The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
"The Penelopiad" is the myth of Penelope and Odysseus. Penelope was the daughter of Icareus of Sparta and her mother was a water nymph. Her very competitive and holier than thou cousin was the lovely Helen of Troy. Penelope is seen in this tale as the constant and faithful wife, the mother of an angst ridden teenaged son, Telemachus, who wants his "portion". She is the lonely, ever wise, wife awaiting the long (nearly twenty years) return of her adventurous husband, Odysseus, who is off saving the world and having wonderful and dangerous adventures.
Penelope tells her tale from the world of the dead to the world of the living, and wants the living to know that she is/was not as she was thought and spoken of.
During Odysseus' years of absence she is suitored by many who assume he is dead and not likely to return. They would like to have her hand and to replace him as her husband and as leader of the realm. Penelope allows the suitors to encamp outside the castle and they proceed to "eat the castle out of house and home". Her twelve favored maidens sleep with some of the suitors, at Penelope's request, to gain information about Odysseus and where and how he might be. Rumors abound. It is said that along his travels he is helped at every turn by beautiful ladies, including the lovely Helen. He also is "taken in" by goddesses who keep him for their pleasure along the way.
Penelope is left at home holding down the fort, playing the dutiful wife and taking care of business. Upon the return of Odysseus he is furious at the encampment of the "suitors" of Penelope and that so much of his wealth has gone into the feeding and caring of them. Also he finds that some of her favorite maidens have slept with the them.
He creates a bloodbath and kills the suitors; orders his son to kill the maidens whereupon the son, considering slaughtering them to be too good a death, hangs all twelve of them. Poor Penelope is left, once again, weeping and with an angry husband.
I enjoyed this book tremendously. There was quite a bit of the spoof to it, and several original poems and limericks thrown in (generally from the twelve maidens viewpoint), and a quite funny courtroom/trial segment at the end that made it all the more fun. This was my first read by Margaret Atwood but it will not be my last. It was also my first venture into mythology, again it will not be my last. I highly recommend "The Penelopied" to anyone who likes Atwood, who enjoys mythology, or just wants a fun read. This book has definitely peaked my interest in the more important works of mythology and the old Greek/Roman classics.
rainpebble | Jun 5, 2009
Atwood's take on the myth of Odysseus definitely introduces the reader to alternate takes of the story. She consulted several other sources aside from the ubiquitous tale to bring us other perspectives. This book is told from Penelope's point of view. As the daughter of a Naiad, she does get weepy at the drop of the hat, however she is a clever woman and dealing with staying afloat in a man's....er, I mean her cousin Helen's world ;). For me the fascinating point of the story was the different locations. Sometimes we're in real time, with Penelope dealing with all the chaos around her as her husband is off on his adventures. Sometimes we're in Hades, learning about life after death. And in between acts, a greek chorus of the 12 unfortunate maids injects the whole read with their tragic point of view. I liked how Atwood plays on the symbolism of 12 and 13 and brings up the possibilities of a feminist reading, albeit one that doesn't end well, even within the original text. I recommend it even if you haven't read the original Odysseus, this is a good story and while short, it gives the reader quite a few things to think about.
As most Atwood novels, this one is a little strange. I however, seem to find strange fascinating. I couldn't wait to get back to it.