Simple Summaries

The Penelopiad

Margaret Atwood

Simple Summary by Sarah Frank

The Penelopiad Notes and Summary



·      Everyone knows the Odyssey and everyone knows Odysseus as clever, full of wit, strategic, etc

·      Penelope is the first cousin of Helen of Troy and is portrayed as the perfect faithful wife

o  She spends her time weaving and praying for her husband back

·      Stories were told orally so they had various versions

·      The story will cover what Penelope was really up to, thinking, and what happened to the maids


Chapter 1

·      Introduces the book as what she wished would happen now that she is dead and can reflect; “I’ve learned some things I would rather not know”

·      Everyone arrives with a sack of words (spoken, been the subject of)

o  Hers is a reasonable size but about half are about her husband

·      Odysseus’s two specialties: he got away with everything and he could trick everyone into becoming a fool

o  Everyone believes his version of the stories

o  “An edifying legend” = male domination: men want women to be like Penelope because she is faithful and patient and waits for him

·      Odysseus’s specialty is making people into fools (described as wiliness, foxiness, unscrupulousness)


Chapter 2

·      Critiques Penelope, Odysseus, and Telemachus


Chapter 3

·      Her dad, King Icarus of Sparta, ordered her thrown into the sea because he thought she was prophesized to weave his shroud and wanted to live forever

·      Women had to ignore insults and be domestic

·      She survived being thrown in the ocean and herfather took her back but she was anxious around him because of what he’d done

·      The Naiad-born weep a lot


Chapter 4

·      The maids were orphaned and “the dirty girls”

·      They were objectified and raped and subservient as children

·      “We snatched what we could.” The maids tried to enjoy what they could as house servants.


Chapter 5

·      Penelope talks about the underworld

·      It’s dark but that’s okay because she doesn’t have to see people

·      “Making people roll heavy stones up steep hills is another of their favorite jests.” is a reference to Sisiphys’s eternal torture

·      The only thing to eat is asphodel- the name of the chapter

·      “self-styled hero” is throwing shade at all the underworld people who call themselves heroes

·      Penelope disses prophecies saying they are vague

·      She mocks the Christian idea of hell

·      She is interested in the new inventions we have

·      She mocks that we worship technology

o  “looking out at the world through the flat, illuminated surfaces that serve as domestic shrines”

·      She is jelly of Helen

o  “Helen was never punished, not one bit.”


Chapter 6

·      “Children were vehicles for passing things along.”

·      “To have a child was to set loose a force in the world.”

·      She laughs at the concept of museums and our clothing

o  “Endless processions of people in graceless clothing file through these palaces”

·      So self aware!

o  “No man will ever kill himself for love of me.”


Chapter 7

·      “And so I was handed over to Odysseus, like apackage of meat.”

·      “no unsuccessful suitor lost his temper at myfeast. It was more as if they’d failed to win an auction for a horse.”

·      “he could convince another person that the two of them together faced a common obstacle, and that they needed to join forces in order to overcome it.”

·      “I think this is what he valued most in me: my ability to appreciate his stories.”

·      “Odysseus had crafty and unscrupulous men on two of the main branches of his family tree.”

·      “I myself have developed friendly feelings towards him – more than that, loving and passionate ones – and he behaved as if he reciprocated them. Which is not quite the same thing.”


Chapter 8

·      “if a young hero came a-marrying me, I’d always bebeautiful, happy, and free.” -1st maid

·      “It’s hope, and hope only, that keeps us afloat.”-maid chorus

·      “I make the soft beds in which others do lie.” -2ndmaid

·      “please alter my life and let a young hero take me for his wife!” -3rd maid

·      “Hard work is my destiny, death is my fate.” -3rdmaid


Chapter 9

·      Penelope talks about her rough journey to Ithica

·      She ddidn’t spend much time with Odysseus but shedid respect him

·      This chapter returns to Penelope’snarrative as she describes her trip to Ithaca.

·      A bunch of people are there to see her arrival

·      We meet her maid: Actoris

·      Actoris died though

·      Actoris died soon after arriving on the island,leaving Penelope totally alone.

·      Penelope is upset but won’t show it to Odysseus

·      Penelope noticed that Odysseus is confused by herand that he wants to figure her out

·      Penelope is like, do you know how to get into myheart?

·      Odysseus is like, NO LOL TELL ME

·      Penelope is like, uno reverse card

·      Odysseus is like….look, a ship!


Chapter 10

·      The maids talk about Telemacus’s birth

·      The maids say Telemacus will grow to kill them with Odysseus

·      Telemacus was helpless and so were the maids

·      “Helpless as he was helpless, but ten times morehelpless as well.” (referencing T)

·      “His birth was longed-for and feasted, as ourbirths were not.”

·      “We were animal young, to be disposed of at will.”

·      “Our lives were twisted in his life; we also were children when he was a child.”

·      “He saw us as rightfully his, for whatever purpose he chose.”

·      They say maybe they should have just drowned him


Chapter 11

·      Penelope talks about not having a good life inIthica but how she got used to it

·      Penelope gave up on Anticleia

·      Penelope tried taking care of T but wasn’t allowed

·      Penelope wasn’t even allowed to WALK by herself

·      Penelope has no friends so she would sit and listen to the maids laughing or weave with the slaves


Chapter 12

·      Penelope talks about Odysseus being away and waiting to hear news about him

·      Penelope goes to look to see if Odysseus was home yet but he never was

·      there were rumors and songs about him

o  sugarcoated for Penelope

o  Penelope gave gifts in exchange for the sugar coating

·      It seems he disappeared. Rumors and songs stopped and there is a sense of giving up.

o  “Odysseus seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth.”


