In The Aeneid, Virgil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.
If you are one of the many people who have read and loved Madeline Miller’s Circe, these books are for you. Like Miller, the authors below took well-known stories and asked, “Whose story is not being told?” The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid each present only one version of the many ancient myths involving their heroes. Drawing from myths outside the epics, the authors of these novels give us both a larger and more intimate view of the characters we know. Why is Achilles’ relationship with Patroclus so important that it shifts the tides of war? Who was Penelope before she married Odysseus and who was she after he died? Since Virgil doesn’t allow her to speak a word, who is Lavinia? What happens to all the women living in Troy at the end of the Trojan War? As the books listed below answer these questions, they will enrich your understanding of the classics and give you new ways to engage in their world.
“I’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself.” Margaret Atwood
Queen Briseis has been stolen from her conquered homeland and given as a concubine to the foreign warrior Achilles. She is given only a few words in Homer’s epic but in these pages she comes fully to life. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp–concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead–as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion.
The Iliad retold as a story of love that endures despite the will of the gods.