The Penelopiad: Where's Argos? (and is it important?)

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The Penelopiad: Where's Argos? (and is it important?)

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1SilentInAWay
Redigeret: jun 11, 2014, 6:07pm

A fair amount of attention has been directed toward how, in Atwood's book, the story of Penelope and Odysseus is told by characters (all of them women) who had little or no voice of their own in the original epic. In fact, I believe few would disagree with my saying that insight into the thoughts of Penelope and the twelve murdered maids is an essential feature of Atwood's project.

I am curious, however, about the flip side of the coin. What aspects of the myth has Atwood de-emphasized (or left out altogether) in her retelling? Perhaps an examination of what she has chosen to exclude will offer additional insights into her book.

For example, one element that is pretty much standard in the telling of Odysseus's homecoming is his being recognized by his old dog Argos -- in fact, in The Odyssey, Argos is represented as the only soul on Ithaca that recognizes that his master has returned (Telemachus doesn't count, because Odysseus reveals himself to him). After seeing--and being ignored by--his master for the first time in twenty years, Argos dies.

I would think that the story of Odysseus's dog is known widely enough that its absence in The Penelopiad is fairly conspicuous*. Would the inclusion of this episode detract from Penelope's claim that she actually did recognize her husband and only feigned ignorance? Or maybe Atwood was paring down the story to only those elements that support her "reading" of the myth.

The absence is particularly interesting because the relationship between humans and animals has been a recurring theme in Atwood's writings. After reading Atwood's Three Poems About Cats (the middle one in particular), I feel that she really missed an opportunity to tell this story from another interesting point of view -- one that would provide an interesting foil to the theme of Penelope's fidelity. On the other hand, maybe Atwood is just a cat person.

(*If Atwood does mention Argos in The Penelopiad, please let me know and I will go hide my head in virtual shame.)

2Felurian
jun 11, 2014, 8:49pm

Since the story is told from Penelope's POV, and she's essentially as self-absorbed as Odysseus, it seems to me that it would be out of character for her to notice poor Argos. If Odysseus didn't notice his own dog, why would Penelope?

Hmmm . . . gives me an idea . . . maybe the story from Argos' POV ;-)

3IreneF
jun 11, 2014, 11:35pm

Penelope mentioned the dog, but not by name.

4SilentInAWay
Redigeret: jun 16, 2014, 8:28pm

>2 Felurian: If Odysseus didn't notice his own dog, why would Penelope?

In The Odyssey, Odysseus definitely notices Argos -- he even asks about him ("who's that noble-looking dog over there"--or something like that), pretending not to know anything about him, of course. When I said he ignored him, I meant that he didn't show the poor beast any sign that he knew him.

But that's a quibble. Your main point is:

it seems to me that it would be out of character for her to notice poor Argos

For Penelope, perhaps, but not for Atwood!! And the book is not told entirely from Penelope's point of view.

I agree that one can easily imagine Penelope taking no notice of the dog whatsoever; Atwood, however, has shown a recurring interest in ways in which humans refuse to grant full agency to animals (above I mentioned the poem "Mourning for Cats" -- additional examples are listed in Wikipedia), perhaps as an analogue for male/female relations.

I'm certainly don't want anyone to think that I'm bent out of shape over this. It may not be important at all. On the other hand, what better way to depict the marginalization of a character than to exclude him from the narrative altogether (or, as IreneF pointed out above, have Penelope mention him in passing, but give him no presence). It looks like Atwood is doing to Argos what "Homer" did to the twelve maids...

At any rate, did anyone notice any other conspicuous absences in The Penelopiad -- aspects of the original myth that, by being left out, have possible thematic relevance?

5IreneF
jun 16, 2014, 11:18am

Homer puts a high value on loyalty. The old hound recognizes his master and wags his tail before he dies, his constancy rewarded by a happy death.

6SilentInAWay
jun 16, 2014, 9:19pm

True. Do you think that Atwood's omission of this episode was intentional? It seems to me that it is one of several techniques used in The Penelopiad to reconstruct the "loyalty topos" that was handed down by Homer.

7IreneF
jun 17, 2014, 9:45am

>6 SilentInAWay:
I have no idea. I'm not actually very good at lit crit.