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Book Review

Mythology assignment -The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (Myths)


Mythical figures are magical. They possess the art of living through Ages, and their legendary traits of greatness are transmitted from generation to generation. The authors, who touch upon their lives, discover something novel about their life styles and standards. They establish special identity in the minds of the writers and through them, their readers. Homer's Odyssey has caught the imagination of the literary giants of the western literature like Virgil, Dante Tennyson Joyce and Cavafy. Atwood's approach is that the myth is told from the female perspective; she has taken Homer's story and granted it a depth of realism as per the current situations.

The important features of retelling…

Penelope is known for her grit and determination. She is the paragon of patience. She is the home-builder and she outsmarts every individual who tries to break the fortress of her feminine chivalry. Her errant husband's adventures have no negative influence on her. Twenty years for a young woman to live in 'solitary confinement' is no ordinary achievement. Odysseus was engaged for ten years at the battlefront at Troy, and it took another ten years for him to reach Ithaka. During those two decades, over 100 suitors were ready to accept her hand. When he finally returned, he murdered the suitors as well as 12 of Penelope's maids. Earlier, the impatient suitors were stalled by a wily Odyssean ruse. By day she wove a shroud that by night she unraveled, declaring that she could accept a new husband only when the shroud was finished. That she fought successfully her own internal war for 20 years and kept her day-to-day life together is no mean achievement. A reader establishes immediate rapport with the book as Atwood writes Penelopiad in the first person. Penelope tell her own story from the grave, her childhood, parents, marriage and her husband, living in the kingdom of Ithaca and about her wayward son.

The second important credit of Margaret Atwood is the manner in which she has taken up the difficult challenge of achieving the mixing of the tragic elements through the strings of comedy and wit. This is how she tries to catch up with Homer’s talents, because introducing comic elements through tragic scenes and characters requires great literary skill. Her Penelope is a muted figure, but her silence is golden; it achieves more than speech. The essential dignity and grandeur of the character is well-maintained. "Atwood presents her Penelope in first-person monologue from the "fields of asphodel"...

The third aspect of the Penelopiad is the genuine problem the author faces in the area of transition of the characters from the ancient to the modern. The legend is made to intelligently accept the revised, acceptable credits. Atwood's approach is straightforward, avoids all confusion and a neat character emerges as per the demand of the situation and the relevant circumstances. Her artistic approach to the episode of hanged maids is devoid of the harsh realities of that era; she tempers it with modern outlook. She doesn't mind twisting the story. She replaces the adultery aspect with the less tragic rape. The maids were raped by the suitors, according to Atwood....

Fourth important aspect of Atwood's approach is that the myth is told from the female perspective. "Atwood has taken Homer's story and granted it a depth of realism for our times. The formerly passive and silent Penelope becomes a real, flawed woman with enough doubts, dubious motivations and jealousies to counterbalance the Homeric assumption of the trusting, dutiful wife patiently awaiting her hero-husband's return."....


Her writing style is lovely. The author's attitude towards the hanging episodes of the maids is the crux of the book-it evokes deep curiosity. The level of detachment achieved by the author in depicting this scene is commendable. The mutual interaction over situations between different characters, reveal in the most natural style, the convictions for which they stand for. This is the uniqueness of Atwood's book. She mixes the comic elements and the tragic contents in her unique style. "For instance, Penelope describes learning of the secret that one of the bedposts of her marriage bed is a tree still rooted in the ground. If the word got around about his post, said Odysseus in a mock-sinister manner, he would know I'd been sleeping with some other man. And then, he said, frowning at me in what was supposed to be a playful way, he would be very cross indeed, and he would have to chop me into little pieces with his sword or hang me from the roof beam. I pretended to be frightened and said I would never, never think of betraying his big post."(Article: Hughes….) Homer's Penelope lives in utter fear as for the unpredictable nature of her husband, but Atwood's modern Penelope is more courageous.


Article: Penelope….with attitude: a retelling of Homer overshadowed- www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-160281322.html - 47k - Cached .Retrieved on March 18, 2008

Hughes, Aaron: Margaret Atwood -The Penelopiad. www.geocities.com/fantasticreviews/penelopiad_weight.htm - 18k - Cached – Retrieved on March 18, 2008.

McPartlin, Moira: Article: Margaret Atwood's 'The Penelopiad' reviewed on the official... www.laurahird.com/newreview/penolopiad.html - 21k - Cached – Retrieved on March 18, 2008.

Article: The Skinny - Margaret Atwood www.skinnymag.co.uk/content/view/245/154/ - 28k - Cached – Retrieved on March 18,2008.

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