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8 Retellings of Greek Epic Poetry

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)

Graphic with text 8 Retellings of Greek Epic Poetry and photo of the Trojan horse

One of the categories I've been loving for the Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge is "Retelling of a Classic." Though I'm no expert on Greek epic poetry, I enjoy retellings of it SO. MUCH. Here are some I'd recommend:

1. Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles - Here's my review from 2019: "I love this book SO. MUCH. Miller crafts a brilliant story rooted in mythology and in the gritty reality of love. Her interpretation of the story of Achilles through the eyes of his lover Patroclus is empathetic and powerful and beautifully written. I have never read the whole of The Iliad, but the characters I'm familiar with from movies and other epics are empathetic and complex and well drawn. I've started Miller's Circe immediately!"

2. Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls - Here's my review: "Gorgeous novel! I'm so glad that I read this one shortly after Madeleine Miller's The Song of Achilles. In The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker tells the story of the Trojan War predominantly from the perspective of Briseis. She is the young wife of a prominent man . . . until her city is conquered and she becomes Achilles's slave. While she was certainly humanized in The Song of Achilles, this perspective on her life brilliantly exposes the point of view of a woman who is nothing more than property, who soaks up even the smallest bit of kindness without mistaking it for true regard. Barker's writing is eloquent and spare and just beautiful. "

3. Natalie Haynes's A Thousand Ships - I recently read this one! "'A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches, so why do we?' Natalie Haynes's A Thousand Ships, which I listened to via, is a brilliant retelling of the stories of the Trojan War, including The Aeneid, The Iliad, and The Odyssey, from the perspective of the women who are impacted. Whether it's Penelope writing letters to the absent Odysseus or the tragic Cassandra who foretells the future over and over but can't get anyone to believe her, these women are flawed and vulnerable and strong but always keenly aware of their place in society (if they forget, briefly, they're swiftly reminded). This is in the vein of Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles and Circe and Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls, but it's also unique, told in episodic segments, cycling through the stories of twenty or so women, some repeatedly and others for one, brief moment.⠀

"This is a a gorgeous novel, and the audiobook—read by the author—is a phenomenal experience. I highly recommend it. "

4. Madeline Miller's Circe - I said this about Circe: "Gorgeous interpretation of the life of Circe, who I knew only from The Odyssey. By centering Circe's story, Miller reveals the corruption in the power of this world: of men over women, of gods over mortals (and everyone with less power than them), and finds the ways that Circe can claim her identity for her own."

I read these next two before I joined Bookstagram, so I wasn't writing reviews regularly. Here are the synopses from the publisher:

5. Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad - "Margaret Atwood returns with a shrewd, funny, and insightful retelling of the myth of Odysseus from the point of view of Penelope. Describing her own remarkable vision, the author writes in the foreword, 'I’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself.'"

6. Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain - "Cold Mountain is a novel about a soldier’s perilous journey back to his beloved near the Civil War's end. At once a love story & a harrowing account of one man’s long walk home, Cold Mountain introduces a new talent in American literature.

"Based on local history & family stories passed down by Frazier’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war & back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. His odyssey thru the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman & Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.

"Frazier reveals insight into human relations with the land & the dangers of solitude. He also shares with the great 19th century novelists a keen observation of a society undergoing change. Cold Mountain recreates a world gone by that speaks to our time."


The Coen Brothers' brilliant movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a phenomenal and funny retelling of The Odyssey, and it has one of the best soundtracks ever. Check out the documentary Down from the Mountain about the creation of the soundtrack.

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