Cover image from Circe by Madeline Miller shows a painting of a woman's face.

New Year, New Classics

I’ve loved mythology ever since I learned how to read.

In elementary school, I would sneak into the school library during lunchtime to meet Ms. Mitchell, the librarian, who had stacks of mythology books set aside for me. She even let me sit at her desk while she checked in material, and I devoured myth after myth along with my lunch.

The hero’s journey is a timeless concept but more often than not, and especially in the Classics, we find that the protagonist is a man and most if not all of the women in his story are just accessory. Stephanie’s recent blog post and display on the importance of women taking back their narratives also rings true for tales that are at the bedrock of modern storytelling. Stories and the voices that tell them hold power, but what happens to all the voices that are left out?

If you follow the Classics like I do, you’ll remember back to 2017 when Emily Wilson made history as the first woman in over 300 years to translate The Odyssey into English. Since George Chapman’s cornerstone English translation in 1815 and the 60 translations since then, the only people to ever translate the 12,110-line epic were men.

the odssey cover   song of achilles cover cropped   circe map

I’m a firm believer in reading as an act of honoring both the stories that have historically existed on the margins and the work that goes into bringing them to the forefront, and that’s why I’ve turned my love of the classics into a love of their retellings. Here are a few of my new favorite classics, feel free to stop by the Circulation desk and let me know what you think!

Circe by Madeline Miller: no longer a mere sliver in The Odyssey, the powerful witch Circe of Aeaea returns with a story of her life in her own voice.

House of Names by Colm Tóibín: the harrowing tale of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon retold and reexamined through the voices of Clytemnestra, Electra, and Orestes.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: told in tender verse, Miller pens the love story of Achilles and Patroclus- “he is half of my soul, as the poets say.”

Hadestown by Anais Mitchell: an ethereal concept album based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, (with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver as the crooning Orpheus!)

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood: a haunting retelling of The Odyssey through Penelope and a Chorus of her twelve hanged maidens.

Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age by Donna Zuckerberg: a scathing examination of the appropriation of the Classics by white supremacists, and the work of feminists and scholars to reclaim them.

– Megan, WFPL Circulation Department

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