It’s time for “Writer Wednesday”, when I discuss another author and his or her book.
This year I’ve read both The Odyssey by Homer, for the first time in its entirety, as well as The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.
While The Odyssey follows Odysseus and his journey home from the Trojan War, Penelope has her own story to tell including all about her troublesome cousin, Helen of Troy, in The Penelopiad. While there is much to discuss, I am going to focus on the issue of social relevancy. The great myths related stories, morals, a way of living, to the ancient Greeks. Therein, they learned xenia (how to treat guests) and their place in the world in relation to gods, others, home and self.
Atwood does not merely retell the story, this time from Penelope’s point of view. Instead, she employs sea shanties, jumping rope rhymes and even an anthropology lecture (among other things) for the maids (those famous 12 who were so unjustly hung in The Odyssey) to add another dimension to the story.
By the way, in case you are wondering what happened to Ulysses, that’s his Roman name. Odysseus is the Greek name for the character.
Some have criticized this inclusion of chants and songs, but I think it works well because songs, rhymes, memory devices and poetry were all employed by the original Greeks at the time of the myths. Atwood is relating the ancient to us through our modern equivalents.
Even when an author is not doing a retelling, making the past (whether that be history or an idea or a character) relevant to the present audience is an important step of the process. Even if the ideas and characters are foreign to the reader, the reader must be able to relate in some way – be that a shared similarity of mannerism or experience or simply a familiar medium of relating information. Atwood is successful in relating an ancient story to us through our present language in The Penelopiad. I particularly liked the anthropology lecture and how she placed the hanging of the maids in an entirely new light of meaning, moonlight.
What are some of your favorite re-imaginings, retellings or revisitings of classic tales or myths?
My best to you all,