The 14 Best Greek Mythology Retellings

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The 14 Best Greek Mythology Retellings

To paraphrase Taylor Swift, some things just never go out of style. Such is the case with the varied tales of Greek mythology, which have been with us in some form or other for thousands of years, from Homer’s epic about the gods-influenced Trojan War to Ovid’s compendium of familiar origin stories that created many of the tales we know today. This may help explain the rise in Greek mythological retellings in the world of publishing, a subgenre that has exploded in popularity in recent years. 

Many of the most exciting retellings have added an explicitly feminist focus to these classic tales, giving the frequently oft-ignored and sidelined women of these myths the voice and agency that they lack in far too many of these tales. From Medea and Clytemnestra to Circe and Briseis, these women are suddenly the best reason to revisit these classic tales, and maybe even revisit the way we’ve framed our understanding of who they were or what their stories were meant to represent. 

Here are our picks for the 14 best Greek mythology retellings. 

Circe Best Greek Mythology retellings

Circe by Madeline Miller

It seems rather impossible to have a list of the best Greek mythology retellings without including Miller’s Circe, an award-winning bestseller whose runaway success is a big reason for the sudden popularity of this particular subgenre. (Also, it’s excellent.)

A retelling (sort of) of the life of the famous witch from Homer’s The Odyssey, Circe reimagines its central character—who only appears briefly in the epic poem and exists there as little more than a sexual object and a villain for Odysseus to thwart with his brilliant manly wiles—into a relatable, three-dimensional figure, full of rage and desires of her own. The richly layered story intersects with multiple other Greek myths, including the story of Daedalus and Jason and Medea’s search for the Golden Fleece, and explores Circe’s connection to the isle of Aiaia where she is banished. Beautifully written prose, a propulsive feel, and a sharply written protagonist who comes by her dark edges honestly, this is a remarkable story in every respect. 

Lore Olympus Best Greek Mythology Retellings

Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe

A megapopular Webtoon that has racked up over  250 episodes, Lore Olympus is a contemporary retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone, where the world of the gods is set in our present, complete with cell phones and corporate emails, swanky galas and regular trips to the therapist. 

Though the slow-burn romance between Hades and Persephone is the primary draw of the story, Lore Olympus incorporates the stories of at least a dozen other gods and goddesses into its larger explanation of love, heartbreak, friendship, trauma, secrets, and power. From Artemis and Hera to Eros and Hecate, many of the stories of the series’ supporting characters become just as compelling and important as its central romance. 

A Thousand Ships Best Greek Mythology Retellings

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Author Natalie Haynes has written a half dozen Greek mythology retellings, including great titles like The Children of Jocasta, Stone Blind, Pandora’s Jar, and more. But her best work is probably the sprawling, sweepingly complex A Thousand Ships, which reimagines the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of the female characters who are often restricted to the sidelines of the famous stories of Virgil, Homer, Euripides, and others. Shifting chapters give voice to recognizable figures like Helen of Troy, whose face famously launched the thousand ships the book is named after, and Odysseus’s long-suffering wife Penelope, to ​​the muse Calliope, the widow Andromache, the fearless Amazon princess Penthesilea who battles Achilles and many, many more.

In fact, the book contains almost 50 individual characters, and the ways their stories connect, reflect, and circle one another is genuinely remarkable to watch unfold. It’s a fabulous achievement. 

Wrath Goddess Sing cover Must Read Trans Lit

Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane

One of the most original retellings of the story of Greek hero Achilles you’ll find, Wrath Goddess Sing reimagines the famous warrior as a trans woman. This version of the story begins at the point in The Illiad when Achilles is hiding among the Kallai in Skyros, dressed as a woman, in an attempt to avoid being forced to join Agamemnon’s armies. Author Maya Deane asks: What if that disguise isn’t a costume at all, but an expression of Achilles’ true self?

Though characters and central narrative elements from The Illad appear throughout the story, the plot ultimately becomes something more convoluted than is strictly necessary, with godly plots, counterplots, and revenge schemes at work at any given moment. (And basically everyone seems to have beef with Achilles at some point or other.) But it feels important to reward the sheer level of risk-taking going on here, as the story elevates various trans perspectives and boldly asks questions about what it means to be a woman and a man in the world of war.

