The best Odysseus books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Odysseus and why they recommend each book.

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The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of The Penelopiad

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.


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.

The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson (translator),

Book cover of The Odyssey

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.


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.

The Odyssey

By Homer, T.E. Shaw (translator),

Book cover of The Odyssey

It doesn’t get any more epic or classic than Homer’s Odyssey. Of the many trials the hero overcomes, outwitting Polyphemus (the Cyclops), and tying himself to his ship’s mast to hear the alluring call of the Sirens, are my two favorites. Everything about this war-weary hero’s saga to return back from Troy to Ithaca is storytelling at its finest. I’ve always loved Greek mythology, and Homer demonstrates the capricious pettiness of the gods as they play games with us mere mortals. When Odysseus finally gets home, everything is changed. He’s changed. At least his dog still recognizes him. Read it and you will understand why this is a story that books are written about.


Who am I?

I have come to better understand myself as a character in a wonderful story called life. That story, in this lifetime, is bookended by birth and death. It’s my own personal narrative of transformation and it’s ongoing. What will come next on my individual Hero’s Journey? Understanding this story structure provides me with insights and inspiration to make it a good story with a happy ending. It also helps me appreciate that there are many challenges to be overcome along the way.


I wrote...

Serpent Rising

By Victor Acquista,

Book cover of Serpent Rising

What is my book about?

Winner of the 2021 International Book Awards for Best New Age Fiction. A blend of mystery, suspense, adventure, and thriller, book one of The Saga of Venom and Flame recounts a heroine's journey of transformation into a warrior for truth in the great War of the Two Serpents.

Serena Mendez is a pill-popping dysfunctional who is haunted by trauma she experienced in her youth. She is unaware of her latent potential. A clandestine brotherhood hunts her for the threat she represents. To fulfill her true destiny and unleash the power within her blood, Serena journeys to six continents where she uncovers the truth of who she is, and what she must do. A warrior stirs—a Lightbringer… She is Serena Mendez… She is a Candelaria.

The War Nerd Iliad

By Homer, John Dolan,

Book cover of The War Nerd Iliad

Don't look for some high-brow version full of pseudo-Shakespearean language. Homer's story is a blood-and-guts tale (literally) of hard-bitten heroes, feuding among spiteful gods and bombastic military commanders. Try John Dolan's version from Feral house publishing, deliberately written as he imagined the story was first told – by soldiers sitting around a campfire exchanging yarns.


Who am I?

They say true happiness is finding something you love, and getting paid to do it, which makes me one happy bunny. Ancient history has been my passion, my hobby and my job for the past three decades, and I still wake up every morning looking forward to another day of it. Thanks to the internet I can study the classics and still hike in the mountains and kayak the mountain lakes of my corner of British Columbia. It doesn't get better than this.


I wrote...

Hercules: The First Superhero

By Philip Matyszak,

Book cover of Hercules: The First Superhero

What is my book about?

Hercules the superman, the monsterslaying machine, the myth – who was the man beneath the lionskin headdress, and does he really live up to his legend? This unique biography tells the story of the first superhero from his traumatic birth to his dramatic death.

Heroes

By Lucy Hughes-Hallett,

Book cover of Heroes: Saviors, Traitors, and Supermen: A History of Hero Worship

This book does several things. First, it offers fascinating bios of eight heroes from history and mythology. Two legendary Homeric characters—Achilles and Odysseus—are joined by six giant figures from history: Alcibiades, Cato, El Cid, Wallenstein, Francis Drake, and Garibaldi. Morally, these men are often a mix of good and bad—but their stories are always robustly colorful. Hughes-Hallett draws a fascinating distinction between Achilles and Odysseus—one hero chose death and glory, the other lied, cheated, and stole to retain life. 

Hughes-Hallett points out the dangers of hero worshiping giants whose prowess might outstrip their character; the dangers of seeking guidance from “great men” that we would be better off providing ourselves.


Who am I?

I am a kid from Brooklyn who is, and always has been, an inveterate hero worshiper. In a world that is generally mad and too often violent, I have weaned myself on the lives of heroes. I may lack their prowess, but I have striven for their dedication to excellence. I have published numerous books, including The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire. But it is my recent book that crowns a lifetime of thinking about heroes. What is their nature? What factors in the world give rise to the possibility—and the necessity—of heroes? How do we rationally define the concept “hero”? These are the questions my book addresses and seeks to answer.


I wrote...

Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

By Andrew Bernstein,

Book cover of Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

What is my book about?

The book starts with a broad range of examples of differing kinds of persons, distinguishing those who perform life-enhancing deeds, especially on an epic scale, from those of more prosaic attainments. Some are dauntless in the face of impediments and/or dangers that would dismay a lesser person. Some possess prowess, whether intellectual, bodily, or both, exceeding that of Everyman. Some pursue substantial life-promoting goals and never surrender their vision. Individuals who combine these traits tower over those who do not and show us what it means to be a hero.

Further, heroes are necessary for two reasons. First, the curing of disease, the defense of liberty, the identification of new truths, and so forth, often takes ability and courage beyond that of Everyman. It is the work of heroes. Second, a hero’s unswerving dedication to life-enhancing goals serves as inspiration to all honest persons to be the best versions of ourselves.

