By Margaret Atwood
Ulverscroft Large Print (2007), 152 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 23, 2010
The story of the famous Odysseus and his ten year battle at Troy to help rescue the absconding/kidnapped Helen and his ten year voyage home is told by a man, Homer, in his Iliad and Odyssey; so who in the world would expect to get the true facts about his faithful wife Penelope. The entire world knows that during his twenty-year absence Odysseus’ wife Penelope kept herself from her many suitors, men who were besieging her palace to marry her so that they could get their hands on her wealth, not her, men who Odysseus killed together with his wife’s twelve maids by hanging. But Homer, apparently uninterested in female matters, gives us no clue why Penelope was so faithful or why Odysseus felt the need to kill the twelve maids. Now along comes Margaret Atwood and reveals all in a hilarious fashion.
We learn what a liar Odysseus was, that his chest was barrel shape but his legs were abnormally short, that Penelope was not that beautiful, but the two of them were pretty smart, at least they thought so. We learn that Helen had a need to flirt. If no human was present she would flirt with an animal or a bed post or a tree, for she was the most beautiful woman in the world, or so she believed. In fact she told this to so many people so many times that they believed it as well.
We learn whether Odysseus really battled supernatural monsters, was loved by a goddess who turned his men into pigs, whether the sea god Poseidon actually had it in for our hero; did he really visit the land of the dead. Were these simply artful depictions of visits to various bars, whorehouses, and similar establishments? These are facts that intelligent readers want to know. All of this is told to us by Penelope herself, after she is dead, while she is down below; and surely she would not lie, not any more. She also reveals what happens to people after death, again something most people want to know, and she knows because she is there, so what better witness could we ask for.
We learn as well whether Penelope really remained faithful for twenty years, from age 15 to 35, how she was at fault for Odysseus killing her twelve maidens, whether they were raped, seduced, or were just looking for fun, about the trial of Odysseus for the murder of the maidens, and how they hounded him as he tried to escape them by becoming alive again, time after time, in disguises.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.