Conventional tellings of mythology have long been questioned, including Greek Mythology, and in fiction and literature we have long seen versions focusing on the ‘heroines’ and not heroes–versions that tell their story, their perspective, and also many times question not only the dominant versions but also the perfect images of the heroes of Greek Myth (of course I do realise that even the ancient Greek writers themselves did tell of the ‘heroines; too). For women’s day today, I thought, I’d put together a list of a few recent such retellings which have a feminist perspective or tell the stories of the women who in the conventional versions of these stories are secondary or supporting characters or simply stand by while the ‘heroes’ engage in acts of valour and take away the glory. My list today has 5 such books, some released, some yet to come out (they will be out later in the year). I haven’t read them all but do want to explore these. (Of the ones I haven’t read, I can only give descriptions–they sound interesting but I can’t really say how they will actually turn out.)
Circe by Madeline Miller
Published in 2018 (I read it in 2019), this one by Madeline Miller tells us the story of a lesser god, Circe, from her point of view. Circe is born to Helios, the Sun God, but unlike her siblings is more mortal then god and as a result must face the Gods’ torment. She has no powers of her own but has some command over witchcraft. When she uses these powers to help one she loves, she ends up exiled to the island of Aiaia. Here she tries to live an independent life but within the bounds placed on her, trying to help others, but also putting both people and gods in their place when needed. Here also she hones her skills of witchcraft. Circe in this book is very human with their vulnerabilities, and what she yearns for most is love, from her family and also the ones she loves. Madeline Miller I thought did a great job putting together her story from the various legends and myths about her. (My full review is here).
Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myth and Monsters by Nikita Gill
This volume of verse and prose, published in 2019, tells the stories of not one but an assortment of Greek women of myth. From Medusa to Athena to Circe, we read the stories of mothers, warriors, creators, survivors, and destroyers. Being in verse and exploring so many different characters, myths and legends, this one sounds like a very different look into their stories. This is one I’m yet to read but here is a review I came across on another blog, Cups and Thoughts (here)
For the Immortal by Emlily Hauser
This one, published in 2018, is actually the third of a trilogy, and focuses on the Amazon Hippolyta and the lesser-known character Admete. Admete travels to the Amazons with Hercules, in search of a cure for her sick brother. But she soon finds that neither him nor the Amazons are how she had expected. Hercules and his warriors pose a threat to the Amazons’ way of life and also to Hippolyta’s secret, arousing in them mixed feelings. Before long, battle lines are drawn and both women must face war and make sacrifices. The book, does from some of the reviews I’ve read, gives events and characters its own interpretation.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
This as you can tell from the name is the story of Theseus and the minotaur, but also much much more. It is actually the story of Ariadne and Phaedra, princesses of Crete (told in their voices), whose lives take them on very different paths. Ariadne falls in love with Theseus, helps him destroy her own brother only to be abandoned by him on Naxos. On the other side, Phaedra finds herself married to Theseus, disillusioned sooner than her sister as to his character, but finding solace in ruling her husband’s kingdom. Ariadne meets and marries Dionysus, the god of wine and begins a happy life of her own. Both women are strong characters who recognise the boundaries placed around them by society and the world they live in and express themselves within these. In their narration we also see them questioning the injustice that women often have to bear, even for no fault of their own. This book releases next month and I will be posting a full review around then. But an excellent tale.
Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood
This title, also releasing later this year, is the story of Helen and Klystemenestra, princesses of Sparta. Brought up amidst luxury and plenty, they are married off to foreign kings (Menelaus and Agamemnon), expected to be obedient, submissive wives, conforming to social mores. But as their husbands’ cruelty, neglect, and ambition begins to weigh on them, they must push against the constraints and carve new lives for themselves. This one tells the story of these two women, and of the Trojan war through their eyes. I haven’t read this one yet, but I do want to.
So this was my little list for women’s day. Which of these have you read and which do you plan to? Any other retellings of Greek myth that you’d recommend? Any Women’s Day special reads you have planned? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
Cover images as always from Goodreads as are the descriptions of the books I haven’t yet read.