The best books that put a new twist on the Odyssey

Emily Hauser Author Of For the Most Beautiful
By Emily Hauser

Who am I?

I’m a writer of historical fiction about the ancient world, and an academic – I’m a Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History and teach and research Classics at the University of Exeter. I’ve loved the ancient world – and historical fiction about antiquity – ever since I read Robert Graves’ I, Claudius at the age of eleven. Now, as both a writer and a classicist, I delve into the ancient world from all kinds of different angles – whether that’s teaching classes about women writers and Classics, clambering over the ruins of Troy, analysing almost-lost texts from the ancient world, or writing novels that give a voice to the women of ancient Greek myths.

I wrote...

For the Most Beautiful

By Emily Hauser,

Book cover of For the Most Beautiful

What is my book about?

Three thousand years ago a war took place that gave birth to legends  to Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, and Hector, prince of Troy. It was a war that shook the very foundations of the world. But what if there was more to this epic conflict? What if there was another, hidden tale of the Trojan War? Now is the time for the women of Troy to tell their story.

In this novel full of passion and revenge, loyalty and betrayal, bravery and sacrifice, Emily Hauser breathes exhilarating new life into one of the greatest legends of all  in a tale that has waited millennia to be told.

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The books I picked & why

The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of The Penelopiad

Why did I love this book?

This book had to be high up on my list because it’s the book that really inspired my own writing! I first read it during my PhD in Classics at Yale, and I was immediately captivated by it – both the premise (retelling the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view) and Atwood’s brilliantly laconic, first-person narration. It’s both witty, clever, and complex – you want to read and re-read it just to unravel all the different layers as you begin to discover the different angles Atwood has on Odysseus’ fantastic tale. Also, written in 2005, this book really was way ahead of its time in bringing the women’s voices from ancient Greek myth to the fore.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Penelopiad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Penelope. Immortalised in legend and myth as the devoted wife of the glorious Odysseus, silently weaving and unpicking and weaving again as she waits for her husband's return.

Now Penelope wanders the underworld, spinning a different kind of thread: her own side of the story - a tale of lust, greed and murder.

The Myths series brings together some of the world's finest writers, each of whom has retold a myth in a contemporary and memorable way. Authors in the series include Karen Armstrong, Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt, David Grossman, Natsuo Kirino, Alexander McCall Smith, Philip Pullman, Ali Smith and…


By Madeline Miller,

Book cover of Circe

Why did I love this book?

As well as being a writer, I’m also an academic – and in my class on women writers and classics, Madeline Miller’s Circe is a firm favourite among all of us, my students as well as me! What’s so brilliant about it is that a marginal female character from the Odyssey gets brought to the fore – but this really is her story, not the story of Odysseus, or simply the Odyssey retold. My students and I love discussing what’s at stake in putting Circe’s story front and centre – this is a perfect book to think through how women’s stories have traditionally been sidelined. Madeline is also a wonderful person and a brilliant writer – her sparse, lyrical style really captures the essence of ancient Greece – so I always love recommending her books!

By Madeline Miller,

Why should I read it?

30 authors picked Circe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The international Number One bestseller from the author of The Song of Achilles, shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction

Woman. Witch. Myth. Mortal. Outcast. Lover. Destroyer. Survivor. CIRCE.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child - not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens…

Book cover of Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog

Why did I love this book?

This book honestly brought me to tears – it is so moving, and brings a whole new voice to the story of the Odyssey. I’m definitely a dog person (just ask my black labrador!), so the idea of telling the story of Odysseus through the voice of his loyal dog, Argos, immediately drew me in. It’s a beautiful read – even though it’s a young adult book, it’s one of my favourite Odyssey reworkings to indulge in, simply for the sheer emotion of the bond between Odysseus and his dog.

By Ralph Hardy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Argos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series will love this reimagining of Homer’s The Odyssey told from the point of view of Odysseus’s loyal dog, Argos.

Now available in paperback, this rousing story of devotion and determination is an original take on one of the most beloved myths of all time.

For twenty years, the great hero Odysseus struggles to return to home on Ithaka. He defeats monsters. He outsmarts the Cyclops. He battles the gods. He does whatever it takes to reunite with his family.

And what of that family—his devoted wife, Penelope; his young son, Telemachos; his dog,…

Book cover of Women & Power: A Manifesto

Why did I love this book?

This might not be your most obvious pick for an Odyssey list, but Mary Beard’s book is special to me for a couple of reasons. She taught me when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, and I’ll never forget our very first lecture as newly-minted freshmen when she stunned us into silence by parading before us a slideshow of images of winged, bell-bedecked Roman phalluses... Her straight-to-the-point, incisive writing always reminds me of the lessons she taught us, always to question and open things up to rigorous analysis, and her opening feminist discussion in this book (which is a great read in its own right) of Telemachus’ silencing of Penelope in the first book of the Odyssey is a brilliant example of this. 

By Mary Beard,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Women & Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At long last, Mary Beard addresses in one brave book the misogynists and trolls who mercilessly attack and demean women the world over, including, very often, Mary herself. In Women & Power, she traces the origins of this misogyny to its ancient roots, examining the pitfalls of gender and the ways that history has mistreated strong women since time immemorial. As far back as Homer's Odyssey, Beard shows, women have been prohibited from leadership roles in civic life, public speech being defined as inherently male. From Medusa to Philomela (whose tongue was cut out), from Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren…

The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson (translator),

Book cover of The Odyssey

Why did I love this book?

No list of Odyssey reworkings would be complete without Emily Wilson’s stunning translation. I first heard Emily give a talk on her translation at Harvard, and the clear, spare voice she brings to the poetry, as well as the thoughtful way she talked about her decision-making process and some of the major problems in giving a fresh new angle to the Odyssey – particularly the fact that it has always, up till now, been translated by men – makes her version my favourite translation of this wonderful, complicated text.

By Homer, Emily Wilson (translator),

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Odyssey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty and power; about marriage, family and identity; and about travellers, hospitality and the changing meanings of home in a strange world.

This vivid new translation-the first by a woman-matches the number of lines in the Greek original, striding at Homer's sprightly pace. Emily Wilson employs elemental, resonant language and an iambic pentameter to produce a translation with an enchanting "rhythm and rumble" that avoids proclaiming its own grandeur. An engrossing tale told in a compelling new…

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