Retelling Greek myths

Circe is only one of the numerous Greek mythology retellings worth reading.

Imogen Clarke
20th March 2022
Image: Rawpixel, Goodreads
Galatea by Madeline Miller was originally written and published in 2013 but was re-released this March. I discovered Greek-myth-fiction just over a year ago now, and I've read literally everything on the market currently. So naturally, I rushed to Waterstones to pick up a copy of Miller's short story.
Image: Goodreads

After studying Classics at A-Level, Miller's Circe (2018) was perhaps the first fictional retelling of Greek myth I read, Circe being a character in one book of The Odyssey by Homer. As a witch, she is certainly not described favourably by Odysseus and ends up being just another notch the bedpost of the Trojan war hero, on his very long journey back to his wife, Penelope.

However, Miller's first novel was The Song of Achilles (2011), released long ago in 2011. This retelling is instead based on The Iliad, Homer's prequel to The Odyssey. Miller focuses on the female experience during the Trojan war through Briseis, princess of Troy, who is captured by the Greeks and is a side character in The Iliad. Later writers Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes similarly focus on the female experience during this ten-year-long war documented in both epics. Cousins Helen of Troy, Penelope of Ithaca and Agamemnon's Clytemnestra have been characterised in multiple recent retellings. Take Barker's The Women of Troy (2021) and Daughters of Sparta (2021) by Claire Heywood, a Classicist who has recently joined the throng.

Image: Goodreads

Unsurprisingly, the feminist-writing-icon herself Margaret Atwood seems to have started the Greek wave with the fantastically named, The Penelopiad (2005). As is obvious from the title, her short novella is told from the perspective of Penelope, arguably the most famous woman in Greek fiction, apart from Helen of Troy herself. The book makes up just one part of the Canongate Myth Series, where multiple contemporary writers rewrite famous myths from all over the world. Atwood and all authors named above are able to grasp the female experience perfectly in myths dominated by men, creating beautifully rounded and realistic characters from those created as ornaments and prizes by Homer.

Atwood and all authors named above are able to grasp the female experience perfectly in myths dominated by men, creating beautifully rounded and realistic characters from those created as ornaments and prizes by Homer.

Miller's Galatea embodies this sentiment and is a great one to start with if you've never touched Greek-myth-fiction before. The short story is based on the Pygmalion myth in the Metamorphoses, which I had actually never heard of before reading Miller. I won't spoil too much about the story, but Miller brings to life a female character who is unnamed in the myth. Galatea has a complete "incel" (Miller's words, not mine) of a husband and the story pushes back against some common themes in Greek myth and fiction: that a woman is only good for pleasing a man; the fetishization of female purity; and the elevation of male fantasy over female identity.

Image: Goodreads

When discussing Greek myths, it is impossible not to mention Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey, as she was the first woman ever to do so. Haynes has also written an excellent non-fiction analysis of women in Greek myths, Pandora's Jar (2020). However, I really got to grips with the basics by listening to Steven Fry's Mythos (2017) audiobook (whilst on holiday in Greece I might add!). There is so much out there when it comes to myth, but I still want more! For example, I would love to see other female characters from The Odyssey brought to life in full feminist forms, such as Calypso or Nausica. But for now, I'll have to settle with reading Galatea a few more times!

(Visited 23 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ReLated Articles
magnifiercross
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap