Essay on Cultural Values Of Homer 's Odyssey

Essay on Cultural Values Of Homer 's Odyssey

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Within the Penelopiad, Atwood’s responds to the cultural values of Homer’s Odyssey through the characterisation of Penelope. Penelope’s narrative perspective exposes aspects of gender and class relationships that the Homeric original ignores. Atwood couples this with multiple genres and an emphasis on the process of myth formation. This serves to challenge the construction of the Odyssey as a tool to encode social norms. However, this focus on subjectivity also emphasises the unreliable female narration of the Penelopiad. Conflict between these female characters reinforces values imposed within the Odyssey. Penelope’s interaction with other women demonstrates her compliance with Homeric ideas about class and gender. To a major extent, the Penelopiad upholds the cultural values found in the Odyssey.

Firstly, the cultural intent of the Homeric text should be outlined. Epic poetry in “non-literate Homeric society” served as an “educational medium” (Skinner 82). It allowed for social norms, notably sexuality in the “context of marriage”, to be transferred across generations (82). This suggests a link to the feminine perspective of Atwood’s text. The Odyssey has long been associated with the feminine sphere, especially with Athena as its “presiding deity” (Suzuki 265). This places the Homeric cultural focus firmly on the female role in marriage and the household. Also, the specific context of the Odyssey should be noted. Thematic differences indicate that this text was a “transition” between the war-driven societies of the ‘Iliad’ to “polis [civil community-centred] culture” (Wohl 19). This is emphasised by contrast between the focus on “glorious [almost exclusively male] heroes” in the Iliad, and “powerful females … within the ho...


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...t. Yet, the text focuses on Odysseus and substitutes for Penelope in order to provide a generalised version of this ideal (Skinner 29). Therefore, the issue of class is not as important as gender to the cultural values of the Homeric epic. The narrative position of the maids is also similar to Penelope, and must then result in the same effect. While the maids remain influenced by their life experience, their “death” eliminates “class differences”. (Jung 41) In addition to this, the “interaction between Penelope’s confession and the maids’ shifting narrative” also raises suspicion over the truthfulness of the Twelve Maids’ accusations (Howells 14). This emphasises that the conflict between the maids and Penelope is not explicitly linked to class. Instead, negative values that are associated with female transgression in the Odyssey resurface against Atwood’s Penelope.

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