8 Best Novels Based On Ancient Greek Mythology Like “Circe”
Mythological tales have been all the rage in recent years. This small subgenre of historical fiction takes the stories that make up the very fabric of our society and adapts them to more modern times. The impact of these stories is felt just as vividly today as it was in the ancient world.
Ancient Greek mythology, in particular, is a treasure trove of gods and heroes, romances and tragedies. The stories of the most famous characters like Zeus and Hercules are told over and over again. But what about the lesser-known figures, namely the women (and men) who suffered the consequences of pious and heroic actions? These spectacular novels give them a voice.
‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller
For some, Circe was considered a goddess of witchcraft. For others, she was just a simple witch to be avoided, especially if you were a man. Circe lived alone on the island of Aeaea after being hunted for her witchcraft by her father, the sun god Helios. Sailors with unsavory intentions would stop on his island and find themselves turned into pigs. One such man was Odysseus, whom Circe took a liking to and eventually conceived a son with.
Madeleine Millerit is Circetakes all mentions of the witch in the myth and weaves together a rich story told entirely from Circe’s perspective. From the libel she suffered at the hands of her father’s court to her largely solitary life on Aeaea, Circe is a story of female power, strength and magic.
‘Ariane’ by Jennifer Saint
In myth, Ariadne is primarily known as the wife of the wine god Dionysus or the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who helped the hero Theseus defeat the Minotaur. Although she is all of these things, Ariane is more than what the men in her life have defined her to be. After being abandoned on the island of Naxos by Theseus, Dionysus fell in love with her and made her his wife. Ariadne was Dionysus’ right-hand man, leading the Maenads and Satyrs with him and offering advice.
Jennifer Saintit is Ariadnedoes almost the same as Circe by taking a lesser-known female figure from mythology and giving her a voice. Ariane’s story is one of family politics, love after heartbreak, and taking a stand in a man’s world.
“The Silence of Girls” by Pat Barker
Pat Barkerit is The silence of the girls is not your average Trojan War story. This one is entirely told from the point of view of Briseis, mistress of Achilles. In the myth, Briseis was given to Achilles as a war prize after the Trojan-aligned city Lyrnessus was sacked. By all accounts, she was treated well by Achilles and his companion Patroclus, so much so that when Agamemnon forcibly took Briseis as his concubine, Achilles refused to fight for him. The trio were so close that when Patroclus and Achilles died, it was Briseis who anointed their bodies.
Pat Barker’s novel not only gives Briseis its voice, but tells the story of women on the battlefield. While the men fought, the women cared for the wounded and dying and kept the camp running smoothly. Their relationship with each other demonstrates the true power of female solidarity.
“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
Madeleine Millerit is The Song of Achilles focuses on the relationship between Achilles and his longtime companion Patroclus. Although Achilles’ mother, Thetis, disapproves of the friendship, Patroclus accompanied Achilles to the battlefield of Troy and supported the hero. In myth, Patroclus is best known for donning Achilles’ armor when he refused to fight and was accidentally killed by Hector. Achilles is understandably devastated and vows to mix Patroclus’ ashes with his own when he meets his inevitable death at the hands of Paris.
The novel is told entirely from the point of view of Patroclus, who develops feelings for Achilles. Whereas in the myth it is only inferred that they are more than friends, the novel casts the story in a very clear romantic light. As in the myth, the couple have their ashes mixed together and are reunited in the afterlife with Thetis’ approval.
“The Children of Jocasta” by Natalie Haynes
Anyone who has studied Freudian theory knows Oedipus, the man who killed his father and married his mother. But who exactly was his mother? Jocasta was the queen of Thebes, married to King Laius. An oracle warned the king that any future son would kill him and marry his wife, so when Jocasta gave birth the king gave the baby boy away. Fast forward fifteen years, a young Oedipus has a run-in with the king on the road and kills him, thus fulfilling the prophecy. After solving the riddle of the Sphinx, Oedipus becomes the new king of Thebes and unknowingly marries his mother, Jocasta. It’s safe to say that things didn’t end well when the truth was revealed – Oedipus gouged out his eyes and Jocasta killed herself.
Natalie Haynesit is The Children of Jocasta tells the story from Jocasta’s perspective, with all the anguish and pain of marrying the much older king, losing her baby, then her husband, and then the shocking revelation of her new husband’s true identity. The novel also focuses on Jocasta and Oedipus’ often-forgotten daughter, Ismene, who must deal with the fallout along with her sister Antigone.
‘Elektra’ by Jennifer Saint
Jennifer Saintthe second novel by Electra, tells the story of three women who are plagued by tragedy at the hands of the Trojan War. Clytemnestra is best known as the sister of Helen of Troy and the wife of Agamemnon. Elektra is their vengeful daughter. Cassandra is a Trojan princess and sister of Paris and Hector. In the myth, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia for favorable winds. Clytemnestra is furious with her husband for murdering their daughter and taking a lover. Together they plot to kill Agamemnon, and they succeed. Cassandra, whom Agamemnon has taken as the price of war, tries to warn him not to return home for his inevitable death but is cursed by Apollo to see the future and no one believes her. Elektra ends up killing her mother to avenge her father.
The novel takes this messy tale of feuding families, war and murder and tells it from the perspective of the women involved, showing how they deal with the things that haunt them – Clytemnestra’s grief and revenge, Cassandra’s curse in disguise. as a gift, and Elektra’s hatred for her mother.
“Penelope” by Margaret Atwood
A clever game about the illiad, Penelope tells the story of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. In the myth, Penelope was seen as a faithful wife who waited twenty years for Odysseus to return from the Trojan War. Penelope ruled her kingdom of Ithaca in his absence and rejected the advances of several suitors who believed Odysseus would never return. Penelope would tell them that she would choose a suitor once she had finished weaving her stepfather’s burial shroud. But unbeknownst to them, Penelope and her servants unraveled the shroud every night so that it was never complete.
Margaret Atwood tells the story of Penelope from her perspective, living in 21st century Hades. Penelope recounts her life in Sparta before marrying Odysseus, her absence and the consequences of her return. Atwood gives Penelope her signature wit to set the record straight on her life, including the rumor that she gave birth to the god Pan after an affair with Hermes.
“A Touch of Darkness” by Scarlett St. Clair
This is one for spicy novel readers. Scarlett St. Clairit is A touch of darkness adapts the myth of Hades and Persephone. Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Persephone herself was the goddess of spring. In mythology, Hades, lord of the underworld, sees Persephone in a field of narcissus flowers and is immediately in love with her. He takes her to the Underworld, where she eats a pomegranate seed that traps her there. Grief-stricken, Demeter plunges the world into eternal winter until a deal is struck – Persephone is to spend six months in the Underworld with Hades and six months with her mother, hence the seasons.
The novel is a contemporary version of the myth, with Persephone living in New Athens as a journalist who wishes to pursue a human life despite her status as a goddess. Hades is still lord of the underworld, but he’s also a sexy nightclub owner and philanthropist. Enter the haters at the amorous trope.
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