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The Penelopiad by Margaret Eleanor Atwood

The Penelopiad (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Margaret Eleanor Atwood

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3,7751781,381 (3.59)8 / 426
Title:The Penelopiad
Authors:Margaret Eleanor Atwood
Info:Melbourne, Australia : Text Publishing, 2005.
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:library book, Odyssey

Work details

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood (2005)

  1. 70
    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 Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis (SilentInAWay)
    SilentInAWay: Picks up where the Penelopiad leaves off...
  6. 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.
  7. 21
    Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis (AnnaClaire)
    AnnaClaire: A different author retelling a different myth, but they still seem to fit together nicely.
  8. 10
    Achilles by Elizabeth Cook (Booksloth)
  9. 10
    Eine ganz gewöhnliche Ehe. Odysseus und Penelope. Roman by Inge Merkel (spiphany)
  10. 32
    Mythology by Edith Hamilton (sibyllacumaea)
  11. 00
    Black Ships by Jo Graham (ryvre)

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English (176)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (178)
Showing 1-5 of 176 (next | show all)
I love Margaret Atwood, and I love history; I however did not LOVE this book. It was really well written but there was something lacking that most of Atwood's novels all have, more depth. ( )
  momma182 | Jun 23, 2015 |
Immortality and mortality didn't mix well: it was fire and mud, only the fire always won. Page 24

The story of Penelope as the dutiful wife waiting for her husband Odysseus to return from the Trojan War is the version we've all been told through Homer's Odyssey. This time around, Penelope will tell her side of the story and the misconceptions that we have all been led to believe and since the opportunity presents itself, she holds nothing back.

Atwood demonstrates again that she has the uncanny ability to respect a subject matter while simultaneously letting her own unique voice and storytelling shine through, making the story both timeless and relevant today. Penelope as a character is both unflinchingly and scathingly honest with a hint of humour. Her sarcasm and wit is both a reflection of Atwood's gift with words and her skill in crafting characters that are memorable and true to their spirits. A short but fun read, paying homage to a Greek classic that has stood the test of time. Recommended. ( )
  jolerie | Apr 7, 2015 |
I love Margaret Atwood and I loved this book. It's not your normal mythological retelling. She makes it as if Penelope is sitting next to you at breakfast telling you this story, which I find totally endearing. There isn't much of a "plot" per se, more of a character study of this interesting woman and the relationship she has with her more famous husband, Odysseus. If you enjoy mythology and well-told stories, this is the one for you. ( )
  Shiraloo | Mar 25, 2015 |
I enjoyed this quick read, but I would have preferred more development of the characters...this version was a little too literal for me and read too much like an "answer" rather than a work in its own right. ( )
  bookweaver | Feb 20, 2015 |
The story of Penelope, the unhappy wife of Odysseus, who was abandoned for twenty years while her husband went to fight for her beautiful cousin in Troy. Penelope tells how Odysseus won her, and her great Spartan dowry, then took her far away to live in his kingdom with his cold mother and pushy nursemaid. Though she loved her husband, she was always aware that he had first competed for the hand of beautiful Helen, a girl who prided herself on the number of men who died because of her beauty. When Odysseus leaves Penelope to fight over Helen, she is left with twelve handmaids who become precious to her, and over one hundred suitors who take over the palace as they try to force Penelope to choose a new husband.

Told by Penelope from the afterlife, with songs and stories from the maids, this is a very different, feminist look at Homer's The Odyssey, from the view of the ones left behind. ( )
  mstrust | Jan 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 176 (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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'... 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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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)

(summary from another edition)

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