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The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and…

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Margaret Atwood

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4,0041841,279 (3.6)8 / 440
Title:The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus
Authors:Margaret Atwood (Author)
Info:Knopf Canada (2005), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 216 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Collection, The Myths, Fiction, Margaret Atwood, 2005 books, Alfred A. Knopf Canada books

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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 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. 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. 32
    Mythology by Edith Hamilton (sibyllacumaea)
  9. 10
    Achilles by Elizabeth Cook (Booksloth)
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    Sita's Ramayana by Samhita Arni (eclecticdodo)
    eclecticdodo: both books are retellings of traditional tales, from the woman's perspective, challenging traditional gender roles
  11. 10
    Eine ganz gewöhnliche Ehe. Odysseus und Penelope. Roman by Inge Merkel (spiphany)
  12. 00
    Black Ships by Jo Graham (ryvre)

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The Penelopiad is another installment of the Canongate Myths Series.

In this installment, Margaret Atwood turns her hand to the story of Odysseus and tells the story of The Odyssey and The Iliad from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus' wife.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to read an Atwood version of Homer's anthem to heroism, it was fun. I read this whilst waiting at the garage. Apparently, my chuckling along persuaded the elderly gentleman next to me to co-read while waiting for our cars to be ready.

My favourite chapter had the title "Helen Ruins My Life", which was of course about Helen of Troy being a total tramp and running off with Paris, which in turn caused Odysseus to leave Penelope and join the war against Troy.

"I've often wondered whether, if Helen hadn't been so puffed up with vanity, we might all have been spared the sufferings and sorrows she brought down on our heads by her selfishness and her deranged lust. Why couldn't she have led a normal life? But no - normal lives were boring, and Helen was ambitious. She wanted to make a name for herself. She longed to stand out from the herd."

Anyway it was an entertaining read and - as usual for Atwood - emphasised a few new perspectives on an old classic.

"It's surprising how many women there are in the Odyssey and they all help Odysseus, which is why I made him so charming. He's the kind of guy women like - he has a lovely voice, he takes an interest in them, he understands human nature. That's why he's so persuasive: he doesn't get his way by force, he's not a thug. He was fun to be around. That's why Penelope is sad he's not there. He's helped by women at every turn: by Helen in The Iliad, and by all the goddesses he meets along the way in the Odyssey. And then there's Penelope holding the fort while he's away. That's the kind of guy he was."

(Margaret Atwood interviewed in The Guardian, 26. Oct. 2005) ( )
1 vote BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
I really enjoyed this- I love Margaret Atwood's writing (so succinct, so witty) and the point of view is fascinating. I also liked being reminded of portions of the story I didn't remember at all (Helen is Penelope's cousin?!). ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
Atwood, writing with equal parts fury and whimsy, tells the story of Penelope's marriage to Odysseus, her wait, his return. Upon his return, her husband instructs Telemachus to kill 12 maids of court, for supposed disloyalty. This incident haunts Penelope and the reader alike. When I read the Odyssey, I completely overlooked this incident. Trust Atwood to call it to my attention. From Penelope's point of view, Odysseus does not come off as a humane adventurer but an irresponsible and brutish cad, small of stature. There goes my last Greek hero. I'd be interested to get Joseph Campbell's take on this retelling. Seance, anyone? ( )
  deckla | Apr 5, 2016 |
The Odyssey told from a different perspective. Very interesting and enjoyable. I was lucky enough to attend a reading in London by Atwood herself. She is just as mesmerizing as her stories. ( )
  tashlyn88 | Feb 5, 2016 |
A woman's perspective on what happened..."Now that all the others have run out of air, it's my turn to do a little story-making." Sometimes droll, sometimes hysterically funny and sometimes scary - a mythopoesis for our time. My favorite quotes: "...the gods often mumble..." and [about Helen of Troy:] "Why is it that really beautiful people think everyone else in the world exists merely for their amusement?" ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 181 (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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Margaret Atwoodprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chakrabarti, NinaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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)

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