Argos

By Ralph Hardy,

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

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.


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.

The Power of Stories

By Horst Kornberger,

Book cover of The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children's Imagination and Consciousness

Why do we tell stories? What power lies within storytelling? From the great myths and legends to enchanting fairy tales, parables, fables, and folk tales, stories can have a great healing and educative power. They come from our subconscious and imagination, deep inside us. They have much to teach us about ourselves and the world we create around us.

Described as a manual for ‘soul ecology’, in his book Kornberger first explores this ‘story power’, then explains how to apply it to help a child develop, or to heal and transform a child with difficulties. He then discusses the art and practicalities of creating new stories to help children with particular needs.

This is a valuable and inspiring book for teachers, parents, creative writers, and students of literature.


Who am I?

My name is Susan Perrow. I am an Australian whose ‘work’ passion is stories and storytelling. I am an author, storyteller, teacher trainer, and parent educator. For the last 30 years, I have been documenting stories from other cultures, writing stories, and telling stories to groups of children and adults – all this woven in with a career in teaching, lecturing, and consulting in Australia, Africa, Asia, China, Europe, and North America. I currently have four published story collections, in a total of 14 languages. Three of my collections are Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour, An A-Z Collection of Behaviour Tales, and Stories to Light the Night: A Grief and Loss Collection for Children, Families and Communities.

I have chosen my fourth collection to introduce to you below.

I wrote...

Therapeutic Storytelling: 101 Healing Stories for Children

By Susan Perrow,

Book cover of Therapeutic Storytelling: 101 Healing Stories for Children

What is my book about?

Working with imaginative journeys and the subtle power of metaphor, Susan has developed the art of therapeutic storytelling for challenging behaviour and difficult situations. She encourages us to adopt the premise that ‘stories know the way’. She offers a tried and tested method for creating a unique story to help resolve issues, build emotional resilience and character, and nurture positive values. The 101 examples of therapeutic stories include many for children’s behavioural challenges as well as some for community and global issues, for all ages. The book also provides motivational thoughts and tips for creating your own stories developed from Susan’s work in practice, in many cultures and many countries.

A Thousand Ships

By Natalie Haynes,

Book cover of A Thousand Ships

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. 


Who am I?

I’ve been playing in the sandbox of Greek myth as a writer for two decades, and passionately absorbed by it for even longer. My mother raised us all to love ancient history, and I was further encouraged by my brother at age 7, who brought home a copy of Bulfinch and taught me the difference between Heracles and Hercules, cementing my delight and inspiring me to pursue a BA in Classical Studies. The result was not only my Helen of Sparta duology, by a plethora of other works exploring our relationships to the divine in the retelling of historically-grounded myths, some well-known, and some half-forgotten.


I wrote...

Helen of Sparta

By Amalia Carosella,

Book cover of Helen of Sparta

What is my book about?

Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city. These dreams foretold impending war—one only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing her home. In need of protection and support, she turns to Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans as the gods seek to use her for their own ends.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

The Odyssey

By Gareth Hinds,

Book cover of The Odyssey

Hinds' mesmerizing paintings set the scene for a beautiful graphic rendition of The Odyssey. Anyone who has moved or travelled a lot, or seems to not be able to find a way home, can appreciate the story of Odysseus. I read this book many times with my two (once) young children, hopefully preparing them for a life of travel and living in Greece with their wanderer, researcher mom. For us Greek mythology is not for learning a "western" canon, which was never defined by ethnic Greeks anyway. We read the Odyssey to appreciate our roots in Greek island cultures and the hospitality they offer, which this lovely version makes palpable.


Who am I?

Iʻve been travelling to islands before realizing I was seeking them. It was my political convictions that brought me to Haiti and Cuba, and later to Indonesia and Thai Islands due to my philosophical interests. When I headed to Greece for the first time it was to Corfu and the Peloponnese, my lineage, but also to Ithaca, Crete, the Cyclades, and eventually to Lesvos. Now I live in Hawaiʻi. I was attracted to the poetics of island landscapes, but as a scholar of space, society, and justice, I also understood that islands hold distinct sets of constraints and opportunities that require further study with intersectional and decolonial perspectives.


I wrote...

Sappho's Legacy: Convivial Economics on a Greek Isle

By Marina Karides,

Book cover of Sappho's Legacy: Convivial Economics on a Greek Isle

What is my book about?

It is an ethnographic and historical account that includes extensive interviews with Greek women cooperatives and micro-entrepreneurs, and the lesbian enclave in Skala Eresos on Lesvos. Set between Europe and West Asia, Lesvos offers an ideal setting to identify the subtleties of Northern European imperialism and the ethnicization of Greeks to demean Greek economic practices past and present. Sappho’s Legacy reveals that Greek island cultures hold robust forms of ancient and contemporary practices of hospitality, negotiated rather than contracted economic ties, and conviviality, that counter the neoliberal ethos. The volume combines post-colonial queer and feminist and lesbian analyses of space and economy to develop an understanding of Lesvos' island food system and the collective resistance it embodies across a diverse group of actors. 

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