book recommendations: modern retelling of ancient people
July 6, 2021 5:29 AM   Subscribe

I just finished The Song of Achilles which I absolutely loved (drama! queer and trans characters!). What other modern retellings would you recommend?

Another book I just picked up is Illuminations about Hildegard von Bingen. I would love to read more about Greek and Roman myths but am open to anything, especially looking for stories about women and non-binary people (loosely interpreted) and non-Western people. Please no cis-men though.
posted by allymusiqua to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
For woman-centered retellings, I thought Circe was fantastic. I also recently enjoyed re-reading the oldie but goodie Mists of Avalon. (links are Amazon but available at your local booksellers I'm sure!)
posted by nkknkk at 5:34 AM on July 6, 2021 [7 favorites]


I just read “A Thousand Ships” which was good and def meets your parameters!
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:43 AM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin!
posted by abeja bicicleta at 5:56 AM on July 6, 2021 [4 favorites]


Check out the work of Mary Renault, who novelized mythology and historical figures, often with homosexual themes.
posted by jdroth at 6:04 AM on July 6, 2021 [4 favorites]


Best answer: Cassandra, by Christa Wolf, an East German novelist who was simultaneously a critic of the state and (in a very small way) apparently an informant. It is generally pointed out that the way the E. German state worked was that something like 50% of the population was blackmailed into spying and informing on the other half.

The Memoirs of Hadrian, by queer writer Marguerite Yourcenar. It's really good and is one of the foundational books of this general type.

Have you read Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels for children, like The Eagle of the Ninth? They're not YA - they're written well before YA crystallized as a genre and do not follow its conventions. Sutcliff was a really interesting person and her memoir, The Blue Remembered Hills, is a wonderful read. She suffered from Still's Disease and faced some pretty lousy treatment which she puts, IMO, too brave a face on in her memoir - I just want to time-travel and punch some people. Anyway, her books tend to be read a lot by queer people even though of course they are not directly about queer themes. (Also she was straight but definitely not narrow.)
posted by Frowner at 6:06 AM on July 6, 2021 [9 favorites]


The Red Tent retells the Biblical story of Jacob and his family from his daughter Dinah’s point of view, and she is upgraded from a minor Bible character to the main protagonist here.
posted by castlebravo at 6:16 AM on July 6, 2021 [3 favorites]


Maria Dahvana Headley's Beowulf: A New Translation is absolutely extraordinary, with poetry that just grabs you by the viscera and pulls. The accompanying The Mere Wife is the actual retelling, and is eerie and beautiful in its own way, but doesn't quite have the same sensation of being rearranged in the brain (at least for me).
posted by prismatic7 at 6:35 AM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I just bought this and haven't read it yet, but The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the Iliad from the point of view of the women.
posted by FencingGal at 6:43 AM on July 6, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Daisy Johnson's Everything Under is a modern-day retelling of the Oedipus myth. It's good weird, and beautifully written. To say anymore than it fits most of your parameters would count as a spoiler.
posted by thivaia at 6:51 AM on July 6, 2021


Hild by Nicola Griffith is a reimagining of the early life of St. Hilda of Whitby. Definitely reminiscent of Wolf Hall, in that it's set in an unsettled transitional time and all the characters are scheming like mad to figure out their place in the new world.
posted by zeptoweasel at 7:58 AM on July 6, 2021 [10 favorites]


Anne Carson's magisterial adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone, 'Antigonick', is gripping. You can hear it on KCRW's 'The Organist' podcast here.
posted by Joeruckus at 8:18 AM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


It may be hard to find (and please ignore the terrible cover), but Geoff Ryman's The Warrior who Carried Life is an amazing retelling/subversion of the Gilgamesh myth.
posted by jb at 8:20 AM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


Alcestis by Katharine Beutner is a retelling of the titular mythical Greek figure.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is a retelling of the siege and massacre at Masada.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:48 AM on July 6, 2021


Another vote for A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes, which is fantastic.

The blurb says: “Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020. One of the Guardian's and TLS's 'Best Books of 2019'. In A Thousand Ships, broadcaster and classicist Natalie Haynes retells the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective, for fans of Madeline Miller and Pat Barker.”

I’d recommend checking out anything by Natalie Haynes in fact - if you have access to her BBC radio show “Natalie Haynes stands up for the classics”, it’s very well worth a listen. Part stand up and greater part history - and all feminist.
posted by JJZByBffqU at 9:05 AM on July 6, 2021


It's a little hard to find but Attila's Treasure by Stephen Grundy might work well for you. (I also love Rhinegold by the same author, but it's much less queer.)
posted by darchildre at 10:11 AM on July 6, 2021


Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls about Troy from the women's perspective. Her Women of Troy is out later this year.
posted by TheRaven at 11:48 AM on July 6, 2021


Response by poster: you beautiful nerds! thank you so much i want to mark all of these answers as favorite. Just requested The Silence of the Girls, A Thousand Ships, Everything Under and the Memoirs of Hadrian as well as Circe also by Madeline Miller. Can't wait for summer reading <3
posted by allymusiqua at 1:18 PM on July 6, 2021


especially looking for stories about women and non-binary people (loosely interpreted)

If trans men are fine, I enjoyed Confessions of the Fox, a retelling of the Mack the Knife legend.
posted by lunasol at 11:12 AM on July 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


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