“The Penelopeiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus” by Margaret Atwood is a book that confirmed what I already believed, an excellent way for a book to get your attention.
Atwood was asked to reinterpret an ancient myth as part of the Canongate Myth Series. She takes the story of the Odyssey, especially the end when Odysseus returns home after 20 years to reclaim his kingdom that has been managed by his faithful wife, Penelope, and rewrites it from the women’s point of view. We get a glimpse of what life could have been for Penelope and her maids in that culture. Atwood explores issues of gender, class, and politics to address the disparity between what Penelope’s point of view would have been and the tale written about the famous exploits of her husband.
Being born with the Penelope moniker I’ve always been disturbed by the interpretation of the name as “faithful wife.” It just seems so subservient, too secondary for my personality. Atwood imagines how Penelope would have been the mistress of the kingdom and sustained it even without the protection of her man. This I could relate to.
Penelope is also a weaver. The story goes that she would choose a suitor (Odysseus was presumed dead) when she finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law. She wove during the day and had her maids unweave at night, thereby putting off making a decision. I was a weaver for 25 years — self-fulfilling prophecy?
And now I am the weaver of stories at Odyssey Storytelling. I chose the name to signify a long journey of one’s own invention. My job is to facilitate people reimagining their lives by telling their true stories in front of an audience. Atwood and I have the same goals, just different media.
Penelope Starr is the founder and producer of the Odyssey Storytelling series.