The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter returns to Penelope’s first-person narrative. She recounts a recent time when, as she was walking through the asphodel, she ran into Helen, who was followed by a group of men. Helen greets Penelope and asks if she wants to join her in taking a bath. Penelope reminds her that, since they are spirits now, they don’t need to take baths. Helen replies that her reason for taking baths is “spiritual,” and that she finds it soothing, since having men fight over her is so tiring. Helen tells Penelope she would not know what that’s like, suggesting that she is lucky.
Penelope’s rivalry with Helen seems to have continued into the afterlife, as has Helen’s need for male attention. Helen’s comment that she finds her baths “spiritual,” when they are clearly a ploy for male attention, is somewhat ironic. Penelope highlights the fact that the Greek afterlife is disembodied again here, a marked contrast from traditional ideas of Christian Heaven.
Themes
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
Penelope sneers and asks if Helen is going to take off her (nonexistent) robes. Helen comments that, since Penelope is known for being so modest, she is sure that Penelope would keep her own robes on to bathe. Helen states that she prefers to bathe naked. Penelope remarks that this must be the reason for the large crowd following her, and Helen says that it isn’t that large, and anyway she is used to men following her. Desire, Helen says, does not die with the body.
Penelope’s snide remarks to Helen show how, although Penelope makes Helen out to be the aggressor in their relationship, Penelope also actively takes shots at Helen. Helen’s comments that desire does not die with the body suggest that sexuality is a social concept as well as a physical phenomenon.
Themes
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Penelope quips that seeing Helen naked must give the spirits “a reason to live,” and Helen calls her witty. They bicker back and forth, with Helen calling Penelope negative and vulgar and Penelope blaming Helen for causing so many deaths. Penelope says that she hadn’t realized that Helen was capable of guilt, and Helen replies by asking Penelope how many men Odysseus killed for her. Penelope says it was “quite a lot,” and Helen replies that it “depends on what you call a lot” but says that maybe it made Penelope feel prettier. She then bids Penelope goodbye.
Helen and Penelope’s competition over how many men have died for them seems totally bizarre and callous, and it shows just how toxic the culture surrounding gender is. In order to be a good woman, according to Helen and Penelope, a princess needs men to actually die for her. Violence seems to be a normal part of gender relations in Ancient Greece.
Themes
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon