The Penelopiad


Margaret Atwood

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The Penelopiad: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

The chorus of Twelve Maids narrates this chapter in first-person verse. In their poem, the Maids address an unknown second person (who turns out to be Odysseus) who they accuse of killing them. They describe their hanging, dwelling on their feet twitching in the air and the injustice of their death. They accuse Odysseus of “scratching his itch” with many women, and assert that what they did was much less deserving of condemnation than what he did.
In this section, Atwood introduces the Twelve Maids, who serve as a Greek chorus (a traditional element of Ancient Greek drama) throughout the book, commenting on and sometimes contradicting Penelope’s narrative. As the Maids introduce their accusations against Odysseus, they point out the double standard of promiscuity for men and women—a double standard that persists even today, thousand of years later.
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The Maids note that Odysseus was armed with words and a spear. The Maids say that they cleaned the blood of their dead lovers (the Suitors) before being hanged. They reiterate that their deaths were not fair and accuse Odysseus of taking pleasure in commanding their deaths.
When the Maids note that Odysseus was armed with words and a spear, they draw a parallel between the two, suggesting that words might be a kind of weapon. Odysseus’s control of language and narrative gives him power.
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