Books·Canadian

The Penelopiad

Margaret Atwood examines The Odyssey by Homer from the perspective of the women in the story, most notably Odysseus' wife Penelope.

Margaret Atwood

In Homer's account in The Odyssey, Penelope — wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy — is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumours, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and — curiously — twelve of her maids.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged Maids, asking: "What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?" In Atwood's dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the storytelling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality — and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery. (From Vintage Canada)

From the book

"Where shall I begin? There are only two choices: at the beginning or not at the beginning. The real beginning would be the beginning of the world, after which one thing has led to another; but since there are differences of opinion about that, I'll begin with my own birth.

My father was King Icarius of Sparta. My mother was a Naiad. Daughters of Naiads were a dime a dozen in those days; the place was crawling with them. Nevertheless, it never hurts to be of semi-divine birth. Or it never hurts immediately."


From The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood ©2005. Published by Knopf Canada.

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Once synonymous with Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood is now a household name for kids and TV lovers alike 2:33

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