Posted by: Corri van de Stege | June 21, 2008

The Penelopiad – on Crete


The view from the balcony is lovely; it was the reason for coming back to this apartment for the third time.  The morning light is sharp and clear, the sea a dark grey blue, calm and flat.  There is a coast road just below which connects Chania both to a few more western places such as Souda and the eastern part of Crete, Platanias , Maleme and Kolimbari.  This is the old main road.  Now of course there is the motorway further back which provides the swift connection all the way to Heraklion and the eastern point Platanos.  The coast road is like a continuous throbbing lifeline, for locals and tourists, with buses the same bendy ones that were here five years ago and that will take you into Chania for the price of a just over a Euro, for the motorbikes and the pedestrians walking to the local shops. 

Around here it has become much more built up, the building trade is thriving, everything appears to have had a lick of paint, there are extra apartments, squeezed in between the older ones, low buildings except for the hotel built on a hill and that oversees the sea from a higher vantage point than our apartment, at night there is the music that drifts our way, with singers singing the same old Greek songs and refrains, but it’s too far away to be intrusive and so the crickets in the trees below and the hum of the cars on the road always win out.

It’s a good place to read the Penelopiad, the cheeky story written by Margaret Atwood, in the myth series, from the point of view of Penelope, the long-suffering wife of Odysseus. Penelope is dead, and moving around in gloomy Hades, full of Asphodel, she tells what really happened to her and her maids.  This is the sobering account of the wife left behind to fend for herself, this is not about glorious feats and bravery but rather what it was like to be left behind, having to fend off the suitors who are after her and in particular her wealth, assume that Odysseus is dead and she is up for grabs. 

She dislikes Helena, the cause of all her misery, the beautiful but nauseating cousin, who twirls every man around her little finger, obsessed with her own beauty, and who runs away with Paris, the younger son of King Priam, to Troy.  Odysseus then must go with Agamemnon and Menelaus and Palamdes to defend the honour of Menelaus, Helena’s husband.   This is how Penelope is left behind on Ithaca, fending for herself and bringing up her only son.  She tells how her marriage to Odysseus and her in-laws, never good to be left at the mercy of in-laws, they don’t care much about you.  In the story Penelope sets the record straight, about the twelve maids who in fact helped her against the obnoxious suitors but who are ultimately punished when Odysseus returns, the unfairness of it! 

Although it’s only a small book, easily read in a day on the beach or at the pool, I think it’s lovely and imaginative.  A story that, as Atwood explains in the introduction, tells the myth of Odysseus from a different perspective as ‘the story told in the Odysseus does not hold water: there are too many inconsistencies.’



  1. The Penelopiad has been on my wishlist for ages. I’m always glad to see another good review of it. I really should get off my duff and give it a try!

  2. Crete does look wonderful, so lucky you! I’ve read and enjoyed The Penelopiad and an looking forward to reading some more Atwood soon (a re-read of The Hand Maiden’s Tale and a first read of Cat’s Eye).

  3. Andi: it’s worth it!
    A devoted reader: Atwood is one of my favourite writers. I read the Cat’s Eye such a long time ago now, I probably should also have another go. Let me know what you think of it.

  4. Crete is the best

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