The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
What can I say about this book that I haven’t said before? Probably nothing so that’s why I’m going to start at the beginning and probably repeat some things that the 3 people who have actually watched every single one of my YouTube videos will have heard before.
This post is not a book review per say but the first in a series of posts sharing with you the ‘books that made me’; this is to say the books that have stuck with me since the day I read them, that have had an impact on the decisions I have made, the way I perceive the world and the person I am today, big or small. You can assume that I recommend each and everyone of these books before I say anything else and what I’d like to do here is just give some context to what that book has meant to me in my life.
So back to The Penelopiad.
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Pictured above are Oxford World Classics’ editions of three ancient Greek works collecting together various myths.
A question I am asked time and time again is where to read about the ancient myths of Greece. The question although fair reminds me of a misconception many people have even when starting university and finding themselves interested in taking Ancient History courses: that there is a canon.
The long and the short of it is that there is no canon.
It is a strange concept to many of us to begin with I think. Teamed with our understanding of monotheistic religions that survive today, with their bibles etc., which although open to different interpretations provide a standardised text outlining that religions history and teachings; and our exposure to ancient myths in popular culture, often picking up on common themes and images regarding Zeus or Hercules etc. it is easy to think that Greek myths, the stories that depict these people’s gods and heroes, have a common source. This could not, however, be further from the truth.
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Left image from BBC’s Atlantis; right image from Xena: Warrior Princess.
A couple of years ago British television and computer screens were abuzz with the BBC’s own addition to the horde of classical adaptations and reinterpretations to make it onto the ‘little’ screen. If you have been living under a rock, or perhaps actually living, you might not yet have heard of Atlantis; the epic saga of Jason, born in 2013 only to find himself in the yet to be submerged city of Atlantis living in a flat-share with Pythagoras and Hercules (or Heracles) during some unspecified period of ancient Greek history all because his submarine accidently stumbled into what was presumable a wormhole in the fabric of time, and reality, under the sea.
This show took ancient philosophers and mythological heroes, however questionably heroic they may be represented, and blends them together against a factually uncomfortably backdrop. The abandoned facts need not be historical; no objections to the show have insinuated Jason and Hercules were genuine historical figures but that does not mean ancient writers have given us any less established (f variable) stories of their lives. As television screenwriter’s everywhere run in fear from the confines of the original tales offended historians and classicists have crawled back out of the woodwork to once again object on the behalf of antiquity.
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