The Penelopiad

“A fresh slant…beguiling mix of classical and contemporary style.” Observer

“So through the prism of these neglected relationships, Atwood playfully shows yet another side of Homer’s great tale.” Daily Telegraph

“Few writers can make language sing as vividly as Atwood, and her take on the story is characteristically witty and clever.” Mail on Sunday

“Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.”

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.

Margaret Atwood by J AllenMargaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty internationally acclaimed works of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her numerous awards include the Governor General’s Award for The Handmaid’s Tale and the Giller Award and Iralian Premio Mondale for Alias Grace. She won the Man Booker Prize with The Blind Assassin in 2000. She lives in Toronto.
  1. Dorothy Valencia (May 14, 2008 at 6:26 am) :

    I have just finished reading The Penelopiad, and I was moved. Her telling brought a feeling of universality and unending relevance to the myth, and also served as a reminder of the inherent truths that make humans humans. Some of them have remained otherwise neglected or dismissed, maybe they could be seen as too scandalous for today’s reserved culture. I am speaking about a matriarchal society. No – I’m not a feminist, as a matter of fact – I ten d to be in disagreement with feminist thought.
    Thank you Ms. Atwood for shedding a light of humanity on a 3 thousand year old mystery where all we can visualize are marble statues beyond our reach of understanding!

  2. Spencer (May 28, 2008 at 1:04 am) :

    This is a great retelling. It’s similar in concept to Christa Woolf’s retelling of Medea (another great myth that is, unfortunately, not a part of this series). The new take on Penelope is told with a lot of style and is very entertaining while simultaneously being enlightening and engageing. This is the first Margaret Atwood book I’ve read and I’m now a fan. I especially enjoyed the chapter of this book that discusses the maidens and their fate. Very interesting and compelling!

  3. Lynn (June 11, 2008 at 5:19 am) :

    Penelope’s descriptions of her cousin Helen reminds me some of Zenia, the robber bride of an earlier novel by Margaret Atwood. It’s a shame that stereotypically beautiful women have such a nasty way about them but it certainly rings with some unfortunate truth. Looking forward to my next free evening with another masterpiece in this Myth series!

  4. Nitin Batra (August 26, 2008 at 5:02 pm) :

    I think that Odysseus had the maids killed because the maids knew that Penelope had not been faithful, and Odysseus, in denial of Penelope’s unfaithfulness, wanted to eliminate the witnesses.

  5. Fairness « Smithereens (February 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm) :

    [...] of Homer’s Odysseus seen through his wife’s eyes. This novel is part of a fascinating collection by Canongate Publishing, where contemporary authors are asked to re-write about mythology figures. At the time I read it, I [...]

  6. Dave (March 31, 2009 at 1:28 am) :

    I actually created a senior elective called (pompously) “World Myth Through the Postmodernist Lens” just so I could read this book with students. It’s a popular course that includes other Canongate publications (Armstrong’s brilliantly concise A Short History of Myth and Winterson’s Weight). Atwood’s work is by far the highlight, and that’s not just the expatriate Canadian side of me talking. She’s also a hell of a goal tender — seriously, Youtube it; it’s hilarious.

  7. GER (June 23, 2009 at 5:17 pm) :

    I enjoyed this retelling of a story I studied at school. It is interesting to think about how many myths have been lost, especially when societies went from matriarch to patriarch leadership.

    I enjoyed the maids acting as a choir, very Greek.

    The ending was a bit lacklustre, but overall a book I would recommend to others.

  8. mathumathi (April 27, 2010 at 7:44 pm) :

    I have a passion for myths and became so obsessed with the retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. What disturbs me is the hanging of the maids and Penelope remaining silent.The maids are used as objects of sex, pleasure and entertainment by a woman. They fall a victim not only to wrath of a men like Odysseus and Telemachus but also fall a prey to the selfishness of a ‘woman of nobility’ who who keeps quiet to save her honour. Readers like me find it hard to accept the brutal killing of the maids.

  9. Ragnarök – The End of the Gods by A.S.Byatt « Word by Word (January 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm) :

    [...] of The Myths series, which includes Margaret Atwood’s, ‘Penelopiad’, the publisher Canongate invited select writers to retell a myth in their own way and this is A.S. [...]

  10. Penelopy maids | Alliterationpl (March 31, 2012 at 4:47 pm) :

    [...] The Myths » The PenelopiadIn 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: … [...]

  11. Thoughts on Tennyson/Atwood | Small Pond (April 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm) :

    [...] takes the reader inside one of the monsters Odysseys encounters. Not surprising, given her novel The Penelopiad. Which all fit into my affinity for retellings of myths and classic stories. I’m very [...]

  12. Plunge « Body LIT (July 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm) :

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  14. Sean (May 16, 2013 at 3:22 am) :

    I think that penelope is completely innocent since there was no crime that she commited.

  15. Steve Jacob (August 10, 2014 at 7:32 pm) :

    Steve Jacob…

    The Myths » The Penelopiad…

  16. Lee Miller is my #WCW | Same Molly, New Media (May 6, 2015 at 3:48 pm) :

    [...] as someone to look up to at a younger age. Her sexual exploits do not align with the puritan, Penelopiad values of Western culture, but I say, “Nuts to you, sexism.” Share [...]

  17. Lee Miller is my #WCW - MollyKoe (May 9, 2015 at 6:47 am) :

    [...] as someone to look up to at a younger age. Her sexual exploits do not align with the puritan, Penelopiad values of Western culture, but I say, “Nuts to you, [...]

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