Penelope is not Homer’s Odyssey say Selma Naccach & Carol Robidoux

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MANCHESTER, NH – Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Penelope” is from the woman’s point of view. This is not the “Odyssey,” from Homer’s point of view.

Ink Link Publisher Carol Robidoux & longtime Manchester school district English teacher Selma Naccach-Hoff sit down at Communicast to talk about the experience in anticipation of Symphony NH’s Penelope performance this weekend.

Penelope is not Homer's Odyssey. Photo of Selma Naccach-Hoff.
Penelope is not Homer’s Odyssey. Photo of Selma Naccach-Hoff.

Who better to discuss this spin-out from the epic poem with Carol Robidoux than Central High School’s “teacher, advocate, ambassador and legend,” Selma Naccach. ”The Naccach experience,” as Dave Scannell aptly described it, has made all the difference, once again.

Odyssey was written sometime in the 8th Century BC. An epic poem in 24 books attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer.  The story was of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, who wandered for 10 years before getting home to his faithful wife, the totally male point of view.

Penelope in the 21st Century

Penelope in the 21st Century is not Homer’s 8th Century Odyssey.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider moves beyond Homer’s Odyssey and offers a totally different, totally focused-on-the-heroine perspective.

Penelope originated as a music-theater monodrama co-written by Ellen McLaughlin and Sarah Kirkland Snider in 2007. Re-conceived by Snider in 2009 as a song cycle, Penelope is even more relevant today.

Culture change, veterans returning home, discerning truth from lies. It is all here in just 60 minutes.

Here are the five dominant themes beyond Homer’s Odyssey worth exploring further

From the conversation between my distinguished guests, these five themes emerged:

  • Resilience
  • Community or lack thereof (for Penelope vs. Odysseus)
  • Self-Reflection
  • Affirmation of a woman alone
  • Universality – of the story- of the human experience – totally relatable – from multiple points of view

Synopsis of the story in rhyme.

(I tried to keep a rather low profile during the conversation but here’s my poetic summary):

A knock on the door,

A broken man returned from war

A stranger’s somewhat familiar face

A woman no longer accepting her dictated place

Life repeats itself before

She reads him Homer to restore

those 20 years lost, and more.

Key messages

Turn off your phone and screen and join Symphony NH for 60 minutes of reflection and critical listening.

Take the time for yourself and let the music guide you.

Take one hour to unplug from your phone and your screens and think about these kinds of issues

Take a chance to reflect back on yourself and the community around you – your support group

If you can’t attend the performance here’s our 30 minutes of conversation & discussion:

This Odyssey’s Takeaways:

“These stories are universal and women can relate to them today” Carol Robidoux

Sort of a fusion of classic modern and the pain and struggle of it all. A woman abandoned  figuring it all out after living on her own these many years- abandoned and now she is not.

“Taking literature and translating it into music opens up a whole other audience”

“These stories are universal and women can relate to them today

Selma says of the Odyssey

“…students can see the male as the hero but they cannot see all the females we read about as heroines which does address the more global issues in our society today.”

Selma, not knowing “Penelope” beforehand, “found the story compelling and the music haunting.”  The music led her in a different direction away from Penelope as any stay at home mom unchanged by the 20 years her man was away.

This Penelope wanted to welcome her husband home but was unsure and needed to process the lure and snares of Calypso and the Lotus eaters, taking full measure of the time apart and how their relationship has changed.

“You expect things to be the same but they are not.”

“Homer did not see that – it was a different time.

“Penelope went through a journey herself. Her major lesson was internal growth not superhero.”

We all know someone in the military who returned not the same.

Selma said the music captivated her.  Odysseus’ epithet was “wily Odysseus”  always scheming, always knowing how to get out of a rut. Cyclops or any other problem?  He will find a way past it.

And he turns to lies.  Penelope recognizes he is lying.

He is outright lying – “You are lying to people, are you lying to me now, too?”

Says Carol:

“This is what the humanities does for us. The literature, the art, it takes the everyday and it creates a way for us to relate to it in another way.”

I hope that people who come to see it are open to all of that, whether or not they know the story

You don’t have to be an English teacher to understand the story.”

We understand the literary journey of heroes in any movie we watch. Think Marvel comics.

I love where Symphony NH is taking this piece by a female composer. With a female voice and telling a different part of the story that had always been a male dominant story.

Now giving it to an audience to interpret it in a new way – We don’t get that very often!

Carol quoting her favorite Nora Ephron:

“Be the heroine of your own life”

This is an opportunity for people to start thinking a little differently. To think about the roles we have and what they have come to mean. New too is the perspective of the ones waiting at home.

Truth and lies become intertwined. How does one decipher the difference? Then and now.

Selma speaks to written forms of communication. Homer’s work was written down. The score and libretto is written.

Today with the introduction of AI and Chat, discernment between truth and non-truths are even more difficult. Take time to step back and observe. Think before making a reflex action.

Odyssey as Penelope presented by Symphony NH

Penelope is at the Rex Theatre Saturday night March 2nd 7:30 pm. Tickets here.

and Sunday March 3rd Matinee 3pm at Bank of NH Stage, Concord NH. Tickets here.


Keith Spiro Communicast. Good people doing great things
The stories of Good people doing Great Things.


About this Author

Keith Spiro

Advisor & ContributorInk Link News, Arts & Culture

Business Strategist, Community Builder with a keen interest in working with high-impact startups and other organizations that can make a difference in community and health.