The Penelopiad and the Odyssey

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Have you ever heard of the saying, There are two sides to every story? All throughout reading The Penelopiad, I had to keep this saying in mind, in recognizition of Homer’s, The Odyssey. Homer and his wonderful storytelling skill absolutely glorified Odysseus’ heroism, yet I found that there wasn’t enough proper insight into the victims of his venegence. What Margaret Atwood set out to do through her The Penelopiad was to offer an alternate perspective of the events in Ithaca during the time Odysseus was gone.

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The three-thousand year old poem, The Odyssey, tells the tale of the Greek warrior, Odysseus, and his great return to his hometown following the sack of Troy. The book highlights how Odysseus took ten more years to return to his kingdom. Odysseus has to deal with countless adventures all throughout his journey before he reaches his final desired destination. As a reader you can’t ignore the action-packed hand-to-hand combat and scary monsters. During his Mediterranean cruise, Odysseus’ suffering yet patient wife, Penelope, is holding down their palace. Not only is she tasked with wholesomely raising their teenage child Telemachus, she also has to deal with the numerous suitors disrespectfully residing with her. Nearing the end of the novel, the father-son pair utilize horrific violence and slaughter to exile all of the disgraceful suitors and her twelve palace maids.

Contrasting and drawing parallels to Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. Essentially it was a retelling of The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus’s wife. Atwood uses her imagination and creativity to tell the story of Penelope and the twelve maids. Atwood structures her whole novel as an ancient classical drama, with the interesting literary device of the ‘Twelve Maids’ providing the character otherwise known as the Chorus. The Chorus of the Maids intervene quite frequently to share their own viewpoint of Penelope and Odysseus, and their current events in the palace on Ithaca. Some of these choral interludes include bits of funny poetic doggerel, a lyrical and well-written lamentation, a folk song, an idyll, a sea shanty, a ballad, a drama, an anthropology lecture, a court trial, and a love song. Every single one of these chorus interjections do their job very well. The twelve, largely unknown, maids were brought to life. At a first glance without thourough appreciation, readers may foolishly summarize this book as nothing more than Atwood poking fun and not being serious at the expense of elements of Homer’s The Odyssey. This is an utter mistake. There is a lot more substance occuring, but a lot of it doesn’t become clear immediately. Atwood makes it her goal to explore the feminine side of Odysseus’ palace, as well as in the Underworld where Penelope, her cousin, Helen, and the maids now all live. She stresses the double-standard that men and women had to deal with, not only in The Odyssey, but also in that time period. Atwood uses a whole different voice and sex to recap the story of Odysseus’ homecoming, and the large violence he puts on ‘the suitors’, as well as the Twelve Maids.

Was The Penelopiad supposed to be an interpretation of Penelope, or The Odyssey, through a feminist lens? Well, it definetly addresses the myth from the perspective of a female main character, which in turn will essentially accomplish many of the same things. In both of the stories, Penelope is Odysseus’ significant other who is patient for him for his arrival. In the Odyssey, she’s waiting for her husband to eventually come home from the war. In the Penelopiad, however, she is waiting for Odysseus for a return to Hades to be with her. In the Penelopiad, Penelope is actually not alive and living in Hades. In the Odyssey, she doesn’t deal with death yet. Penelope talks poorly concerning the gods behind their back, a scene we would never see in The Odyssey. The second similarity between the Odyssey and the Penelopiad would be the 12 maids. In both stories, the twelve maids are killed for sleeping with the suitors and talking poorly about Eurycleia and Penelope. The last similarity I found between the Odyssey and the Penelopiad would be the overall plots. In the Penelopiad the story is told in the point of view of Penelope and the twelve maids, while in the Odyssey, the story is, obviously, told in the point of view of Odysseus. The Penelopiad retells the story of the Odyssey but makes sure to have a few new details mainly concerning Penelope’s life situation prior to her marriage. Also, Penelope had died in the Penelopiad so the story takes place in Hades, all throughout without any exceptions. In the Odyssey, the story takes place on many, many different islands. I hope my summary of The Odyssey, my summary of The Penelopiad, and my analysis of them in the form of three paragraphs helped you to understand my thesis, which concerned the shocking simliarities and contrasts that the two stories shared.

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The Penelopiad and The Odyssey. (2019, Feb 16). Retrieved from