Good Minds Suggest: Madeline Miller's Picks that Prove the Greeks' Lasting Power

Posted by Goodreads on March 26, 2018

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When author Madeline Miller was a child, her mother read her Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey as bedtime stories, sparking a lifelong fascination with Greek mythology's gods and monsters. In school, Miller studied Greek and Latin, earning her B.A. and M.A. in Classics, and in 2012 she published her first novel, the Orange Prize-winning The Song of Achilles.

Despite her love of the classics, she says she was bothered that the female characters in the tales seemed sidelined to the role of either the murderous villain or tragic pawn. So in her second novel, Circe, Miller set out to create a new and nuanced voice for Homer's powerful goddess who turned Odysseus' men into pigs. As an expert and fan of Greek mythology, Miller recommends five more novels rooted in these ancient stories.

"From Percy Jackson to The Penelopiad, from House of Names to Harry Potter, Greek myths keep popping up everywhere. But this is nothing new: These powerful and passionate stories have been captivating readers for going on three millennia now. Here are five books rooted in Greek myths that knocked my socks off."

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"Inspired by one of Hercules' labors, in which the hero must defeat a hideous monster, this novel by poet and classicist Anne Carson imagines the tale more intimately. Geryon, a little red boy with wings, falls in love with a rebel named Heracles. Beautiful and haunting."

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"Wilson, a classicist at University of Pennsylvania, has created a brilliant and accessible new translation that captures the excitement and potency of the original. Perfect both for those who are new to The Odyssey as well as those who want to see an old favorite shine again."

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"A retelling of the Antigone story, set in modern England and focused on a family of Muslim immigrants. Sophocles' tragic tale of the clash between what we owe to the state and what we owe to those we love finds a powerful new expression here."

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"Shakespeare's version of The Iliad is one of the most bitter and bitterly funny plays you'll ever have occasion to read. Despite its acid condemnation of pretty much everyone for their obsession with "wars and lechery" (still relevant today), it has a number of surprisingly moving moments, including a genuinely tender scene between Achilles and Patroclus."

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"Wait a minute, I hear you cry, that's about bunnies, not ancient myth! Au contraire. This story of a ragged band of refugees fleeing the destruction of their home, forced to make a perilous journey to a new homeland where they must fight a terrible war, is deeply rooted in both The Aeneid and The Odyssey. There's even a Cassandra character and quotes from ancient tragedies. Also, it includes one of the most heroic single-combat scenes I've ever read, rabbits and all."

Want more book recommendations from authors? Check out our Good Minds Suggest series.

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Katya (new)

Katya Lebeque I studied Classical Civilizations in college for years, and so I always love to see someone bringing myth to life - especially a female 'side character' that reads as a flat, somewhat chauvinistic stereotype in the original. Go Circe!

message 2: by Robin (new)

Robin I read Watership Down and was truly fascinated how humans were compared to rabbits. Great read.

Judy M. Fanetti Robin wrote: "I read Watership Down and was truly fascinated how humans were compared to rabbits. Great read."

I loved Watership Down years ago. I just may read it again.

message 4: by Edith (new)

Edith Judy M. Fanetti wrote: "Robin wrote: "I read Watership Down and was truly fascinated how humans were compared to rabbits. Great read."

I loved Watership Down years ago. I just may read it again."

I agree with both of you. I read it back in the 80's, and it blew me away. Seems like some of these would be worth reading again, including The Odyssey and Watership Down. Loved both of those books. And Troilus and Cressida would be worth checking out, too. Oh dear gods, my TBR pile just grew, didn't it?!

message 5: by Sul (new)

Sul In case you enjoy poems inspired by the Greek myths, feel free to have a look at these on Helen and Cassandra, and also about Socrates:

message 6: by Joanne (new)

Joanne Stack Robin wrote: "I read Watership Down and was truly fascinated how humans were compared to rabbits. Great read."

If you enjoyed Watership Down, you may also like Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis.

message 7: by Jinny (new)

Jinny Webber Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin spins off the Aeneid, so though the setting is Italy, there's a link to the Trojan War. Highly recommended.

message 8: by Robert (new)

Robert Cutler Joanne wrote: "Robin wrote: "I read Watership Down and was truly fascinated how humans were compared to rabbits. Great read."

If you enjoyed Watership Down, you may also like Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis."

Thanks for the suggestion. I loved Watership Down and I like the looks of 15 dogs.

message 9: by J. Andrew (new)

J. Andrew Brantley Here are a few novels I'd recommend that are retelling of Greek myths.

The King Must Die Published in 1958, Mary Renault has written her own interpretation of the Theseus myth, filling in the blanks with own scholarship, as well as archaeological finds of the times. The story is nothing short of a miracle, illuminating the process by which Hellenic Greece supplanted the Minoan matriarchal societies. While there are concerns of misogyny, I highly recommend this novel.

The Winged Girl of Knossos Published in 1933 and was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1934, "Winged Girl" is a retelling of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, but from a Minoan/Cretan perspective, rather than the Greek/Hellenistic one to which we are accustomed. The protagonist is Inas, daughter and only child of Diadalos, an energetic girl who makes herself at ease in all parts of society. She dives for sponges with the fishermen, she vaults bulls with the athletes, she observes and studies with her wise father, and is also at home among royalty when visiting her friend, the princess Ariadne. But the powerful civilization of Crete is soon to encounter its downfall, and Inas will find herself pulled in multiple directions and her loyalty tested. This setting leads us into a possible real-life explanation to the myth of Icarus's wings and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.

Sirena Sirena is a mermaid; one of fifty of her kind, the result of a rape by Eros the god of love and a parrot fish, she is a creature of the gods, but not immortal. However, she and her sisters can become immortal if a man loves them. To help them with this they were given the gift of song to entrance. The Trojan War approaches and more ships come by their rocky homes. They sing for the men to come to them, but the men drown or die on the rocky islands which have no food or water on them. Sirena is disgusted and saddened by the deaths, but her sisters don't care as long as they become immortal. So she leaves and decides to forever live alone. But on the island where she decides to live a man is abandoned for ten long years, and a mermaid who thought she could only seduce becomes aware that true love does exists after all.

Troy Xanthe is nursemaid to Hector's son and also works in the Blood Room, the place where wounded soldiers are taken. When she cares for Alastor, Eros shoots his arrow into her heart, and she falls in love. Does Alastor feel the same? Xanthe's sister, Marpessa, who works in Helen and Paris's household, is able to see the gods and goddesses, but having this ability does not prevent her from being placed in the grasp of love by Aphrodite. Iason works in Hector's stable and is much more comfortable talking with the animals than with Xanthe, whom he loves. Can't remember all the facts about the Trojan War and the myriad gods and goddesses? Not to worry --- Geras gives you all the information you need to understand and enjoy the story.

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