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The Penelopeia: A Novel in Verseby Jane Rawlings
Synopses & Reviews
Imagine that you have gone back in time 3,000 years to the city of Ithaka to greet Odysseus, the sole survivor of a decade of adventures, shipwreck, and mayhem, on his long-awaited return home. Recognized by his loyal dog, he is really a stranger to his son, Telemachos, and even to Penelope, the wife who, flicking off suitors like flies, has managed to keep his household intact. Imagine his shock when she informs him that she has another surprise in store; when he left for Troy some twenty years before, he fathered twin daughters. These daughters, now mature and preternaturally gifted, are determined to travel with their mother to the Pythian oracle, there to learn what the gods have decreed as their fate and to do the goddess' bidding.
Imagine, in other words, the next episodes of The Odyssey told in the voice of a woman, in this case a woman who has faithfully waited for her husband to return, who has diligently performed all her duties as wife and mother, and who now wants to experience the same adventure and freedom as her heroic spouse.
An interesting conceit, no? And in this ambitious, unusual and riveting story, Rawlings pulls it off splendidly. Recounted in a fast-moving, unrhymed free verse (strongly reminiscent of the Lattimore translation) that both pauses and gallops, she pulls us back into the landscape and the culture of pre-Attic Greece. She makes us see how this tale might have unfolded if Penelope had been celebrated by her Homer. She takes us on adventures that would confound even the cunning Odysseus, and she brings herself and her daughters back intact to a husband who has been forever changed and a household that has survived her absence. It is a woman's tale unlike any that has ever been written, and it is, at the same time, the stuff of high art and bounding adventure.
"A novel in rolling lines of verse...may seem unlikely to be a page-turner, but that is what this startlingly inventive book is....Perfectly blending form, style, and content, Rawlings makes an unforgettable character out of a mythic cypher." Patricia Monaghan, Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] marvelous idea....The Penelopeia will probably not manage to revise classical heroism in favor of the values of the distaff side...but it is an engaging, and ingeniously rendered, curiosity." The New Yorker
"In spite of the obvious and hardly original gender-bending, this is quite a good take on Homer, cleverly conceived and nicely written in noble cadences that are intentionally (and accurately) reminiscent of Lattimore's Homeric translations." Kirkus Reviews
"[An] artfully crafted work....Rawlings shows a flair for the format with her lively, smoothly flowing narrative verse....
"In her Penelopeia, Jane Rawlings gives us a version of Homer's queen as full of guile, pluck, and adventure as her famous husband....Here is Homer's heroine in a fresh new incarnation, lyric and arresting." Robert Fagles
About the Author
Jane Rawlings became Archivist at a nineteenth-century house museum in New Jersey after careers as a teacher, housewife, and mother. She writes and lectures on women's history, and her poems have been widely published. Her fascination with Greek language and literature began at Smith College, and she has maintained that interest throughout her adult life.
Table of Contents
Odysseus returns again to joyful feast - tells his story, shows treasures, discovers two extra robes - Telemachos also has two unexplained robes 3
Penelope reveals her treasures - which Laertes explains - Odysseus accepts them - Penelope continues her story 11
Telemachos complains, Penelope deflects, consoles - Odysseus returns party to gaiety - libations and to bed and lovemaking - morning encounter with Odysseus and Telemachos 17
Nerianne and Penelope - second night: Odysseus tells his tale - to bed - Odysseus takes Telemachos' side - Penelope's defense - Ailanthis and Penelope - third night: Odysseus calls for song - Phemios hands lyre to Nerianne 23
Nerianne and Phemios sing - Odysseus struck by "sirens' song" - breakup of party - Odysseus and Penelope - Odysseus challenges Penelope - Penelope prepares to confess 31
Penelope tells of Amphinomos: dreams? rape? - Odysseus argues it didn't happen(!) - she explains strategy of keeping suitors vying - "...only Helen..." 40
Dream voyage to Helen - Penelope reveals journey she is to take with daughters - dream journey to Arete - their "women's greetings" - Athene's command - Odysseus leaves - Mabantha comforts Penelope with strangely familiar song 45
Nerianne stricken - preparations for journey - Penelope asks about Mabantha's song - tale of mystical West-riding female charioteer - Mabantha tells of lost brother, R'batha (Eurybates) 57
Talk with Laertes: he will help persuade Odysseus to Penelope's journey - Odysseus returns - Penelope reasserts need for trip - invokves his mother's support - Telemachos wounded - Ailanthis proposes journey to seek cure 71
Odysseus agrees - preparations, but will Nerianne leave Telemachos? - last feast - Odysseus gives Penelope gold cup - leave-taking - Mentor, all on board - Odysseus rises to occasion, sending an escort ship - Laertes on promontory 79
At sea Penelope questions Mabantha - Mabantha's country - story of her wanderings - story interrupted by arrival near Pytho - Mentor goes ashore, returns with tale of depravity 89
Disembark - climb to Pythos - Pythia's appearances, riddle - Nerianne's voice returns - Ailanthis' next move - Penelope to find her own way - The Pythia introduces her city of women in luminous cave 98
Peaceable industry - girls' paths chosen - Penelope to seek hers - led out of cave - Mabantha and Phemios found - death of Mentor - chase down to sea 109
Rescue - Mabantha pregnant - continues her story - plan for Sparta by way of Pylos after talk with helmsman, Apollytos - begin his story 118
Apollytos' story - Pylos - Peisistratos receives though Nestor ill - captivated by Ailanthis - Phemios and Mabantha to wait there - feast - journey to Sparta 130
Helen knows Penelope, will help - to Helen's garden-encounter with Peisistratos - return to Sparta with Helen's and Penelope's stories - Penelope questions Helen - Helen's answer - gift giving, departure for Pylos 140
Penelope waylaid by Amazons - capture - Penthesileia's story of events at Troy - a deception and treachery - a secret revealed 153
Ailanthis and Peisistratos captured - two seductions, another treachery punished, a child's betrayal 165
A challenge, release, escape to resume journey - Pylos - Nestor's funeral - Mabantha ill - Penelope stays with her, sending Ailanthis to Ithaka with Phemios 176
Mabantha's deceit and plans to return to Aithiopia without Phemios - urges Penelope to join her - quandary - Mabantha escapes - Penelope chases her with Apollytos 187
Apollytos' declaration - he presses - quandary - intruder in the night - Penelope refuses Apollytos - wild, courseless wandering with Penelope in terror 195
Apollytos' revenge - he takes Odysseus' cup, puts Penelope ashore - menace from sailors - youth leads her to palace of Alkinoos and Arete, who knows her 205
Telemachos comes, with signals from Odysseus - Penelope tells her story - insulted by Euryalos - Telemachos defends her - Euryalos banished - Penelope and Arete confide - Helen's woven tale - Arete's advice - reconciliation with Telemachos 213
Odysseus' message via Telemachos - dilemma over permission for Telemachos to marry - Penelope's solution to Alkinoos - feast - knot, gifts - wedding - departure for Ithaka - Poseidon's supernatural trial - return to Ithaka 224
A Note on the Type 246
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