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Assignment: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Theatrical Version of The Penelopiad

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWAVfuO3Djo]

Interview with Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood on Bill Moyers’ Faith and Reason

Watch Faith & Reason: Margaret Atwood & Martin Amis on PBS. See more from Bill Moyers.

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15 thoughts on “January 29

  1. Reading The Penelopiad bought me back to when I first had read all of the stories involving Odysseus. Many of these tales stick with you through the years you grow. For me that is true. Surprisingly at first I was unaware of what this book would hold for me. But as I continued on the story became very familiar. It was an interesting twist to get Penelope’s side of the epic myth. Not only was it told differently but from many different perspectives. It allowed the reader to get a much more rounded idea from the characters who were being portrayed in the story. Driving away from the version Homer had created, there were many more opportunities to twist and turn some of the events. As many of us think, for example the servants. In Homer’s depiction we see them as innocent by standards, but in the Penelopiad we see that they are used by Penelope to spy and keep the suitors busy till Odysseus is to return home. We also see her being very loyal and patient as Homer portrays her. But on the contrary she is upset at her portrayal for being the “ideal wife”. She is unafraid of telling her husband of his mistakes and pointing out his flaws.
    Seeing the greek myth from a new point of view allowed much more to come from the story.There was much to come from the novel. The use of matriarchal and patriarchal societies was shown through the Penelope’s house hold, with the suitors and maids. Penelope held a large amount of power with in the story. Keeping the ability to keep the suitors at bay and giving the order to execute the maids.
    Overall the novel was a great read i enjoyed the take on the well known greek myth.

  2. There’s a lot to appreciate but not too terribly much to like Ultimately, I’m disappointed with it, don’t get me wrong there are a lot of interesting devices that are in play , like the chapter with an courtroom scene where Odysseus is put on trial for the murders of the twelve maids but the biggest plus of this book was that it was short. harsh i know. I just wasn’t feeling the point of view it didn’t have the power or consistent flow of the original. I respect the attempt to show a side of a character that played a silent but interesting role in the original but i believe that it was much better off silent leaving room for interpretation.

  3. I personally cant find much love for these “add on” stories to classic greek myths. to remake something perhaps makes sense, i could see a remake or re-imagining of a Greek myth, but a sequal or spin off of any kind will always lack the heart and soul of the culture that originally created it. its the reason film remakes generally are poorly received, the culture and historical events that influenced such stories into existance arent present. you can have everything as fare as the lore on point, but the timming is wrong. It’s clear that the writter was attempting to put a more feminist spin on the stroies, each of the 12 stories all take place from the female counterparts to the male protagonist..For many characters that could be intresting, like what is Hera’s left like, being married to Zues,being the queen of the gods. but Helena? she herself isnt intresting, shes a plot device. in a story to launch a war. during the war she does very little of intrest that isnt already elaborated upon by the books. it just seems characters like Helen are overshadowed by the true heros like achelies, not because of the male/ female nonsense, simply because they have better stories seeing as they are the main character.

  4. After being assigned The Penelopiad, I was rather skeptical before even opening the first page. I honestly didn’t even know until that day that this wasn’t a story written several thousand years ago- or even before the twenty first century. After reading The Odyssey, as well as other Greek plays centered around heroes and mythology, I was worried this would just be a droll story of a lovesick wife, the annoying angsty babbling part they deliberately left out of The Odyssey because it wasn’t that interesting. So before I began reading, I did a little research on what led to story being told. For one, I realized that this piece wasn’t just written randomly. The author, Margaret Atwood paired up with a number of contemporary authors to create the Canongate Myth Series, a number of books telling a different perspective to ancient myths. This made me a little more hopeful. My fears of this being little more than some kind of feminist fan fiction were slightly improved. Looking back at The Odyssey, I recall little more about Penelope other than the scene where Odysseus returns to Athens disguised as an old man, and we discover that even though she’d be swarmed by suitors for so many years, Penelope remained a good and loyal wife, knowing deep down that her lost husband was still alive. This novella is often called a feminist story, but after completing the book for myself I began to disagree with this idea. It seemed to me that this book met the label so many other stories have been shoved in to, where just because the protagonist is a female ruling over what’s now more of a matriarchal society, it’s automatically considered “feminist.” It is true, however that in this story, Penelope is a very strong female character, and even without her warrior husband, is able to fend quite well for herself. I think what disappointed me the most about The Penelopiad was it’s lack of mythological creatures that were such a huge part of the Odyssey, and if truth be told one of the only reasons I could bare having to read it more than once. This book does have one thing that the Odyssey and most other books of its time lacked- a powerful female role model, something that, although I really dislike most feminist stories, I still find nice and important. It intrigues me how she punishes Helen- the idealized female and symbol of beauty, my forcing her to rewrite history away from her own bias opinion, to telling the truth of Helen’s superficial nature, measuring her own worth by the number of men who died fighting for her, instead of any particular prowess as a human. In the end, I wasn’t overly thrilled with this novella, but still find it to have been an important story to read by covering the often overlooked point of view of Queens appose Kings. Penelope did prove to be an able Queen by ruling the state on her own, and a survivor in her own right. In the words of Destiny’s Child, she’ll “Keep on survivin.’”

