Creator: Margaret Atwood, prominent Canadian novelist and essayist
Context: Atwood’s 2005 novella “The Penelopiad” re-envisioned the myth of Odysseus by re-centering the tale on Penelope who was the wife of the ancient hero. Penelope’s father was King Icarius of Sparta, and her mother was a Naiad, i.e., a water nymph. Commenting on her partially divine status, Penelope stated: 1
Water is our element, it is our birthright. Although we are not such good swimmers as our mothers, we do have a way of floating, and we’re well connected among the fish and seabirds.
Penelope’s mother attended her wedding and delivered a short speech which her daughter described as “nothing if not oblique; but then, all Naiads are oblique”. The address included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts: 2
Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.
A substantial fraction of the human body consists of water; estimates vary from 50 to 70 percent depending on age, gender, and measurement technique. Yet, Atwood was probably referring to the parentage of Penelope and not to the scientific evaluation of H2O in body tissue.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Linda Carson who pointed to a sequence of tweets one of which mentioned a water bottle in London displaying the quotation.
Image Notes: John William Waterhouse’s painting of a Naiad and Hylas. Image has been cropped and resized.
- 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 3: My Childhood, Quote Page 9, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 7: The Scar, Quote Page 43, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