Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.
The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus
by Margaret Atwood
Female Author (190)
Female Protagonist (168)
» 22 more
Top Five Books of 2013 (1,013)
Historical Fiction (308)
Parallel Novels (2)
Books Read in 2021 (1,932)
Books Read in 2014 (1,014)
Women in War (90)
Books Read in 2015 (2,032)
Books Read in 2013 (907)
Unread books (355)
KayStJ's to-read list (556)
Dead narrators (26)
The Trojan War (81)
After reading Claire North’s Ithaca, a retelling of the Odyssey that centres Penelope and is narrated by Hera, I realized I had not yet read Margaret Atwood’s spin on the Odyssey, The Penelopiad. Atwood has Penelope narrate her story from beyond the grave, which gives Penelope a great deal of perspective on events (several thousand years’ worth) and adds some deliciously eerie details when she encounters other people in her life in the afterlife as well (e.g., Antinous, one of the suitors; or Odysseus himself for that matter). Another important centring is the twelve maids who are hanged at the end of the Odyssey—they serve as the Chorus, singing songs that amplify themes or add touches of levity to Penelope’s story. These interludes I could very easily imagine on a stage, and indeed The Penelopiad was dramatized a couple of years after the book was published. Overall this retelling was swift and economical and very wry—I liked it a lot and would recommend it. ( )
Creative retelling of Penelope’s story.
I definitely liked this book, but it was more modern than I thought it would be. Well, it switched between sounding like old Greek and modern slang from time to time, but then there were just chapters that were fully during modern times. I will say that I was glad that I learned some new things about Penelope’s life, both before and with Odysseus. Through her story I also learned more about Odysseus’ character and now he has gone from a clever-and-caring-man to a warrior-douche-bag kind of guy. This is the first piece I’ve read by Margaret Atwood, so I am curious to read more of her work!
The Penelopiad provides Penelope’s version of what happened while her husband, Odysseus, was at war in Troy and beyond, as depicted in The Odyssey and The Iliad. Not knowing if her husband is even still alive, she fends off suitors while hoping for him to return home. Penelope serves as narrator looking back on her life from the perspective of the dead. She is joined by a chorus of maids in a variety of formats – poems, short plays, ballads, and courtroom drama. These are the twelve maids that were killed on Odysseus’ orders after he slaughtered the suitors.
Atwood gives voice to the women of the Homeric odes. In both The Iliad and The Odyssey, you know that women serve primarily as accessories to the hero’s quest. Penelope presents a quite different view of the maids than the charge of treachery. In her telling, the maids are innocent victims of rape and had been gathering intelligence from the suitors at Penelope’s request.
Atwood employs her wit and way with words to great effect. She presents Penelope’s view of Odysseus’ adventures, which differ significantly from the original Homeric version. She turns Odysseus’ battle with Cyclops into a fight with a one-eyed tavern keeper over a bill. Odysseus’ encounters with Circe become a stay at an expensive brothel where he was “sponging off the Madam.” It is really quite humorous in places, while still making a point about the double standard and speaking for the women who were given little voice in the originals. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to those who are already familiar with Homer’s epics.
I love Margaret Atwood's writing (for the most part) so perhaps my expectations were a little high but I was quite disappointed with this one. This being such a thin book, I felt like it should have packed more of a punch (or any punch at all) but there really wasn't enough meat, so to speak. The bit about Persphone belonging to some sort of moon goddess-worshipping cult was also kind of predictable but had a lot of potential. I wish it had been expanded on instead of just mentioned almost as a throwaway detail. I kind of feel like if you've already read a feminist retelling of a story, you won't find anything new or surprising here.
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.
Belongs to Publisher Series
The Myths (2)
Is contained in
Canongate Myth Series: A Short History of Myth, The Penelopiad, Weight, and Dream Angus by Karen Armstrong
The Myths (A Short History of Myth / The Penelopiad / Weight / Dream Angus / Helmet of Horror / Lion's Honey) by Karen Armstrong
Has the adaptation
Was inspired by
The Odyssey by Homer
Has as a reference guide/companion
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (1)
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.
No library descriptions found.
Amazon Kindle (0 editions)
Audible (0 editions)
CD Audiobook (0 editions)
Project Gutenberg (0 editions)
Google Books — Loading...
Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
Is this you?
Become a LibraryThing Author.
An edition of this book was published by Canongate Books.
An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.