Ariadne Best Greek Mythology Retellings

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Author Jennifer Saint has written a trio of fantastic female-focused Greek mythology retellings—Ariadne, Elektra, and Atalanta—but her most remarkable is still her first, if only because reframing the story of Theseus and the Minotaur not around his heroism, but the story of how he betrayed one sister (Ariadne) and married the other (Phaedra). 

Ariadne herself makes for a lovely heroine, an intelligent and brave girl who loves her brother Asterion, regardless of his monstrous shape, and a determined survivor who refuses to let the worst things that have happened to her define who she is or who she’ll become. 

The Silence of the Girls Best Greek Mythology Retellings

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Homer’s The Illiad is a war epic that’s almost entirely male-centric. Though several famous women appear in the story of the Trojan War—the beautiful Helen of Troy, the prophetic Cassandra, the tragic Andromache—they get relatively little focus and almost no agency. This is particualrly true of Briseis, the former princess turned imprisoned slave who exists to be little more than an object for Agamemnon and Achilles to fight over. 

But in Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, Briseis is given her voice back, and in doing so, the entire focus of Homer’s poem is shifted, as she is allowed to bear witness to the violence that men do—to women, each other and the world. 

Clytemnestra cover Best Greek Mythology retellings

Clytemnestra by Costanza Cosati

Clytemnestra is perhaps one of Greek mythology’s most frequently revisited (and reviled) figures—she appears in ancient works ranging from Homer to Aeschylus to Sophocles and is a woman whose motives and impact we’re still trying to unpack in contemporary works today. But Costanza Cosati’s debut novel spends less than a quarter of its length on the events that most people associate with the name “Clytemnestra”—the sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia in the name of a fair wind for Greece’s soldiers, her violent plot to take revenge against her husband for his involvement in her child’s murder, and her lengthy rule over the kingdom of Mycenae while Agamemnon is at war in Troy. 

Instead, the book spends the bulk of its time on its titular character’s origins, and in doing so, it manages to make the essential plot beats of a story we all know the ending to feel fresh and new. The grim conclusion of her life is given a sweeping, tragic, and painfully personal feel by making it part of a larger pattern of suffering and survival, and Clytemnestra’s desire for revenge and control of her fate is presented as something that’s been building throughout her story.

Itaca cover Best Greek Mythology retellings

Ithaca by Claire North

The first installment in Claire North’s Songs of Penelope series, Ithaca focuses on a character who doesn’t get much of a voice in Homer’s Odyssey: Odysseus’s long-suffering wife, Penelope. Remembered primarily for her ability to dodge a passel of persistent suitors while her husband is off fighting the Trojan War, she’s yet another woman—see also Circe, Calypso, Nausicaa—who is important only in terms of what she represents to Odysseus. (Though at least Penelope is one of the few women who isn’t consistently portrayed in a seductive or negatively sexual light so at least she’s got that going for her.)

What makes Ithaca—and North’s series generally—so appealing is how unabashedly feminist it is. Hera serves as the story’s appealingly snarky narrator, and this version of the story unapologetically turns around the secrecy of female spaces and secrets. This is a tale of women working in the shadows, of knowing they are being ignored and underestimated and fully taking advantage of that fact. North’s Penelope is smart and capable, a heroine who is every inch as capable and intelligent as the husband whose legend so frequently overshadows hers.

Lavinia Best Greek Mythology Retellings

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

The fact that this book is written by Ursula K. Le Guin, a titan in the world of science fiction, is reason enough to recommend that everyone read it immediately. But Le Guin’s story is in and of itself a triumph, centering itself on an unlikely heroine who only receives the briefest of mentions in Virgil’s Aeneid

Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus and destined wife of the Trojan hero Aeneas, doesn’t speak a single word in Virgil’s poem. But in Le Guin’s hands, she is reimagined as a pragmatic heroine whose gentle, sensible exterior makes a thread of inner steel. Her intuitive understanding of her father’s choices, her husband’s ambitions and her own obligations weave together to form a complicated three-dimensional whole, allowing her to take her place within Aeneas’s larger story as something much more than a prize to be bartered over. 

