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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
4,7402151,598 (3.63)8 / 485
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.… (more)
  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. 10
    Eine ganz gewöhnliche Ehe. Odysseus und Penelope. Roman by Inge Merkel (spiphany)
  10. 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.
  11. 10
    Achilles by Elizabeth Cook (Booksloth)
  12. 00
    Circe by Madeline Miller (AaronPt)
  13. 33
    Mythology by Edith Hamilton (sibyllacumaea)
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English (211)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (215)
Showing 1-5 of 211 (next | show all)
How delightful. Fun mostly for readers of the Odyssey. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
I had high hopes for this one, considering the source material and the author, but I was left disappointed.

In The Penelopiad Penelope takes centre stage. It was an opportunity to tell her, and other characters marginalised in The Odyssey, story. At times it was beautifully written, lyrical in places; in regards to the writing style is is very readable. It is the content itself where I was left disappointed.

I was expecting it to add something new, to find out more about what happened to Penelope during Odysseus’ adventures but it didn’t really provide any more exploration than we saw in The Odyssey. Did she just sit and wait for his return? There was a ‘whiney’ tone throughout and due to this at times I did struggle to finish it.

I found the characterisation of Helen somewhat problematic, it seemed to completely disregard what happened to her - placing the blame completely at her feet.

This had so much potential but it was a let down, I’m struggling to see the point in it.There is a fantastic story in here, somewhere, and I hope one day it gets told.
  SophieLJanssen | Apr 17, 2020 |
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a retelling parts of the Odyssey myth from the perspective of Odysseus's wife, Penelope. The author's aim is to answer two questions she had while reading the Odyssey: what led to the handing of Penelope's 12 maids and what was Penelope really up to?

This book reminds me of the prescribed fiction we had to "dissect" in school - a teachers wet dream with all those "how do you feel about xyz" or "what did the author think" questions. In short, I found the book boring and the interludes with the chanting maids chorus and other commentary annoying. Penelope's story would have made an ok, if somewhat insipid, alternative retelling on it's own. The characters are flat and I found no reason to care about Penelope or her associates at all. The Odyssey manages to make its readers care with less information and page time. The commentaries would have made a mediocre, and not too well researched college essay on the subject.. Together, they were just annoying. As for providing a new perspective, this is only valid if you know nothing about Greek history or mythological tales. ( )
  ElentarriLT | Mar 24, 2020 |
Atwood offers us a very intriguing telling of the Odyssey from two different points of view: Penelope and her twelve maids. These maids were executed at the end of the Odyssey. It gives a different and valid perspective that challenges one to look more closely at Homer's epic and at similar instances in literature and life. Emily Wilson, in her new translation of the Odyssey, also commented on these maids and how they have been misinterpreted by male translators over the centuries, adding words that weren't there in the original Greek and implying they were simply throwing themselves at the suitors and deserving of death. Atwood offers another, more active, perspective, for these maids and for Penelope. Penelope calls out blatant sexism but Atwood weaves a more complex tale, adding a class dimension as well. Atwood complicates Penelope too, with respect to her relationship with the maids and how the maids view her in the underworld. Attempts at justice for these maids feels like reading a newspaper article today. Atwood's prophetic writing streak continues.

Atwood roots her story firmly in the Homeric tradition and mythology. I smiled at references I knew and learned several new ones, such as Odysseus possibly being the son of Sisyphus (p. 46). She nails some important facets of male vanity too, especially when Penelope says of Odysseus: "it's always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness" (p. 137).

I have to say I loved the reference to Tennyson's poem, Ulysses. Penelope and Odysseus are just reacquainting themselves with each other and are telling each other stories. She says to him, "We're not spring chickens any more," to which he responds, "That which we are, we are" (p. 172). His words are a direct quote of Tennyson. Well-woven, Ms. Atwood!

Her story is somewhat similar to the burlesque translations of Homer that were popular up to the Victorian era. More often, those tended to be risqué just to be risqué, whereas Atwood has a definite set of points to make. But, at times, I felt her writing was a bit too much. Not in the content but in the "wink wink", breaking the 4th wall, cutesy modern-day commentary. I might be somewhat influenced by having immediately just finished Madeline Miller's excellent The Song of Achilles", a retelling/revealing of the lives of Achilles and Patroclus. Miller told an amazing story without the pithy asides and snarky commentary.

I have to say that in the last 15 years or so, women have brought such fresh air, new ideas, and solid scholarship to Homer. Caroline Alexander's Iliad and Emily Wilson's Odyssey are great additions to the list of translations (Alexander's is the best translation I've read of Homer, ever, in my opinion). And now Atwood's reimagining of the Odyssey and Miller's take on the Iliad add to the corpus. Avail yourself of these wonderful works. ( )
  drew_asson | Mar 22, 2020 |
I expect any modern reader of the Odyssey would have quickly worked out that Odysseus was lacking in Christian Charity and modern notions of human rights, but no worse than his neighbours in a brutal and seriously non-woke society. So for three quarters of the book I was wondering why anyone would bother to write a fairly straight re-telling of Penelope's side of the story, with social history clumsily heaped on top. Things really do pick up in the final part of the book, when you realise that the narrator might not be entirely reliable after all, and you are left to decide what versions of the 10 years and the final day work for you.
So after all, Atwood delivers the goods.
  d.r.halliwell | Mar 2, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 211 (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.
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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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