Grove Press
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

The Penelopiad

The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus

by Margaret Atwood

“Atwood rescues Penelope from thousands of years of ho-hum-dom . . . part of Canongate’s innovative new reinventions of the classics.” –Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 176
  • Publication Date October 23, 2006
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5798-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date November 11, 2005
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5717-3
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.75"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

For Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, running a kingdom while her husband is away fighting in the Trojan War is no simple matter. Already distressed that he had been lured away because of the shocking behavior of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must also raise her wayward son, face scandalous rumors, and keep more than one hundred lustful, greedy, and bloodthirsty suitors at bay.


“By turns slyly funny and fiercely indignant, Ms. Atwood’s imaginative, ingeniously constructed ‘deconstruction’ of the old tale reveals it in a new–and refreshingly different–light.”–Merle Rubin, The Washington Times

“Here–at the outset of the twenty-first century, with everyone else looking forward with great intensity and hoping to predict what our mysterious future might bring–is Margaret Atwood, one of the most admired practitioners of the novel in North America, taking the measure of the old Odyssey itself with a steady gaze and asking the reader to follow forthwith, even as she coolly rewrites that oral epic from the point of view of the hero’s wife.” –Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune

“Appeals to our sense of justice and our fondness for unearthing secrets . . . The [chorus of hanged maids] is The Penelopiad ‘s most intriguing innovation, and it hauntingly puts Penelope’s suffering into perspective. . . . Shrewdly, [Atwood] never tries to transform Penelope into a hero to rival her husband, but rather makes her very ordinariness–and her recognition of her own limitations–the subject of the story.” –René Steinke, Bookforum

“Atwood rescues Penelope from thousands of years of ho-hum-dom . . . part of Canongate’s innovative new reinventions of the classics.” –Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

“Provocative.” –The Women’s Review of Books


i – A Low Art

Now that I’m dead I know everything. This is what I wished would happen, but like so many of my wishes it failed to come true. I know only a few factoids that I didn’t know before. Death is much too high a price to pay for the satisfaction of curiosity, needless to say.

Since being dead–since achieving this state of bonelessness, liplessness, breastlessness–I’ve learned some things I would rather not know, as one does when listening at windows or opening other people’s letters. You think you’d like to read minds? Think again.

Down here everyone arrives with a sack, like the sacks used to keep the winds in, but each of these sacks is full of words–words you’ve spoken, words you’ve heard, words that have been said about you. Some sacks are very small, others large; my own is of a reasonable size, though a lot of the words in it concern my eminent husband. What a fool he made of me, some say. It was a specialty of his: making fools.

He got away with everything, which was another of his specialties: getting away.

He was always so plausible. Many people have believed that his version of events was the true one, give or take a few murders, a few beautiful seductresses, a few one-eyed monsters. Even I believed him, from time to time. I knew he was tricky and a liar, I just didn’t think he would play his tricks and try out his lies on me. Hadn’t I been faithful? Hadn’t I waited, and waited, and waited, despite the temptation–almost the compulsion–to do otherwise? And what did I amount to, once the official version gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women with. Why couldn’t they be as considerate, as trustworthy, as all-suffering as I had been? That was the line they took, the singers, the yarn-spinners. Don’t follow my example, I want to scream in your ears–yes, yours! But when I try to scream, I sound like an owl.

Of course I had inklings, about his slipperiness, his wiliness, his foxiness, his–how can I put this?–his unscrupulousness, but I turned a blind eye. I kept my mouth shut; or, if I opened it, I sang his praises. I didn’t contradict, I didn’t ask awkward questions, I didn’t dig deep. I wanted happy endings in those days, and happy endings are best achieved by keeping the right doors locked and going to sleep during the rampages.

But after the main events were over and things had become less legendary, I realised how many people were laughing at me behind my back–how they were jeering, making jokes about me, jokes both clean and dirty; how they were turning me into a story, or into several stories, though not the kind of stories I’d prefer to hear about myself. What can a woman do when scandalous gossip travels the world? If she defends herself she sounds guilty. So I waited some more.

Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making. I owe it to myself. I’ve had to work myself up to it: it’s a low art, tale-telling. Old women go in for it, strolling beggars, blind singers, maidservants, children – folks with time on their hands. Once, people would have laughed if I’d tried to play the minstrel–there’s nothing more preposterous than an aristocrat fumbling around with the arts–but who cares about public opinion now? The opinion of the people down here: the opinion of shadows, of echoes. So I’ll spin a thread of my own.

The difficulty is that I have no mouth through which I can speak. I can’t make myself understood, not in your world, the world of bodies, of tongues and fingers; and most of the time I have no listeners, not on your side of the river. Those of you who may catch the odd whisper, the odd squeak, so easily mistake my words for breezes rustling the dry reeds, for bats at twilight, for bad dreams.

But I’ve always been of a determined nature. Patient, they used to call me. I like to see a thing through to the end.