The best books that put a new twist on the Odyssey

Emily Hauser Author Of For the Most Beautiful
By Emily Hauser

The Books I Picked & Why

The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood

Book cover of The Penelopiad

Why 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.

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By Madeline Miller

Book cover of Circe

Why 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!

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

By Ralph Hardy

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

Why 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.

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Women & Power: A Manifesto

By Mary Beard

Book cover of Women & Power: A Manifesto

Why 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. 

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The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson

Book cover of The Odyssey

Why 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.

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