  5. There is something that rubs me the wrong way about the Penelopiad, despite it being well written and inviting in its approach. I guess I am just typically easily irritated by works that try to balance the scales between the sexes by turning all of the male characters into liars, idiots, and fools. Its one thing to introduce powerful female characters into a story that lacks them, but this is something completely different. I do like the idea of taking a familiar fable and myth and putting a twist to it though. A decent example of this is Jon Sciezka’s “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs”, though it is obviously a parody. There is no hidden agenda or point trying to be made aside from the moral of “Perspectives differ. Dont be quick to judge.” While that is obviously a factor in the Penelopiad, as I was reading I definitely got the feeling as if most characters were laced with feminist bias.

    Odysseus was a drunken liar. In fact he wasn’t even a hero. It is explained that the cyclops that Odysseus blinds and tricks in the Odyssey was really just a bartender that Odysseus scuffles with whilst in a drunken stupor. Its one thing to make characters more interesting by humanizing them and making them flawed, but I feel as if the character of Odysseus was changed into an incredibly unfamiliar one. Odysseus and Penelope I felt were both very strong characters in The Odyssey. They both relied on and loved each other (Penelope being a little bit more faithful than Odysseus), while also being able to handle themselves very well. Both the male suitors and the maids were scheming antagonistic figures. But in the Penelopiad, Penelope is even more self reliant, easily seeing through Odysseus’ disguise upon his return but refusing to reveal her knowledge so as to protect Odysseus’ pride (something that was left up to debate in the Odyssey, which I think is a lot more interesting) and the maids are turned into helpless victims of their environment. Thats not to say that Penelope isn’t made into a more dynamic character, as well as the maids. I just wish the same could be said for the male characters.

    I guess I just wish that The Penelopiad was more like the Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire, in that it did not change much about the traditional Wizard of OZ story. All it did was tell it from a different perspective and introduce new elements to the whole that were “left out of the original story,” as if this perspective had existed all along and this is what REALLY happened. And while I think there are elements of this in The Penelopiad, it takes too many liberties to spur the author’s ongoing feminist agenda.

  6. I thought the Penelopiad, though being a contemporary text, illustrates quite well the diverse roles that queens play and the expectations and experiences of many. Female progeny was often seen as an asset to be traded off by their parents, and as a pile of gold for the prospective groom. They were also not meant to rule, only obtaining power in most cases through the death of the spouse and the young age of the heir. Penelope was no exception, and though in the Penelopiad proves to be an incredibly cunning and intelligent is challenged by everyone, in her own home and then in her own realm, Ithaca.

    Atwood also uses the archetype of the temptress in describing Helen of Troy, the evil cousin. Although she doesn’t seek out political power or influence through seduction, she enjoys having control over men and having them gawk over her beauty.

    On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the rumors that were coming to Ithaca during Odysseus’ absence. He could have been fighting the Cyclops or having a brawl in a bar, falling under the spell of a Goddess or visiting a brothel. It was a novel take on how myths are born. People were making him into a hero through tale in the Penelopiad maybe for Penelope’s sake, maybe for themselves.

