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The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus Hardcover – October 5, 2005
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- Publisher : Canongate U.S.; 1st edition (October 5, 2005)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1841957178
- ISBN-13 : 978-1841957173
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.25 x 1 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #430,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #4,874 in Mythology & Folk Tales (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Atwoods keenmind and wry wit angle sharply with the precision of a skilled surgeon to demonstrate before us the view upon Odysseus and his "great feats", his legend, through the eyes of Penelope.
Her words and intellect slice through to the heart of matters, and never shies away, nor flinches in her pursuits. She sets before us a different view, far different than that of Homer. She shows her heart and shows what it was to exist in those times. She paints an excellent view of Penelope, her good, bad and ugly. But she goes much deeper than that by far.
Her eagle eyes see and write of everyone. She is distinctly feminist without bring shrill. That is a feat in itself, for the word feminist calls up visions of man-hating harpies for some reason. Hating men is not feminist, it is misandry-an entirely different beast. Feminists just call for true equality. But, I apologise for my digression.
Atwood's skill is definitely on display and her message is clear. She does not tip toe, nor howl. She is a truth-bearer, a better Hermes to the masses today. She makes the world of ancient Greece relatable and interesting. She lays it before us to listen, see, judge, and above all, LEARN.
There is a reason Atwood is a modern day legend. She is a force unlike to any other. She is a treasure trove of intellect and it is very evident here. This story flows with unerring force in her unique manner of writing. It is raw, it is dizzying, it is an important work, though Atwood is both intimate and distant in her voice. But, her voice always rings true.
So, come. See the other side of the coins. You will come away with your own view. You will be entertained. You will be educated. And, you will be...well, that is for you to decide. I do not merely recommend "The Penelopiad", I implore you to read it. It is the work of a master artist who toiled for us to understand or, at least, give a very differing slant. I am very pleased to have experienced it.
As Always I Wish Happy Reads to All from the Unapologetic Book Junkie 😉!
Margaret Atwood is a prolific Canadian writer whom I have regrettably never read before. I do recall seeing her work, The Blind Assassin: A Novel on the convenient dining room table of one of the Canadians that I knew in Riyadh, who read serious books, way back in the year 2000, when Atwood was awarded the Man Booker Prize for that work.
Sure, the focus has always been on the soldier, Odysseus, who went away to a foreign war, took a long time to get back home due to numerous pleasant and unpleasant distractions, and received the classic “bad homecoming” when he arrived. With a bit of gender-empathy, it was only natural for Atwood to reflect upon that “ever-faithful” wife, as well, as the author says, the fate of the 12 maids that Odysseus hanged – the “collateral damage.”
In the introduction, Atwood calls her work an “echo” to the sixth power… an “echo of an echo of…” etc. First, you had the original event… the siege of Troy, somewhere in the 12th or 13th century BCE. Then you have Homer’s telling of the story, some four centuries later… Atwood says: “Penelope is perhaps the first desperate housewife to appear in art.” Atwood’s “Penelopiad” is a play, an additional four “echoes” later, that was first performed at The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in 2007.
Penelope is in Hades, with the Maids that have been hanged. Ah, the truth can now come out. Indicative of Atwood’s more modern, “hip” style, she has Penelope declare early on: “For hadn’t I been faithful? Didn’t I wait, and wait, despite the temptations – almost the compulsion – to do otherwise? And yet what have I amounted to, now the official version has gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women with. Why can’t they be as considerate, as trustworthy, as all-suffering as I was? That’s the line they take, the singers, the yarn-spinners. Don’t follow my example, I want to scream in your ears…” It’s brilliant. “A stick used to beat…”
There were aspects of my reading of Odyssey that I had forgotten, perhaps because at the time they seemed like minor points. Penelope was the daughter of King Icarius, of Sparta, who feared that she might kill him when she grew up, due to a prophesy, so he ordered her drowned, which did not, obviously work out. Penelope was a cousin of Helen, yes, the face that launched those proverbial 1000 ships, and Atwood plays on that relationship. “They were all staring at Helen, who was intolerably beautiful, as usual. Like every other man on earth, Odysseus had desperately wanted to win her hand. I was at best only second prize.” Atwood empathetically describes the lives of the Maids, who are only “deep background” for Homer.
