The Paris Review

In Turn Each Woman Thrust Her Head

Poster for The Penelopiad at the Buddies and Bad Times Theater.

In the hot attic bedroom in Minneapolis, my twelve-year-old daughter is reading to me from the Odyssey. Curled in the center of the orange paisley chair, she conjures ship-smashing gales, feasts of roast lamb, a mouth full of salt. The words wash over me as I do leg lifts, building strength after breaking a foot, eager to run again. Sweat sticks skin to the polished wood floor. Sparrows chatter and build nests of junk-mail scraps and dryer lint on beams outside, just above the windows. A lock of dark hair hangs in my daughter’s face as she adopts the goddess Athena’s shocked voice. Odysseus has dared to doubt her, and in her wounded pride, she sounds a bit like an aggrieved mother.

Your touching faith! Another man would trust
Some villainous mortal, with no brains—and what
am I? Your goddess-guardian to the end
in all your trials.

It’s a story we both love, though this is my daughter’s first encounter with Homer’s original. Athena, in particular, is magnetic. We’ve both dressed up as Zeus’s daughter at different times for Halloween. In the seventies, I went door-to-door in a lacy thrift-store dress that led everyone to ask

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