Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Penelopiad

The story of the Odyssey is the story of the hero Odysseus and his lengthy travels following the Trojan war, as he tries to hurry home to his long-suffering wife Penelope. This book, written by Margaret Atwood, tells her story.

Good things: it's short. It has an interesting point of view: Penelope in the 21st century, long dead and accustomed to the realm of the afterlife. She has a wry and somewhat disgruntled voice, and the story is well told.

Not-as-good things: the maids. Apparently Odysseus, after he killed all the suitors who were hanging around Penelope, hanged 12 maids for some reason or another. The maids do Greek Chorus numbers between the chapters, and seem to take up a lot of space in the story. I'm not familiar with this footnote to the story, so I cannot get into their claims of injustice, but considering how much death and destruction take place in the Iliad and the Odyssey, it's hard to get terribly worked up about it. If you're going to defend the maids, what about the shepherd, and the suitors, and Cyclops? It's a slippery slope to try to apply 21st century ethics to Greek hero myths.

One of my most unfavorite parts is an analysis of the Odysseus/Penelope reunion story as "represent[ing] the overthrow of a matrilineal moon-cult by an incoming group of usurping patriarchal father-god-worshipping barbarians." Naturally, the maids' chorus does this one. How like them.

So. I'm not reading it again. Once was enough. But it wasn't all bad.


Post a Comment

<< Home