  7. THE PENELOPIAD
    Ashley Silva

    I will probably be one of the only classmates to say i really was not impressed by this novel, i understand what it was supposed to be and everything but it just completely rubbed me the wrong way. Trying to put a witty spin and changing the point of view and the scenario, but to me i feel it was taking a Greek epic that almost everyone pretty much has to read and just playing with the already famous story and adding feminism here and there. I think it’s also crudely written in some instances,

    “Let’s cast the dice! Hope for this one, despair for that one, and while we’re at it, let’s destroy the life of that woman over there by having sex with her in the form of a crayfish!’ I think they pull a lot of their pranks because they’re bored.”

    A quote like that seriously put’s a spin on the story that i never want to hear from a character i’m reading about, that’s more of an opinion the reader has after reading the events in a story. (If that makes sense)

    Due to the content of the story, time, and place it just clashes terribly with the way the author speaks as penelope and how she describes the events occurring throughout the novella. Theres such a giant disconnect for me with the story due to the tone of the author, the high school version of me would probably knock my lights out for saying this but seriously i need that thick, dense,” i need a map to crack the code to decipher what the hell i’m reading” kind of writing for a story like this, they just go together that way.

    I for one am not a fan of feminism, i feel that 9 times out of 10 it is used in a negative way, or the woman who declares herself a feminist comes off as pompous or can come off as terribly corney in a “GIRL POWER YEAH!” kind of way. (that is just my experiences, and yes they’ve all been terrible) I feel as though the author gave Penelope a voice that just made her sound extremely opinionated (especially in accordance to Helen) and rather annoying. I don’t feel that Helen is necessarily a character to be defended but when the author had Penelope describe her and speak of her it just made them both look bad, Helen like a pretty bitch and Penelope as a jealous one.

  8. I found that the Penelopiad gave new life to a timeless, but ancient, myth. It was intriguing how Atwood filled in some of the mysteries left behind from Homer’s The Odyssey. It was strange to me how focused it was upon the maids because their hanging in The Odyssey is quickly forgotten amongst a sea of bloodshed and scandal; however, Atwood’s attention on not only Penelope but the twelve maids expands upon a story that was often very one directional. This new expansion allows for the reader to generate a fuller, more dimensional, analysis of Odysseus’ character and Penelope as well. I believe Atwood choose this route in retelling this story because it gave her more free range in creating a narrative that could be more contemporary in voice and theme. She got to reshape and allude to her on perceptions of the character, where Homer left us in grey territory. It is clear in the voice Atwood gives to Penelope, that she wanted to create a strong feminine tone to the story that it initially lacked…As most myths of the time did.

    Listening to her brief interview about the stage production of her book, explains a lot about her wit and personality. For me, this is the missing link between The Penelopiad and The Odyssey because it explains the authors voice, and from that you can understand why she chose to portray Penelope in the way that she did, when she had infinite possibilities to construe.

  9. The events of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood take place during that of Homer’s infamous Greek epic The Odyssey. It is told in the perspective of Odysseus’ wife Penelope when he is called to war and she is left to run the kingdom of Ithaca and raise their son Telemachus. Prior to this time period, Margaret recaps on Penelope’s family life and the circumstances to led to her marriage with Odysseus. I have never read The Odyssey but from the cultural references I remember, this novel is a much lighter take on Ancient Greece at the time. I could not help but wonder what were Odysseus’ whereabouts in unison with Margaret’s story. Other than that, The Penelopiad was well-written similar to that of a classical Greek drama with the abundant commentaries from side characters: in this case the twelve maids. I liked that Penelope was characterized as a devoted and loving wife who was more concerned with love rather than quickly finding another husband to help run the kingdom. To me, the story had a strong bachelorette feel that was more “feminist inspiring” than other Greek dramas which are dominated by strong male characters. Penelope keeps a level head even when it is hold her husband might not return and despite criticism from other characters, she proves herself a adequate queen.

