The best books retelling Greek myths

Amalia Carosella Author Of Helen of Sparta
By Amalia Carosella

The Books I Picked & Why

The King Must Die

By Mary Renault

Book cover of The King Must Die

Why this book?

For many, this is part one of a definitive retelling of Theseus’s mythology—and for me, it was a personal delight to see how our individual readings (separated across space and time) led us down similar paths in the sketching of his character. Loathed and reviled by many today (inexplicably, to me) as The Worst Hero of Greek myth, Mary Renault and I both found in his mythic adventures a demigod who was truly worthy of the cult that grew up around him. I defy anyone who has read The King Must Die – and the second novel in Mary Renault’s Theseus duology  to come away from the experience still hating Theseus.


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Hand of Fire: A Novel of Briseis and the Trojan War

By Judith Starkston

Book cover of Hand of Fire: A Novel of Briseis and the Trojan War

Why this book?

Hand of Fire was one of the first books to truly win me over on Achilles as a real hero worthy of romanticism and admiration. Starkston’s exploration of Briseis’s character and her relationship to and with Achilles is so well-wrought, pulling both from the Hittites (the empire in which Briseis was born) and the Greek mythology and archeology. The way she weaves the two cultures together to create this story, priming Briseis for Achilles’s arrival to create a narrative that gives Briseis both power and agency is absolutely masterful. I loved that Starkston didn’t shy away from the supernatural hallmarks of the Iliad, either, allowing the gods and their direct influence to breathe inside her retelling of the Trojan War.


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Age of Bronze Volume 1: A Thousand Ships

By Eric Shanower

Book cover of Age of Bronze Volume 1: A Thousand Ships

Why this book?

This graphic novel is an absolute gift to anyone interested in both many of the lesser-known but no less fascinating narrative digressions of the Trojan War cycle and the visual exploration of what the late bronze age might have truly looked like. Shanower has given so much attention to period details and clothing, to the settings and backgrounds of palace, ship, and landscape. If you’re like me and you struggle to really see what the archaeological record has presented to us in rough floor plans and surviving artworks as a whole picture of life and living, this is an absolute must-read as a gorgeously illustrated narrative of the Trojan War—and the people who existed in the period we often refer to as Mycenean.


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Circe

By Madeline Miller

Book cover of Circe

Why this book?

As someone who plays in the sandbox of Greek Myth, as well as a pagan polytheist who believes the gods existed then and engage with us now, I often struggle to find books that transport me enough to leave behind my own interpretations and strongly held beliefs about the gods and their engagement with the mortal world. Circe not only managed to do so, but inspired me to dive back into my own works as well! Reading Circe, for me, felt like an effortless extension of the existing mythology. It felt like something real, something historically true. Madeline Miller and I may not agree on every point of interpretation, but it was impossible not to be swept away by Circe’s character and life as it unfolded on the page.


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A Thousand Ships

By Natalie Haynes

Book cover of A Thousand Ships

Why this book?

Chapter Thirty-Five. The whole of this book is fascinating—the way it is linear according to the story of each character it focuses on (the women caught up in the Trojan War, primarily) rather than trying to tell us the story linearly of the war itself was a stroke of literary genius as a means by which to piece together the mess of the war without struggling to balance the multitude of character perspectives that would have existed simultaneously in any one moment. But Chapter Thirty-Five, that glimpse of the muse Calliope and her perspective on the events being recorded by the author, is really what sold me on this book—what brought it to the next level for me entirely. 


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