From Madeline Miller’s Circe and Natalie Hayne’s The Song Of Achilles, here are nine books based on ancient Greek myths for a bit of escapist reading.
Romance. Vengeance. Monsters. Beauty. Battles. Sex. Gods. Greek mythology has all the ingredients for beautiful and gripping stories that people have devoured for thousands of years. From Theseus and the Minotaur to Pandora’s Box and The Battle of Troy, the tales of ancient Greece continue to grip audiences around the world. It always has been, and always will be, the ultimate storytelling.
But that doesn’t stop modern minds from retelling famous myths in new and exciting ways. You only need to look at Netflix’s animation series, Blood Of Zeus, which was a surprise ratings hit in the second lockdown. But if you really want to get lost in a world of Greek mythology retellings, there are plenty of books to dive into…
Madeline Miller’s Circe is a bold and clever retelling of the goddess who was banished by Zeus to the remote island of Aiaia, where she harnessed her witchcraft skills.
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and praised by celebrity readers like Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s so good that HBO is adapting it for a miniseries.
The Silence of the Girls
In The Silence Of The Girls, Pat Barker tells the powerful story of the Trojan War from the point of view of Briseis, a queen who was enslaved by Achilles after he butchered her husband and brothers.
Like Circe, it was also shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction
Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad was part of the first set of books in the Canongate Myth Series, where contemporary authors rewrote ancient myths. It is written from the stance of Penelope, who reminisces on the events of the Odyssey, life in Hades, Odysseus, Helen of Troy, and her relationships with her parents.
A Thousand Ships
In A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes tells the story of horrifying events around the Trojan War from the different perspectives of the women involved. As it says on the cover, “This is a women’s war”.
Jennifer Saint gives voice to the women of Theseus and the Minotaur with her debut, Ariadne. As princess of Crete and daughter of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne grows up hearing the sounds of the Minotaur from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.
When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, as well as getting the attention of the gods.
The Song Of Achilles
Before Circe, Madeline Miller captured imaginations with The Song Of Achilles. An adaptation of Homer’s Iliad as told from the perspective of Patroclus, it tells the story of his love for the infamous warrior Achilles.
Bringing Greek legends into the modern world, Alex Michaelides’s The Maidens is a thriller which weaves together Greek mythology, psychology, and murder.
It tells the story of a handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Edward Fosca, who therapist Mariana Andros is convinced is a murderer.
Following A Thousand Ships, Natalie Hayne revisited the women of Greek reassessed the stories in Pandora’s Jar. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk.
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History follows a group of wealthy students at a liberal-arts college in 1980s Vermont, who study ancient Greek under the tutelage of a enigmatic classics professor Julian Morrow. They are so obsessed with the power of these myths that they literally find themselves in a modern Greek tragedy.
Images: courtesy of publishers