  10. The Penelopiad was definitely a fun and interesting read. I wasn’t sure what to expect it…considering it’s the Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope and a review of the book on the cover saying “Half-Dorothy Parker, half-Desperate Houseviwes.” That being said, I was sucked into it after reading just a few pages. Margaret Atwood’s writing is really inviting, and you want to get to know more of what Penelope went through, and what the other side of the coin looks like. I found myself wishing I had read the Odyssey over, as a means to provide more context within the things that are being said and emotions that are being shared by Penelope. The Odyssey was written thousands of years ago, however paired with Margaret Atwood’s portrayal of Penelope in a very contemporary sense, it allowed you to see/read this text from an entirely different view, something that is much easier to understand as well relate to. I felt like I was listening to a recounting of her (Penelope) life today, but of events that took place in the Odyssey, thousands of years ago. The contemporary language that Margaret Atwood used definitely helped and added an element of comedy that I wasn’t expecting..

  11. Paulo Campos

    The Penelopiad was definitely a fun and interesting read. I wasn’t sure what to expect it…considering it’s the Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope and a review of the book on the cover saying “Half-Dorothy Parker, half-Desperate Houseviwes.” That being said, I was sucked into it after reading just a few pages. Margaret Atwood’s writing is really inviting, and you want to get to know more of what Penelope went through, and what the other side of the coin looks like.
    I found myself wishing I had read the Odyssey over, as a means to provide more context within the things that are being said and emotions that are being shared by Penelope. The Odyssey was written thousands of years ago, however paired with Margaret Atwood’s portrayal of Penelope in a very contemporary sense, it allowed you to see/read this text from an entirely different view, something that is much easier to understand as well relate to.
    I felt like I was listening to a recounting of her (Penelope) life today, but of events that took place in the Odyssey, thousands of years ago. The contemporary language that Margaret Atwood used definitely helped and added an element of comedy that I wasn’t expecting..

  12. The Penelopiad is pretty much a prequel to The Odyssey. It was insightful to see The Odyssey story from Penelope’s perspective. It also goes through her relationships her parents, Odysseus, their son, Telemachus and Odysseus’s mother Anticleia. I also find it interesting that Penelope is narrating the story herself. The whole book seems pretty modern compared to the original text of The Odyssey.

    The book doesn’t just have Penelope narrating. In a couple of chapters, I’ve noticed that the twelve maids were giving their input on certain topics. But what is even more interesting is that Penelope gave opinions about several of the characters which is what I think is unheard of during the time period that the story is taken place. It also seems to me that Penelope down plays Odysseus. Meaning, she doesn’t really believe his story about what happened to him when he went missing for all those years. I think the author meant to do this on purpose to sort of steer herself away from the original Homer story. From her point of view, the whole does find hard to believe, but she should believed him.

    Aside from all things that I’ve mentioned, The Penelopaid is a pretty good story even though it’s The Odyssey story all over again. It has been a while since I have read The Odyssey. Having finishing this book, I have see one big difference: Penelope herself. In Homer’s story, She’s loyal and patient to Odysseus while in The Penelopiad, she’s tell us, the readers, that she was trying to survive during the time, Odysseus was away. This part confused me at first, because I didn’t quite know which version of the story is true. Having said this, The Penelopiad did continue and expand on Greek mythology and in a way, bring some reality in the myth.

