The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad

eBook - 2005
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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.
Publisher: New York : Canongate, [2005]
Edition: First American edition
Copyright Date: ©2005
ISBN: 9780802197832
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xv, 199 pages)

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Dec 30, 2020

This is a slipshod work. For a more penetrating evaluation of the Classics, please read Samuel Butler’s The Authoress of the Odyssey.

Dec 07, 2019

I had already read 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘪𝘭𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘴 and 𝘊𝘪𝘳𝘤𝘦 and started 𝘓𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘪𝘢, so Atwood had quite the competition. This book was told from Penelope’s perspective, detailing her relationships with her family, especially that with Odysseus, and revealing to us the darker, even bitter, side of “the faithful wife.” ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
I loved the way Atwood broke format boundaries; the book was a mixture of novel, poetry, and play. She also spoke with hindsight from the perspective of a ghost, setting the narrative in modern times and ridiculing the way we seem to have become more “civilized” and “judicious” but in fact remain every bit the “primitive.” ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Atwood also wrestled with themes such as societal expectations of women, unreliable narrators, definitions of heroes, etc. Even Penelope’s own narrative was questioned at the end, showing that she was more similar to her husband than she admitted. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Unfortunately, although the story was told from Penelope’s perspective, she was still an ambiguous character. She also glossed over the parts less covered in 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘖𝘥𝘺𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘺, but I had wished to see more on those. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Overall, while 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘭𝘰𝘱𝘪𝘢𝘥 is no 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘮𝘢𝘪𝘥’𝘴 𝘛𝘢𝘭𝘦, as 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘚𝘶𝘯, says, Atwood is “at the height of her powers” and “having fun.”⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
And we, too, had fun. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣

For more book reviews, visit me on Instagram @ RandomStuffIRead

This was okay and a good way to sort of dip your toes into Greek Mythology Retelling's. However if you are already familiar with Madeline Miller's work, more specifically Circe you might be a little underwhelmed.

I almost would recommend reading The Penelopiad, The Silence of the Girls and Circe in that order as it is 3 different female perspectives set before, during and after the Trojan War and each book gets better as you go.

Oct 28, 2019

Read this small book. One can finish in a day. It was interesting , it captures Tory of Penelope from Greek mythology.

Jun 30, 2019

Penelope comes across as quite an interesting character.

ArapahoeTina Jul 27, 2018

Atwood turns her keen eye to the myth of Odysseus with a particular focus on the treatment of woman in the tale. Equally parts witty and indignant, this book brings fresh insight to an ancient story.

Jul 01, 2018

Interesting idea to tell the story from Penelope's viewpoint, but very weak in terms of insights or new ideas. As expected Atwood critiques the macho heroism of Odysseus, but her characterization is very one dimensional. Helen is only vain and seductive, Odysseus is only tricky, Penelope, surprisingly, is only the faithful wife, Telemachus is only a precocious youth.

The novel is strangely devoid of dialogue and the action is told second hand. This style doesn't let us get involved with the characters. The poetry is often stylized with forced rhymes.

The good things about this book are (a) it is very short and (b) at the end Atwood creates some mythology of her own about rebirth and which aspects of human character do not change over the centuries.

forbesrachel Apr 01, 2013

A unique look at an ancient classic; Penelope is now made a central figure, and is given new depth of character. Clearly the Odyssey, and ancient Greece were well researched before this book was made.

bkilfoy Mar 28, 2013

A quick but brilliant read. Atwood creates a rich voice for Penelope as she recounts her life in a way that reframes her existence outside of that of her husband. Interspersed with Penelope's narrative are interjections from a chorus made up of the twelve maids who Odysseus had killed for colluding with the suitors. These often more poetic turns provide a different perspective again on the tale Penelope weaves. An intriguing exploration of a woman who in the original source text only matters in relation to her husband, Atwood creates a complex woman who remains an enigma even in her own tale.

crankylibrarian May 21, 2012

In the Underworld, Penelope reflects on her life with and without Odysseus, on the suitors (whose ghosts still annoy her) and on the serving maids she loved who met a terrible and unjust fate.

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Mar 04, 2019

Lyric Opera Book Club: The Penelopiad
The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood, is a shrewd, funny, and insightful retelling of the myth of Odysseus from the point of view of Penelope, 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?


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"Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."
— Margaret Atwood (The Penelopiad)


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