The Song of Achilles queer romance cover

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Though it seems unfair to have two books by the same author on this list, it’s impossible to pull together any kind of collection of Greek mythology retellings and not include Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles in it. An achingly romantic queer spin on The Illiad that gives Patroclus and Achilles the love story they deserve, Miller deftly reframes Homer’s occasionally plodding recitation of battle stats into a gut-wrenching page-turner. 

Here, through Patroclus’s eyes, we’re allowed to see Achilles as something more than a one-man killing machine, and the pair’s genuine affection for each other adds an almost unbearable tension to even their warmest moments. (We know how it will end for them after all, and the monster Patroclus’s death will make of his lover.) Pack tissues.

Medea Best Greek mythology retellings

Medea by Eilish Quinn

A thoughtful reimagining of the story of Greek mythology’s most controversial and largely hated female figures, Eilish Quinn smartly refuses to apologize for or attempt to justify Medea’s worst choices. Instead, it offers context for her behavior, slowly unspooling the story of an abused and abandoned daughter who teaches herself witchcraft in secret in hopes of surviving a world that gives her few choices and less agency over the ones she does have. 

And while Quinn may pull a few of her punches when it comes to the true origin of some of Medea’s most horrific deeds, her novel certainly doesn’t skimp on the consequences of those actions or the toll they ultimately take on her soul. 

The Penelopiad Best Greek Mythology Retellings

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Even if you aren’t super familiar with Homer’s The Odyssey or the story of Odysseus’s loyal wife Penelope, fighting off suitors by cleverly undoing the daily weaving project that’s keeping them at bay each night, you should still read The Penelopiad. I mean, it’s Margaret Atwood! It’s Margaret Atwood tackling the story of one of Greek mythology’s most famous, yet underdeveloped women! What’s not to love? 

The story is told from Penelope’s perspective, but not until she’s dead in the underworld and can reflect back on the choices she made in her life. Atwood also deftly pokes at one of the poem’s most uncomfortable side plots—the death of the 12 maids in Book 22 of The Odyssey after being forced to clean up after their newly returned master’s string of murders.  Here, they’re reimagined as a sort of Greek chorus, with interludes told through prose, poetry, and even a play-like format. The end result is something that puts a bitingly feminist new spin on the male-centric classic and reminds us that Penelope is just as much the hero of that story in her own way. 

The Lost Books of the Odyssey Best Greek Mythology Retellings

The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

Wildly ambitious and deeply entertaining, it’s hard to believe that The Lost Books of the Odyssey was Zachary Mason’s first novel. Reimagining alternate versions of each of the original epic poem’s forty-four chapters, each snippet offers different perspectives and interpretations of the famous tale. (Often incorporating elements of Homer’s other epic poem, The Illiad, as well as works by other Greek masters such as Aeschylus.)

 Its story is unpredictable, surprising, and sometimes downright weird, but readers who love filling in gaps and asking probing what-ifs will find much to love here. (I saw this title once compared to the Biblical books of the Apocrypha and, you know what, that’s strangely accurate.)

Daughter of Sparta Best Greek Mythology retellings

Daughter of Sparta by Claire Andrews

A rare Greek mythology retelling aimed at the YA crowd, Claire Andrews Daughter of Sparta mixes multiple familiar tales into its version of the Daphne and Apollo story. Longing to be accepted as a true Spartan warrior, Daphne is sent on a quest to find nine missing Muses and restore power to Olympus, with the handsome Apollo as her guide.

Along the way they meet a variety of famous faces from across Greek mythology, including Prometheus, Theseus, Minos, and more, making for an entertaining adventure with a great deal more scope than the original myth. More importantly, in this tale, Daphne, is smart, courageous, and capable in a way that strikes a refreshing contrast with so many versions of this tale—and others—in which passive women are done wrong by a variety of gods behaving badly. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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