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

by Margaret Atwood

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,1352291,638 (3.63)8 / 500
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. 110
    Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (rarm)
  2. 70
    The Lost Books of The Odyssey 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. 30
    The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis (SilentInAWay)
    SilentInAWay: Picks up where the Penelopiad leaves off...
  6. 30
    Black Ships by Jo Graham (ryvre)
  7. 20
    Circe by Madeline Miller (AaronPt)
  8. 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.
  9. 31
    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
    Eine ganz gewöhnliche Ehe. Odysseus und Penelope. Roman by Inge Merkel (spiphany)
  11. 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
  12. 43
    Mythology by Edith Hamilton (sibyllacumaea)
  13. 10
    Achilles by Elizabeth Cook (Booksloth)
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English (225)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (229)
Showing 1-5 of 225 (next | show all)
This book has no right at all to model its name off of epic poetry like the Iliad.

It is an unfocused rambling of a self-absorbed most un-Greek character ever to claim the association. The inane detail on Penelope's afterlife is pointless.

It masquerades misogyny as feminism (Penelope CONSTANTLY slut-shames her cousin Helen and describes herself as a not-like-the-other-girls proper woman and wife--she knows because people told her so so often she fake-modestly almost never believed them, tee-hee *hides face* I'm a good girl I am). What is the most important Greek idea of hubris, precious?

Somehow Penelope is aware enough of the modern world to understand electricity but not museums, which have existed far longer?!?!

What a disappointment.
1 vote hissingpotatoes | Jan 16, 2022 |
The story of the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view, and embellished by a chorus of the 12 maids who Odysseus hanged after killing the suitors, whose perspective only Margaret Atwood could do justice to. ( )
  Charon07 | Dec 25, 2021 |
I was quite disappointed in this book. It felt like Atwood made everyone bad except the 12 killed slave girls and Penelope (who was weak and possibly a little bad, but not anywhere near as much so as everyone else). The hatred of men (in particular Odysseus) was just too much for me.
But even sadder is that this didn't really add any depth to the original story, it just spun a different version of it and introduced some interesting theories about the people involved. The characters weren't given depth or humanized, they were remade as different caricature's that suited the author's purpose. ( )
  ChelseaVK | Dec 10, 2021 |
A fun read/listen on the surface, but serious notes underneath. Chocked with sharp tongued barbs offset with tongue in cheek quips. Penelope certainly doesn’t like Helen and lets us know it.
Nice that Atwood gives a voice to the Twelve, but this work feels more like an appendix as opposed to a full stand alone work. ( )
  jimgosailing | Nov 18, 2021 |
The Odyssey from the perspective of the bored housewife stuck at home.

"I suppose you know the rules. If we wish to, we can get ourselves reborn, and have another try at life; but first we have to drink from the waters of Forgetfulness, so our past lives will be wiped from our memories."

All the characters have come back countless times in history, even if Penelope swears she never would.

If you have read The Blind Assassin then Iris was Penelope, Laura was one of the twelve maids, that awful sister of Richard's was Eurycleia, and Alex was Odysseus (telling stories, causing havoc).
If you have read Maddadam then Toby was Penelope, Amanda was one of the twelve maids, Swift Fox was Helen, and Zeb was Odysseus, (of course).

It actually makes me like Maddadam a bit more to look at the book and each character in this light. It's such a god-awful book otherwise. The Blind Assassin, being perfect, enriches the Penelopiad. ( )
  RebeccaBooks | Sep 16, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 225 (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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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)
Dedication
For my family
First words
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]
Quotations
Two questions 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?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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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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.

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