where and how he might be. Rumors abound. It is said that along his travels he is helped at every turn by beautiful ladies, including the lovely Helen. He also is "taken in" by goddesses who keep him for their pleasure along the way.
Penelope is left at home holding down the fort, playing the dutiful wife and taking care of business. Upon the return of Odysseus he is furious at the encampment of the "suitors" of Penelope and that so much of his wealth has gone into the feeding and caring of them. Also he finds that some of her favorite maidens have slept with the them.
He creates a bloodbath and kills the suitors; orders his son to kill the maidens whereupon the son, considering slaughtering them to be too good a death, hangs all twelve of them. Poor Penelope is left, once again, weeping and with an angry husband.
I enjoyed this book tremendously. There was quite a bit of the spoof to it, and several original poems and limericks thrown in (generally from the twelve maidens viewpoint), and a quite funny courtroom/trial segment at the end that made it all the more fun. This was my first read by Margaret Atwood but it will not be my last. It was also my first venture into mythology, again it will not be my last. I highly recommend The Penelopied to anyone who likes Atwood, who enjoys mythology, or just wants a fun read. This book has definitely peaked my interest in the more important works of mythology and the old Greek/Roman classics. ( )
6 vote rainpebble | Feb 3, 2019 |
atwood really has a penchant for ordinary women's voices in extraordinary times; it's a shame that this book doesn't rise to the level of [b:The Handmaid's Tale|38447|The Handmaid's Tale|Margaret Atwood|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1546031886s/38447.jpg|1119185]. penelope's voice never felt developed, and the action never had any immediacy to it. (i understand that the story has been told several hundred times before but there are still ways to inject freshness and vibrancy into a telling, particularly as radical as this one promised to be.) ( )
  livingtoast | Jan 23, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 199 (next | show all)
She channels Penelope by way of Absolutely Fabulous; one can imagine her chain-smoking and swilling wine between cracks about the weakness of men and the misery they visit upon women.
 
Atwood has done her research: she knows that penelopeia means "duck" in Greek; that ribald stories about a Penelope - whether "our Penelope" or someone else - were circulated; and that virginity could be renewed by the blood of male sacrifice.
 

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Atwood, Margaretprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chakrabarti, NinaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'... Shrewd Odysseus! ... You are a fortunate man to have won a wife of such pre-eminent virtue! How faithful was your flawless Penelope, Icarius' daughter! How loyally she kept the memory of the husband of her youth! The glory of her virtue will not fade with the years, but the deathless gods themselves will make a beautiful song for mortal ears in honour of the constant Penelope'

      - The Odyssey, Book 24 (191-194)
. . . he took a cable which had seen service on a blue-bowed ship, made one end fast to a high column in the portico, and threw the other over the round-house, high up, so that their feet would not touch the ground. As when long-winged thrushes or doves get entangled in a snare . . . so the women's heads were held fast in a row, with nooses round their necks, to bring them to the most pitiable end. For a little while their feet twitched, but not for very long.

     — The Odyssey, Book 22 (470-473)
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For my family
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The story of Odysseus' return to his home kingdom of Ithaca following an absence of twenty years is best known from Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus is said to have spend half of these years fighting the Trojan War and the other half wandering around the Aegean Sea, trying to get home, enduring hardships, conquering or evading mosters, and sleeping with goddesses. The character of 'wily Odysseus' has been much commented on: he's noted as a persuasive liar and disguise artist—a man who lives by his wits, who devises stratagems and tricks, and who is sometimes too clever for his own good. His divine helper is Pallas Athene, a goddess who admires Odysseus for his ready inventiveness. [from the Introduction]
Now that I'm dead I know everything. This is what I wished would happen, but like so many of my wishes it failed to come true. I know only a few factoids that I didn't know before. Death is much tooo high a price to pay for the satisfaction of curiosity, needless to say. [from Chapter I]
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The novella version of The Penelopiad issued under Canongate's Myths series should not be combined with the theatrical version of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad - The Play (Faber and Faber ISBN 978-0571239498 and possibly other editions) due to the different form and content. Thank you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067697418X, Hardcover)

The internationally acclaimed Myths series brings together some of the finest writers of our time to provide a contemporary take on some of our most enduring stories. Here, the timeless and universal tales that reflect and shape our lives–mirroring our fears and desires, helping us make sense of the world–are revisited, updated, and made new.

Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad is a sharp, brilliant and tender revision of a story at the heart of our culture: the myths about Penelope and Odysseus. In Homer’s familiar version, The Odyssey, Penelope is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes to fight in the Trojan Wars, she manages to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son and, in the face of scandalous rumours, keep over a hundred suitors at bay. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills Penelope’s suitors and–curiously–twelve of her maids.

In Homer the hanging of the maids merits only a fleeting though poignant mention, but Atwood comments in her introduction that she has always been haunted by those deaths. The Penelopiad, she adds, begins with two questions: what led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? In the book, these subjects are explored by Penelope herself–telling the story from Hades — the Greek afterworld - in wry, sometimes acid tones. But Penelope’s maids also figure as a singing and dancing chorus (and chorus line), commenting on the action in poems, songs, an anthropology lecture and even a videotaped trial.

The Penelopiad does several dazzling things at once. First, it delves into a moment of casual brutality and reveals all that the act contains: a practice of sexual violence and gender prejudice our society has not outgrown. But it is also a daring interrogation of Homer’s poem, and its counter-narratives — which draw on mythic material not used by Homer - cleverly unbalance the original. This is the case throughout, from the unsettling questions that drive Penelope’s tale forward, to more comic doubts about some of The Odyssey’s most famous episodes. (“Odysseus had been in a fight with a giant one-eyed Cyclops, said some; no, it was only a one-eyed tavern keeper, said another, and the fight was over non-payment of the bill.”)

In fact, The Penelopiad weaves and unweaves the texture of The Odyssey in several searching ways. The Odyssey was originally a set of songs, for example; the new version’s ballads and idylls complement and clash with the original. Thinking more about theme, the maids’ voices add a new and unsettling complex of emotions that is missing from Homer. The Penelopiad takes what was marginal and brings it to the centre, where one can see its full complexity.

The same goes for its heroine. Penelope is an important figure in our literary culture, but we have seldom heard her speak for herself. Her sometimes scathing comments in The Penelopiad (about her cousin, Helen of Troy, for example) make us think of Penelope differently – and the way she talks about the twenty-first century, which she observes from Hades, makes us see ourselves anew too.

Margaret Atwood is an astonishing storyteller, and The Penelopiad is, most of all, a haunting and deeply entertaining story. This book plumbs murder and memory, guilt and deceit, in a wise and passionate manner. At time hilarious and at times deeply thought-provoking, it is very much a Myth for our times.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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An edition of this book was published by Canongate Books.

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