The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood. Published in 2005.

Some parents worry about whether reading the original Grimm fairy tales to children is appropriate. My mother was not one of those people. In fact, she went a step further: She read Greek myths to my younger brother and me. Greek myths match Grimm's violence and add sex for good measure. We grew up on stories of young women fleeing lustful gods, children cut down to punish their irreverent parents, and unfortunate mortals turned into bears, stags and trees by vengeful deities — and we loved it.

I always gravitated to the myths and legends about strong women, so Penelope, wife of Odysseus, both impressed and frustrated me. Penelope stood up to the legion of suitors who sought to win her hand — and her throne — in her husband's long absence following the Trojan War. She put them off with clever deceptions and sheer will, but Odysseus simply didn't seem worth the trouble to me. He was unfaithful, selfish and smug, and I felt quite sure that wise, loyal Penelope could do better.

Margaret Atwood seems to have similarly mixed feelings about Penelope, whose story she retells in The Penelopiad.