Oct 4, 2010

Giveaway and Guest Post by Laurel Corona: Penelope's Daughter

Please welcome to The Burton Review award-winning author Laurel Corona, who has crafted an exquisite retelling of the story of Homer’s The Odyssey in PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER (Berkley Trade Paperback Original; October 5, 2010; $15.00). This book has such a beautiful cover there was no way that I could resist getting this one, and I am so glad that I did. I recently read and reviewed the book on The Burton Review.

Penelope's Daughter; available October 5, 2010
Populated with characters both real and imaginary, the novel explores the dangerous world of Ithaca during the years of Odysseus’ absence from the point of view of Xanthe, Odysseus and Penelope’s daughter:

The royal court of Ithaca has been in upheaval for years without the leadership of Odysseus as king. Xanthe is barricaded in her own chambers to avoid the suitors, all willing to commit any act—including murder and kidnapping—to make her their bride and gain the throne. Xanthe turns to her loom to weave the adventures of her life, from her upbringing among servants and slaves, to the years spent in hiding with her mother’s cousin, Helen of Troy, to the passion of her sexual awakening in the arms of the man she loves.


When a stranger dressed as a beggar appears at the palace, Xanthe wonders who will be the one to decide her future—a suitor she loathes, a brother she cannot respect, or a father who doesn’t know she exists.

Read the full synopsis here at Laurel's site.
Purchase via Amazon or via IndieBound

Laurel Corona ©Olga Gunn Photography
Laurel Corona is a professor of humanities at San Diego City College and a longtime resident of Southern California. She is the author of The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice, along with numerous works of nonfiction. Visit her online at http://www.laurelcorona.com/.

See the end of this post for the book giveaway details!


Helen and the Homer Sandwich by Laurel Corona:


Recently I watched a film version of the Odyssey, and I was struck by the assumption by the set designers that Homer’s Ithaca looked like Athens at the peak of its glory. Actually, if Odysseus and his men had set out for Athens instead of Troy, they might have had trouble finding it, for at the time the Iliad and Odyssey are set, Athens was still a small and unimportant backwater town. The wild and untamed Peloponnese, a large peninsula southwest of Athens, was where the action was, and where most of the famous city-states of the time were located--Mycenae, Sparta, Pylos, and the like. There, palaces were small abodes, made of rough stone and logs, with packed dirt floors and minimal niceties.

Even hundred of years later, Homer would not have known much about Athens, for the Iliad and Odyssey were written long before the city’s glory days. The poet was sandwiched between the “Age of Heroes” (as the time ranging from Heracles through Achilles is often called) and the “Golden Age of Athens,” when that city ruled the seas and built the Parthenon.

The bottom piece of bread in this sandwich is the Mycenaean era, long before the time that characters like Odysseus and Helen of Troy would have lived. The first layer of filling in this sandwich is a period called the “Greek Dark Ages.” This is the time that the events of the Iliad and Odyssey would have occurred, but unfortunately no written records exist from that time.

Next, let’s put Homer’s era in our sandwich, for by then oral histories sung by the bards were being written down. The top piece of bread is the far more familiar classical world of gorgeous temples and a Mount Olympus with Zeus firmly in charge. This sandwich took most of a millennium to create, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that set designers who have Odysseus living in a palace with fluted marble pillars got it wrong.

Okay, let’s drop the analogy. A millennium-old sandwich doesn’t sound like a very tasty treat. But what this chronology reveals about changes in Greek culture is fascinating, if a bit depressing from a feminist perspective.

During the Mycenaean Era (long before the events described by Homer), goddesses were more powerful than gods. Zeus was seen as the husband of Hera, rather than the other way around. Though men might do flashier things, like rule and go to war, women had the most essential power of all--the ability to invoke the gods. As a result, women appear to have been respected and their powers revered in Mycenaean culture.

By the time we get to Classical Greece, things look very different. Zeus has become the chief god of Olympus, and Hera has been reduced to a bitchy and overbearing nag who causes trouble for her charming, if unfaithful husband. Though goddesses like Artemis and Athena are still important, they’re outnumbered and overpowered by the likes of Poseidon and Zeus. The same is true for the mortal women who lived in this era. Aristocratic women in Athens at the time of its greatest glory were essentially housebound, with few rights and opportunities for an independent life.

So how did this happen? How did we go from a culture respectful of, and in many ways centered on women, to the opposite? It happened in the dark (as so many things between men and women do!) but this time the darkness is the “Greek Dark Ages” that I referred to above. Somehow, in the centuries for which no written records exist, goddesses and women lost much of their power. Scholars theorize about this, but suffice it to say here that what came out the other side is the patriarchal society familiar to us today, rather than the female-centered pre-Greek one.

Presumably the stories the bards sang were recast many times to reflect the changing values of the listeners, so the way Helen and Penelope are presented in the Odyssey may have more to do with Homer’s society than the one in which these two women lived (if indeed they ever did). But let’s look at the two of them anyway, to see if this ongoing loss of female power is reflected in Homer’s work.

Homer stresses Penelope’s powerlessness. It is truly annoying how much of the time she spends weeping and wringing her hands in Homer’s version of the tale (not so in mine!) She is Homer’s perfect wife, waiting faithfully for her husband and not taking things into her own hands, except in the most acceptable way, through her weaving—the female task second in importance only to childbearing.

Helen, on the other hand, seems to be formed from Mycenaean clay. Her beauty gives her a matchless power among mortals. Her actions are larger than life. Even when she is back in Sparta after the Trojan War, ruling alongside Menelaus, she is still a dazzler. Homer tells us she has become a kind of sorcerer/magician, using drugs to alter people’s moods. Popular tradition holds that she became the chief priestess of the powerful cult of Artemis/Orthia, though Homer doesn’t mention this.

Helen is a woman Homer would not be comfortable with, so he writes her down to size. She uses her magic potions only at dinners where guests have grown morose—the perfect hostess. She speaks little except to lament what a terrible thing she did running off with Paris, and how helpless she was in Aphrodite’s grip. In the Odyssey, Helen is the emblem of women caught in the process of being reinterpreted and recast as subservient. Looking at it another way, though, Helen’s story is the collective female destiny in reverse. As time passes, she grows in power. Unfortunately what really happened to the women after Helen’s time will be the opposite.
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I really enjoyed reading this book, and I am honored to be able to host the book giveaway courtesy of the publisher.

To enter, please comment here telling us if you have read the author's previous novel, or if you have had read anything on Helen of Troy or those in that era. What did you think of them?

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Good Luck!
Giveaway ends 10/16, open to USA and Canada.