Ancient Greece, like Ancient Rome, is not a period of history that used to interest me very much, but in recent years I’ve started to find it much more appealing. Here are some books I’ve read and reviewed on my blog that are set in Ancient Greece or about Greek mythology; feel free to recommend more in the comments at the bottom of the page.
This was the first book I read by Mary Renault, and although it didn’t become an instant favourite, I enjoyed it enough to want to read more! The King Must Die is the first of two novels telling the story of Theseus, best knowing for battling the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of the Palace of Knossos. This first volume covers the early part of his life, beginning with his childhood in Troizen, and is a clever blend of history and myth.
The sequel to The King Must Die takes us through the remainder of Theseus’s story, including his time as King of Athens, his relationships with Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, and Phaedra, a princess of Crete. I preferred this book to the first one, possibly because I read it a few years later and in that time I had familiarised myself with some of the myths and had more idea of what I was reading about!
This is the story of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos and Queen Pasiphaë of Crete, but also the story of her younger sister, Phaedra, and is written from both of their perspectives. I really enjoyed this book and although it covers many of the same events as the Mary Renault books above, including the killing of the Minotaur, the portrayal of the characters is entirely different.
This retelling of the Iliad is written from the perspective of Patroclus, the friend and companion of Achilles. Madeline Miller creates a beautifully moving love story for Patroclus and Achilles, as well as making the story of the Trojan War accessible and understandable even to those with limited knowledge of Ancient Greece.
Although I enjoyed The Song of Achilles, I loved this second Madeline Miller book even more. It’s about Circe, the witch who appears in Homer’s Odyssey, and is a beautifully written novel, describing Circe’s time in exile on the island of Aiaia and how visitors from the outside world draw her into a number of other Greek myths. Highly recommended!
This dark, powerful and often brutal novel tells the story of Briseis, who is given to the Greek warrior Achilles as a slave following the fall of her city during the Trojan War. This is a fascinating and compelling novel – my first by Pat Barker – but the title had made me think we would be hearing from more than one woman and I was surprised to find that so much of the book was actually written from Achilles’ perspective.
This is a retelling of the events surrounding the Trojan War written from the perspective of not just one or two but many of the women who had a role to play in the war and its aftermath – including Penthesilea, the Amazon queen, Cassandra the prophet, Thetis, the sea nymph and mother of Achilles, Iphigenia, cruelly sacrificed on what should have been her wedding day, and Creusa, who wakes in the night to find the city of Troy in flames. It’s the book I had expected The Silence of the Girls to be! However, it does feel more like a collection of short stories rather than a novel and I found the non-linear structure confusing.
In this, the first of Emily Hauser’s Golden Apple trilogy, the story of the Trojan War is told from the perspective of two female characters – Krisayis and Briseis – who are given little attention in other versions such as Homer’s Iliad. This approach to the story makes it feel fresh and original. I enjoyed it, although not all aspects of the novel worked for me, particularly several chapters in which we meet the gods on Mount Olympus. I had no such problems with Hauser’s next book, however…
A very enjoyable novel which reimagines the story of Atalanta, with a focus on her involvement with Jason and the Argonauts and their search for the legendary Golden Fleece. A mixture of adventure, history, mythology and romance, this is an entertaining read. It’s a sequel, of sorts, to For the Most Beautiful, but the books don’t need to be read in order.
The final book in Hauser’s trilogy introduces us to two more heroines of Greek mythology: Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Admete, daughter of the King of Tiryns. The story incorporates elements of the Hercules myth as well. Although it’s not necessary to have read the previous two novels first, it would be a good idea because this one links back to the first in quite a clever way.
A retelling of the tragic story of the House of Atreus, described in Aeschylus’ famous trilogy, the Oresteia. Written from the perspectives of three different characters – Clytemnestra, Orestes and Electra – this is a fascinating and eerily atmospheric novel, but one that I found lacking in passion and emotion.
Like For the Most Beautiful above, this novel reimagines events from the Iliad from a female perspective – that of Briseis, a character I warmed to immediately. One notable aspect of this book was the focus on Briseis’ work as a healer. Well-researched and very readable!
A fascinating novel from 1974 about Sappho, the Greek lyric poet. Very little is known about Sappho today, but Martha Rofheart uses the known facts as a starting point to give a possible interpretation of what her life could have been like. I wasn’t entirely swept away by this book, but I did find it an entertaining and educational read.
Well, this one needs no introduction! It probably doesn’t really belong on a list of Ancient Greek historical fiction, but I felt I had to include it here anyway. I read a prose translation by T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) which gave me no problems at all.
Have you read any of these? What are your favourite books about Ancient Greece?