Chapter 13

·      The maids perform the Odyssey story

·      Odysseus leaves Troy with treasure, goes to the island of the Lotus-eaters, then the Cyclops, then the cannibal L giants, then Circe, then Isle of the Dead where Tieresias was, then the sirens, then Charybdis and Scylla, then Calypso, then his escape

·      No one knows what the Fates are planning and that includes Odysseus


Chapter 14

·      Penelope says she ran into Antinous (a suitor, thefirst one Odysseus shot on return) and thinks of him as a pest

·      In the underworld, she asks him to take the arrowout of his neck

·      Antinous says that it represents his love for herand it was shot by Cupid

·      Penelope is like, we are dead man!

·      Antinous calls her merciless but removes the arrow

·      Antinous told her that the suitors wanted to sleep with her and have “brats” with her

·      Penelope is like, “No, really? Why?”

·      Antinous says they wanted her for her treasure and kingdom

o  Penelope = “not much to look at”


Chapter 15

·      Penelope is pressured to pick a suitor but doesn’t want to

·      T blames Penelope for his inheritance going away

·      Penelope wants to leave Ithica

·      On the bright side, a suitor could order T aroundand get him to stop being entitled

·      Penelope keeps in mind that Odysseus would comeback but the Suitors are like, that was just a prophecy

·      Penelope said she’d marry once she finished makinga shroud but she undoes it over and over so it is never done


Chapter 16

·      Penelope notices that T is old enough to order her around but she’s been doing fine for 20 years!

·      The suitors are going to try to kill him

·      She cries a lot

·      She dreams about Odysseus

o  Helen having sex with him

o  That he’s being killed

·      “I might as well have been a stray dog, pelted with stones or with its tail set afire for their amusement.”


Chapter 17

·      The chorus talks about dreaming they’re beautiful, loved, safe, and don’t have to work

·      “But then the morning wakes us up: / Once more we toil and slave, / And hoist our skirts at their command / For every prick and knave.”

o  Shows that Penelope is not a very reliable narrator. She has MAIDS that are treated like slaves.


Chapter 18

·       T says he doesn’t need permission to take a boat since its technically his and he wants to save his father

·       He says Odysseus would be proud of him for getting away from all the woman to be brave

·       Penelopeis upset

·       Penelopeis curious about what T would find about Odysseus



·      Penelope wonders if prayer works

·      Penelope knew Odysseus was disguised but didn’t say so so Odysseus would believe she missed him

·      Penelope knew T can’t lie and that he was in on it

·      Penelope didn’t tell the maids who Odysseus was


Chapter 20

·      Penelope has hard rumors that she sleeps around so she says she led them on but for strategy

·      Penelope says Odysseus wouldn’t have minded

·      Penelope says the reason Odysseus didn’t reveal himself to her because she’d cry tears of joy and reveal him to everyone else

o  She’s trying to rationalize this

·      Odysseus locked her in a room while killing suitors so she wouldn’t have to see


Chapter 21

·      Melantho, a maid, says there is “another story” about Penelope

o  “Word has it….” that Penelope was a sl*t

·      Eurycleia says Odysseus is back and she knowsbecause of his scar

·      Penelope says she knew that (short leg man haha)

·      Penelope worried O would punish her for beinglustful

·      Penelope asks E to make her look good

·      E says the maids know about her affairs with the suitors so they have to be stopped from saying it

·      Penelope puts it on E to save her honor

·      Penelope makes herself pretty and pitiful

·      The maids sing “blame it on the maids” and call themselves sl*ts


Chapter 22

·      Penelope talks about running into Helen in the underworld

·      Helen wants a bath to sooth her and is naked toawaken the men

·      Helen says desire doesn’t die with the body, onlythe ability to satisfy it

·      “’We’re all aware of your legendary modesty,Penelope.’”

o  This quote by Helen seems passive-aggressive. Theword “legendary” seems like a compliment but it seems to put her down for beingmodest.

·      “’You’re being witty’ said Helen. ‘Better late than never’”

o  We’ve transitioned from passive-aggressive to straight up aggressive. Helen clearly feels threatened by Penelope so she is trying to tear her down.


Chapter 23

·      Penelope slept while the suitors were killed

·      Eurycleia tells her what happened

·      Odysseus did the archery thing and also shotAntinous

·      Odysseus told Eurcleia to point out which maids were disloyal and then maid them clean up the blood

·      O told T to kill the maids so he hangs them

·      Penelope asks E who was killed and E said she had to point out some maids or they’d all die

·      Odysseus hung the most beautiful maids

·      Penelope has to stay quiet and not rehash the past


Chapter 24

·      Both sides make their cases to the judge

·      The maids say they were sacrifices to Artemis, which involved sex with the suitors then renewing their virginity

·      The argument is that their deaths were a willingself-sacrifice

·      They debate over whether or not they were raped

o  Rape = sex without the parties’ consent OR sex without the parties’ master’s consent

·      Case is dismissed


Chapter 25

·      Penelope is sad about the maids being murdered

·      She turns a blind eye to Odysseus’s killing

·      She doesn’t greet O right away and T is like “rude!”

·      Penelope says she wishes she could send T off to another war just to get rid of him (a little much, don’t ya think?)

·      Penelope told O that he couldn’t be O because hewas so messy

·      Penelope tells E to move the bed in O’s room and Ogot mad because it used to be fixed in place

·      Penelope was like “oh you must be my husband because you know the bed can’t move!”

·      They get in bed but they’re so much older so…ew

·      They tell stories, like they do

·      O says he missed her and Penelope agreed, adding that she was faithful in the meantime

·      She says they were both liars