The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Since my son and I have been learning about Ancient Greece and Greek mythology over the last few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit some familiar stories. Given my more recent lack of reading time or inclination, I determined not to attempt The Odyssey this year; but I did manage to read Margaret Atwood’s retelling of the story from Penelope’s perspective.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (O.W. Toad, Ltd, 2005), is nothing like The Odyssey, which is, of course, an epic poem. It is, however, an intriguing look at the myth from a very different perspective.

Atwood focuses her story on Penelope and her relationship with the twelve maids that were killed later, when Odysseus returned home. I must admit that it has been so long since my read of The Odyssey, that I at first could not recall what happened to those maids! In reading Atwood’s recreation, I am all the more interested to revisit Homer’s original. Atwood presents Penelope as a strong, determined, intelligent woman who is able to hold her own, who has her own motivations and strategies, and whose plans are somewhat foiled when Odysseus himself appears.

Atwood’s approach is creative and unique as well. Although it is not an epic poem, it is definitely something unique. The twelve maids intersperse a “chorus” of voices between chapters. At the end, the maids (who had been murdered in the narrative) conduct a university lecture. These different approaches round out Penelope’s versions of events and provide a lot of food for thought to the rest of us.

There is much more in there than one simple read can uncover. I read it a few weeks ago, to be honest, and I cannot recall all the details. I am definitely glad I finally read it, and I can only say that I will never reread The Odyssey in quite the same way again!

What do you think of retellings of favorite myths? What is your favorite retelling of a traditional story?

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About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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