Indeed, what is the appropriate conduct for an “ever-faithful” wife when she knows her husband has been servicing the goddess Calypso for several years? Atwood hints at the answer towards the end. “The two of us were now proficient and shameless liars of long standing. It’s a wonder either one of us believed a word the other said. But we did. Or so we told each other.”
A 5-star spin of a classic myth.
Atwood sets the story in Hades, where Penelope tells it to the reader and explains some of the mechanics of the Greek underworld. The maids act as a traditional Greek chorus, interjecting between chapters to give their input into events using modern forms of media, such as a college lecture, a show tune, and a transcript from a courtroom video. By granting Penelope the ability to witness our modern world, Atwood frees herself from the limitation of trying to fully recreate Greek settings, but also gives herself the freedom to interject humor and a cosmological worldview in which the Greek gods' power has waned and a new afterlife was set up near Hades, but it's full of suffering and torment. Fans of Atwood's work will find plenty to enjoy and her use of Greek mythology will entertain those interested in the classics.
Top reviews from other countries
Presented as a normal prose tale as such, there are intervals where we hear the chorus, mirroring in many ways traditional Classical Greek drama. Taking in many themes and ideas, as well as genres, so the story that we are told here, by a woman who has been dead for many centuries, does show a certain amount of wry humour, as the story is retold for us.
Did Odysseus really do all the things that is claimed in the Odyssey – or have they been rather blown out of proportion? Was the killing of for instance Cyclops more of a tavern brawl over payment?
Presented as it is here with a normal narrative, but with added scenes from the chorus, this does make for an interesting and relatively quick read, that is quite enjoyable. I would personally think that you do not have to be fully knowledgeable on the Odyssey, or the way that ideas have changed over the centuries with regards to Helen and the whole Troy battles, but it does help if you at least understand a bit about what the original text is, and have a vague idea of current thoughts on someone like Helen of Troy.
I felt betrayed by this book. I thought agency was going to be given to the maids. That we were going to see their side of the story. And to see more of Penelope. Often in the original myths/texts, the female characters are sidelined for the male ones. So I was thrilled to have a novel that made them centre stage. But....it didn't? And it was bland? The maids had random, sporadic choruses, in between Penelope either a) complaining about them or b) dismissing them....and none of it made logical sense?? Like what was the aim here??
I don't know. Atwoods writing style was just so bland and patronising. Did not like.
Penelope is Odysseus’ wife and whilst she’s not as “popular”, I did at least recall two things about her:
1) When Odysseus had not returned in years, many men took over the palace grounds and hounded Penelope to pick one of them as her next husband. To bide time she would claim to be weaving a cloth (a shroud, if we are being pernickety) for her father-in-law, but each night alongside her twelve maids, she would unpick the day’s work to slow the decision down… but I never knew anything more than just this line, Penelope was always a sub-story and not the main story. Nevertheless I had always admired her for this.
2) When Odysseus finally returned, he killed all his wife’s pursuers and her maids.
Why the maids? It’s a question that isn’t clearly answered in any of the textbooks that analyse the myths, and so Atwood offers her take on it all.
I mentioned earlier that the tale is told in an unusual way and again there are 2 aspects why I think this:
1) The book is told from two perspectives: from Penelope’s voice and also a singing chorus from the maids.
It is told in modern times, i.e. Penelope is reflecting on her events from the underworld but also well aware of the current times playing on in the world.
2) Both aspects added such uniqueness to this tale, that there is no doubt that you’ll recall this book in years to come, whether you enjoyed or did not.
When I was studying classics in school, women in greek mythology always appeared to shine because of their beauty and not their brains; but Atwood alongside Miller, Barker, Haynes and many others are changing my perceptions and are teaching me the ingenuity, quick thinking and determination that many of these unsung heroines exhibited numerous times throughout their lives.
Atwood’s style is self-assured and provokes the reader to question, to think and to learn.
Having gone into this story knowing only two things, not only do I now understand these in more detail, I also know much more about Penelope’s childhood, personality and her marriage. Penelope’s story is fascinating and not well known, I am grateful that Atwood has allowed Penelope to be the star in her own story and come out of the shadows of Odysseus.
This is a fantastic short read.