  13. Lichen
    A few Years ago when first reading the Odyssey, it seemed like a huge ordeal with epic adventures. The Penelopiad with its modern style and almost sassy attitude seems to jeer at the Odyssey like any modern wife would complain about her husband. The issue of ‘winning’ Penelope reminded me of the concerns now with a lot of fantasy/sci fi games, movies, books, etc. Now, more and more people are noticing the strange and maybe even offensive ways women are portrayed in these genres. Female figures are objects and prizes to be won after a battle or struggle of some sort. Both Odysseus and Penelope try to take control of their fate. Odysseus claims it is necessary to first “claim the hearts of men” in order to control fate, while Penelope thinks the gods as drawers of a lottery to determine who they might want to help. The formal Odyssey, even though man was still playing tricks with the gods, seemed much more detrimental with consequences. In the stories with the Cyclops and Poseidon, the god figures were still large and fierce. The Penelopiad is more grounded where people, like Penelope, use the gods to strengthen their actions such as claiming the idea of weaving was sent from Athene just in case something goes amiss and the goddess can be a protection against hubris or fault. Even kings and queens answer to a higher power. Thinking of examples in today’s society, we claim celebrities to be the kings and queens but above them, are their contracts and managers who they have to answer to. But because the people behind the scenes are not seen nor are they glamorous, we only have celebrities to admire, blame, and interact with. I guess in this sense, the title of kings and queens are not the most powerful figures but just a concrete image to present to society. This is getting messy but technically then, all our thesis topics should be god or some magical divinity controlling ‘kings and queens’… Anyway, The Penelopiad also demonstrates the dangerous balance of power in between rulers. Before the suitors were becoming more aggressive, I would say Penolope was a great queen and successful at commanding the people, growing livestock, and organizing groups of workers to grow the city when Odysseus comes back. However, she was not seen as the person in power but because Odysseus was away, there was no power anymore. I feel sorry for Penelope because from her point of view, she’s not pushy or demanding or power but after trying to run the city, nobody, not even her son respects her accomplishments. Power has to be in the image of a man. Social class is also a concern Penelope has great respect for the maids and seems to even envy them working together and laughing and socializing while she’s all alone. But the maids also envy and feel bitter towards the kings and queens because of their position, but the thoughts of both sides are never discussed with one another in order to come to a more favorable relationship. I found it amusing on pg 153 the word choice between an interaction with Penelope and Helen, “her customary horde of male spirits, all of them twittering with anticipation.” While Penelope seems to be a witty politician, Helen is the celebrity with a lot of followers and has more emotional impact on society that lead to impulsive and foolish actions. Also, the songs created from gossip about Penelope and Odysseus are the messages we post on these social media sites that are often false and hurtful.

  14. The name “The Penelopiad” sounded like another Greek play to me. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything pertaining to the Odyssey or the Helen of Troy story, as the synopsis mentioned a Helen. What I do know is that she is supposedly the cause of the Trojan war because of her beauty. Other than that I thought Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad” was very well-written. While it was a bit confusing for me at first to see what probably would be a play written as if a teenage girl was writing in her diary, it was a kind of reading that sucked you in. Having this written in a personal first-person manner makes for an interesting take on the traditional Greek play, which usually has serious undertones. The book also kept the reader’s attention by going back and forth between using snippets off the Odyssey and the first-person writing. It was interesting to really feel as if you knew what went on in the minds of a woman’s mind in that culture and time of the Odyssey, and especially in the mind of a fearless woman such as Penelope. I think Penelope is a much more realistic woman; she seems as if could be living in today’s modern society, where the woman knows she is capable of anything that a man can do and she does them. She is a foil to the vain Helen who does fall into the sexist stereotypes. In terms of Kings and Queens, the hero in this story is not a warrior or a fighter, but the woman behind the man who had been fighting the true battles.

  15. I find the story of the Penelopiad to be a truly interesting turn on the incredibly well known greek myth, The Odyssey. Im sure many readers have wondered about the views of the Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. The narrative is broken up by stories described by the 12 maids that Penelope hired to spy on her new possible suitors, anxious to court her having learned Odysseus may not return from the war. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the well known format in which Greek myths are formally written. The aspects of a female character are usually a minor case or on the other hand, depictions of female gods etc. This story is interesting in that it focuses on the usually background story or plot point of the original Greek myth, The Odyssey.The consistency of a formal Greek drama is kept throughout the telling of the story, yet there are many quirks in between. The original story of The Odyssey depicts Odysseus as a fearless warrior traveling throughout the Mediterranean, fighting off mythical beasts and being seduced by female goddesses. On the other hand, Penelope exposes Odysseus by saying he is just a fool etc. This behavior is the key to the actuality of Penelope’s feelings, she is usually seen as the ever faithful wife of Odysseus, patiently waiting for his return. It is almost as if this story was made to expose the true feelings of the character Penelope. As I said before, the focus of most greek myths were of the great warriors or gods alike, yet this story shows the real human element that is not always so apparent in the ladder of classic Greek mythology.

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