The Penelopiad: Important quotes with page
1. “Now that I’m dead I know everything. This is what I wished would happen, but like so many of my wishes it failed to come true. I know only a few factoids that I didn’t know before. Death is much too high a price to pay for the satisfaction of curiosity, needless to say. ” (Chapter 1, p. 1) The book opens with this assertion by Penelope, which immediately sets the conversational tone. It also sets our expectations—though our narrator has some supernatural knowledge, Atwood is preparing the reader for an account that is no more definitive than any other. A telling that raises as many questions as it answers, as even death offers no clarity.
2. “And what did I amount to, once the official version gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women with. ” (Chapter 1, p. 2) Here, Penelope addresses how history has remembered her. And, instead of showcasing pride in becoming the paragon of faithfulness, she expresses despair that she has only come to be used to punish women for not embodying male-dominated ideals of female behavior.
3. “We ground the flour for lavish wedding feasts, then we ate the leftovers; we would never have a wedding feast of our own, no rich gifts would be exchanged for us; our bodies had little value.” (Chapter 4, p. 14) The twelve maids here define themselves and their painful position in palace life. While they were close to the nobles and the defining moments of their lives, they were treated as property, not due the celebrations and pleasures of the upper classes.
4. “Helen was never punished, not one bit.Why not, I’d like to know? Other people got strangled by sea serpents and shot with arrows for much smaller crimes. Eating the wrong cows. Boasting. That sort of thing. You’d think Helen might have got a good whipping at the very least, after all the harm and suffering she caused to countless other people.
But she didn’t. ” (Chapter 5, p. 22) Penelope here is incredulous that Helen, with all the suffering her vanity caused, does not receive any punishment. The examples of crimes others committed are drawn directly from The Odyssey; crimes for which the crew died. Penelope questions the hypocritical handing out of punishment in these myths and shows that beauty and nobility enable Helen to escape consequences, even in the afterlife.
5. “Under the old rules only important people had marriages, because only important people had inheritances.All the rest was just copulation of various kinds—rapes or seductions, love affairs or one-night stands, with gods who said they were shepherds or shepherds who said they were gods. ” (Chapter 6, p. 23) Penelope sets the stage for an empathetic viewing of the maids. Their low class means that “legitimate” love, sanctioned by marriage, was not available to them. So, their affairs with the Suitors, when consensual, were the closest thing to romance that was available to them.
6. “I knew I would have to have something to offer instead of beauty.I was clever, everyone said so—in fact they said it so much that I found it discouraging—but cleverness is a quality a man likes to have in his wife as long as she is some distance away from him. ” (Chapter 6, p. 29)
Intelligence was not valued in women in ancient times, even (or perhaps especially) by intelligent men. Penelope knows her superficial shortcomings, and while she is smart, that isn’t valued in her culture. Her cleverness does, however, work to Odysseus’s betterment while he is at a distance, for she is able to run the kingdom and keep the Suitors at bay.But, true to this analysis, he does not seem to value it upon his return, picking up and leaving again soon thereafter.
7. “And so I was handed over to Odysseus, like a package of meat. A package of meat in a wrapping of gold, mind you. A sort of gilded blood pudding. ” (Chapter 7, p. 39) Even Penelope, a noblewoman, is more property than human. Like the maids, her gender makes her powerless, and a tool for men to forge alliances.
8. “Odysseus himself did not get drunk. He had a way of appearing to drink a lot without actually doing it.He told me later that if a man lives by his wits, as he did, he needs to have those wits always at hand and kept sharp, like axes or swords. ” (Chapter 7, p. 41) This early characterization of Odysseus showcases how calculating he is. Even at his own wedding, he does not let loose.
9. “Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child.
Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does. ” (Chapter 7, p. 43) Penelope’s mother gives her this advice at her wedding, and it helps shape how Penelope acts once in Sparta, especially with regard to the Suitors. It helps explain her penchant for inaction, as that is her means of self- preservation.
10. “…the fiction was that the bride had been stolen, and the consummation of a marriage was supposed to be a sanctioned rape. It was supposed to be a conquest, a trampling of a foe, a mock killing. There was supposed to be blood. ” (Chapter 7, p. 44)
A patriarchal ancient society such as Ancient Greece was built on violence and war. And marriages, meant to forge alliances and help armies and kingdoms grow, were likewise part of this violent tradition. Again, Atwood showcases that even Penelope’s marriage, like the maids, was built on a man obtaining a woman like property, and conquering her.
11. “I myself had developed friendly feelings toward him—more than that, loving and passionate ones—and he behaved as if he reciprocated them. Which is not quite the same thing. ” (Chapter 7, p. 48) Penelope, young and naive, takes Odysseus’s initial kindness at face value and falls for him.
He, however, is always at a distance, never fully experiencing relationships, but rather playing the part he thought would serve him best in the end.
12. “‘Helen hasn’t borne a son yet,’ he said, which ought to have made me glad. And it did. But on the other hand, why was he still—and possibly always— thinking about Helen? ” (Chapter 9, p. 64) Penelope continually feels compared to Helen and continually found lacking. And while her success at carrying on Odysseus’s line should be a moment of victory, the mere mention of her (even in her favor), reminds her that Odysseus first competed for her hand.
