The story of Odysseus' return to his home kingdom of Ithaca following an absence of twenty years is best known from Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus is said to have spent half of these years fighting the Trojan War and the other half wandering around the Aegean Sea, trying to get home. But what of his wife, Penelope? In addition to weeping and praying for the return of Odysseus, she cleverly deceives the many Suitors who are swarming around her palace, eating up Odysseus' estate in an attempt to force her to marry one of them. The Odyssey, draws to an end with the slaughter of the Suitors by Odysseus and Telemachus, the hanging of twelve of the maids who have been sleeping with the Suitors, and the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope.
Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged Maids. The Maids form a chanting and singing Chorus which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: what led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn't hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. In The Penelopiad, Penelope provides the answers.