13. “Infants when he was an infant, wailing just as he wailed, Helpless as he was helpless, but ten times more helpless as well, for his birth was longed for and feasted, as our births were not. ” (Chapter 10, p. 66-67) The maids continue to foster empathy by contrasting their lives against that of the newborn Telemachus. They emphasize that they were contemporaries, and grew up around one another, but their lives couldn’t be more different. While he was male and noble, they, as poor women, were seen as little more than property.
14.“My policy was to build up the estates of Odysseus so he’d have more wealth when he came back than when he’d left…’You’re worth a thousand Helens,’ he would say. Wouldn’t he? And then he’d clasp me tenderly in his arms. ” (Chapter 12, p. 89) Penelope cannot help but continually compare herself to Helen and search for any way that she could be found superior. In exercising her cleverness, a trait she formerly saw as a liability, she hopes that she will not only obtain Odysseus’s approval but triumph over Helen, for whom Odysseus was risking his life.
15. “Antinous sighed.‘The gods wanted to destroy us,’ he said. ‘That’s everyone’s excuse for behaving badly,’ I said. ” (Chapter 14, p. 101) Penelope astutely notes that the men in her life have frequently blamed the disfavor of the gods for their actions against her. Her father nearly murdered her to avoid fulfilling a prophesy of his death or to please an unhappy god, while Odysseus lingered at sea for ten years because of Poseidon’s anger.
16. “In the flickering light of the torches our daylight faces were softened and changed, and our daylight manners. We were almost like sisters. ” (Chapter 15, p.115) As Penelope unraveled Laertes’ burial shroud with her maids, she finally finds an escape from the loneliness of Ithaca. For the first time, she feels a sense of camaraderie and closeness to someone other than Odysseus.
17. “So much for the gods not wanting me to suffer. They all tease. I might as well have been a stray dog, pelted with stones or with its tail set alight for their amusement. Not the fat and bones of animals, but our suffering, is what they love to savour. ” (Chapter 26, p. 124) This is one of several instances in which Penelope characterizes the gods as sadists.
Her life has not shown gods to be helpful or benevolent. Rather, they have led to her father trying to kill her and are responsible for her husband’s long absence.
18. “I didn’t let on I knew. It would have been dangerous for him. Also, if a man takes pride in his disguising skills, it would be a foolish wife who would claim to recognise him: it’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness. ” (Chapter 19, p. 137) Penelope, who has become wiser and more cynical during Odysseus’s absence, showcases her own cleverness by playing ignorant.
Not only is she assuring Odysseus’s safety, but she is also carefully designing her actions to stroke his ego, to keep herself out of danger.
19. ‘So you’re washing their blood of your hands,’ I said. ‘Figuratively speaking of course. Making up for all those mangled corpses. I hadn’t realized you were capable of guilt. ’ (Chapter 22, p. 155) Dead, modern-day Penelope does not bite her tongue as she used to. She’s able to deliver this barb to Helen that showcases her incredulity that the only way Helen can think to make up for the slaughter of so many men in her name is to share her beauty with them.Even in the afterlife, Helen’s beauty enables her to avoid deeper feelings of responsibility.
20. “I bit my tongue. It’s a wonder I had any tongue left, so frequently had I bitten it over the years. ” (Chapter 23, p. 160) We can see the precursor to the contemporary, less reserved Penelope here. She does not say anything about the murder of her maids, but it’s clear that her patience and reserve is starting to grow thin.
21. “You don’t have to think of us as real girls, real flesh and blood, real pain, real injustice. That might be too upsetting. Just discard the sordid part.
Consider us pure symbol. We’re no more real than money. ” (Chapter 24, p. 168) After going into depth about the symbolic role the maids played, Atwood still strives to get the reader to think about their humanity, even as the maids tell us we don’t have to.
22. “The two of us were—by our own admission—proficient and shameless liars of long standing. It’s a wonder either one of us believed a word the other said. But we did. Or so we told each other. ” (Chapter 25, p. 173) The Penelope that Odysseus comes home to is markedly different than the one he left behind.While before her admissions of love and affection were sincere, now she is cynical enough to know that their love is a performance.
23. ‘…your client’s times were not our times. Standards of behavior were different then. It would be unfortunate if this regrettable but minor incident were allowed to stand as a blot on an otherwise exceedingly distinguished career. ” (Chapter 26, p. 182) The judge, the voice of public opinion, verbalizes the attitude we take towards famous figures, whether real or mythical. They are often forgiven their crimes so that they may be remembered as uncomplicated and heroic.
24. “I’ll never drink the Waters of Forgetfulness. I can’t see the point of it. No: I can see the point, but I don’t want to take the risk. My past life was fraught with many difficulties, but who’s to say the next one wouldn’t be worse? Even with my limited access I can see that the world is just as dangerous as it was in my day, except that the misery and suffering are on a much wider scale. As for human nature, it’s as tawdry as ever. ” (Chapter 27, p. 188) Penelope continues to be risk-averse, even in the afterlife, and to favor inaction.She doesn’t have the blind self-confidence of Helen, or the need to run like Odysseus.
25. “Why did you murder us? What had we done to you that required our deaths? You never answered that. It was an act of grudging, it was an act of spite, it was an honour killing. ” (Chapter 28, p. 193) The maids conclude by attributing their death to an act of principle. They didn’t deserve their fates, but Odysseus slaughtered them to prove a point: lowborn women are not allowed to be impertinent or have romances unless given permission.