Books

50 Books About (& Inspired By) Greek Mythology

From original texts to contemporary reinventions, there’s something for every kind of reader.

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A selection of books about (and inspired by) Greek mythology.
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Madeline Miller’s hit 2011 novel The Song of Achilles, which reimagines The Iliad, sparked an enduring literary trend. In the decade-plus since, novels that put a new spin on Greek epics like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, along with myths from the story of Medusa to that Orpheus and Eurydice, have found eager readers. These books have exploded on BookTok, especially Miller’s, and can be found on displays in bookstores across the world. Natalie Haynes, whose books examine and recontextualize Greek mythology through a feminist lens, explained to Esquire that the surge of new voices and interpretations has been especially refreshing from a feminist perspective: “It just felt to me like these women were hiding in plain sight, hidden in the margins of these stories.”

This outpouring of stories is thrilling, especially to readers who grew up loving Greek mythology, but the concept behind them is hardly new. Greek myths have been told and retold for thousands of years, with writers like Chaucer, Shakespeare, and plenty more drawing inspiration from writers like Homer and Ovid. Even feminist reinventions have been seen before: C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, wrote a novel from the point of view of Psyche’s sister in the 1950s.

Bustle’s list includes plenty of those classics, along with encyclopedias and translations of the original works themselves. It also features new feminist retellings and plenty of literary novels from around the globe that take Greek mythology as a starting point. Writers like Rita Dove and Jesmyn Ward have shed light on the Black American experience by drawing on classical Greek tales, while writers like Ali Smith, Sarvat Hasin, and Kamila Samshie have explored gender, sexuality, politics, and fame in their own striking novels.

Below, 50 books to read if you love Greek mythology.

1

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

If you grew up fascinated by Greek mythology, there’s a good chance you spent a lot of time poring over this classic book, first published in 1962. Richly illustrated by Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, it features short but potent retellings of the most memorable Greek myths, from Zeus’ extramarital exploits to Orpheus’ tragic pursuit of Eurydice, and everything in-between.

2

The Greek Myths

If you’re looking for a slightly more grown-up compilation of every Greek myth imaginable — from a recounting of the Trojan War to descriptions of more obscure characters like Omphale and Hesione — you can’t do better than Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths. Graves was a classicist, memoirist, and novelist best known for his WWI memoir Goodbye to All That and his Roman empire novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God, and he brings his all of his scholarly expertise to this comprehensive survey.

3

Classical Mythology A to Z: An Encyclopedia of Gods & Goddesses, Heroes & Heroines, Nymphs, Spirits, Monsters, and Places

Classics professor Annette Giesecke recently wrote her own Greek mythology compendium in the form of an encyclopedia, richly illustrated by Jim Tierney. You probably wouldn’t want to read Giesecke’s book from cover to cover, but it’s an invaluable research if you’re interested in more obscure figures and places in Greek mythology — or want a beautiful book to decorate your coffee table.

4

Mythos

If you’re looking for a more entertaining coffee table book, look no further than Mythos, a collection of Greek myths retold by prolific poly-hyphenate Stephen Fry. Fry retells myths from Prometheus to Pandora with his signature wit and verve. This isn’t the book to buy if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to every Greek myth out there, or if you want a reference book — for that, go with Giesecke’s encyclopedia — but those looking to be entertained with be richly rewarded by this volume.

5

Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths

If you want a shorter book that’ll beef up your Greek mythology knowledge — and offer insightful feminist commentary on the myths — there’s no better option than Pandora’s Jar by classicist, writer, and comedian Natalie Haynes. Haynes, whose novels A Thousand Ships and The Children of Jocasta appear elsewhere on this list, is an equally adept nonfiction writer, and serves a friendly but knowledgeable guide to the major female figures in Greek mythology.

6

The Iliad of Homer

If you’re more in the mood for a primary source text, The Iliad of Homer is the perfect place to start, especially if you’re a fan of retellings of Greek myths (you’ll find several novels inspired by this epic poem included below). Not only does The Iliad offer context for those novels, it’s an entertaining read all on its own, full of warfare, intrigue, and tragedy.

7

The Song of Achilles

If you’ve read one book on this list, it’s probably Madeline Miller’s phenomenally popular The Song of Achilles, which received wide acclaim — and the Orange Prize for Fiction — when it was published in 2011, and recently experienced another surge in popularity when it went viral on TikTok. Though Miller’s approach to The Iliad, which tells the classic story as a romance between Achilles and Patroclus, isn’t exactly new — as she herself explains, “Many Greco-Roman authors read their relationship as a romantic one” — her psychological and emotional acumen make this novel feel both fresh and heart-rending.

8

The Silence of the Girls

Many contemporary retellings of The Iliad focus not on the male warriors who occupy most of the poem’s action, but instead on the female characters who are affected by the conflict. Pat Barker, best known for her award-winning, WWI-set Regeneration Trilogy, brings her perspective to this ancient, legendary war and the women who would have suffered through it in The Silence of the Girls. Her protagonist is Briseis, a woman given to Achilles as a concubine, who finds herself witnessing the war’s key events.

9

A Thousand Ships

This novel by Natalie Haynes also approaches the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women affected by the conflict. Haynes, though, isn’t as interested in the brutality of battle as Barker is, even if she doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of the story. Instead, she presents a kaleidoscopic view of the conflict and the women involved, presented as a series of vignettes and narrated by Calliope, the Greek muse of epic poetry.

10

Helen of Troy

Author Margaret George has made a career writing sweeping historical novels about figures ranging from Mary Magdalene, in Mary, Called Magdalene to the Emperor Nero in The Confessions of King Nero. She applied the same depth of research and narrative sweep to Helen of Troy, a vast epic chronicling Helen’s life that incorporates not only gods and prophecies but also a keen understanding of Ancient Greek history.

11

Daughters of Sparta

Classicist Claire Heywood takes a more focused approach to the Trojan War in her debut novel Daughters of Sparta, which tells the story of The Iliad from the points of view of Helen of Troy and her sister Klytemnestra, both of whom are married to powerful kings who aren’t very good husbands. Heywood focuses on their early lives, rather than on the fallout from the war, in building her portrait of these legendary characters.

12

House of Names

This novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín offers yet another a starkly different approach to remixing ancient material. In House of Names, Tóibín presents a thoroughly human version of the house of Atreus, stripped of references to the Greek gods, in the bleak aftermath of the Trojan War. Here, these characters, who were given life by Greek tragedy writers Aeschylus and Euripides, feel startlingly real: Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, attempts to cope with his betrayal of her family, while her children Orestes and Electra reckon with a betrayal of their own.

13

The Odyssey

Once you’ve exhausted your supply of books about The Iliad, it’s time to dive into Homer’s masterpiece, The Odyssey, which follows Odysseus, the wily king of Ithaca, on his 10-year journey home after the fall of Troy. This recent translation by classicist and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate the poem, is a great entry point for newbies and mythology nerds alike. Susan Chira, in the New York Times Book Review, called it “a revelation. Never have I been so aware at once of the beauty of the poetry, the physicality of Homer’s world and the moral ambiguity of those who inhabit it.”

14

Circe

If you’ve read The Song of Achilles, you’ve probably also read Madeline Miller’s follow-up, Circe — but if not, there’s no time like the present. Though many novelists have explored other elements of The Odyssey — as seen below — Miller once again shows off her talent for taking a somewhat neglected character and breathing life into them. She takes plenty of liberties with the original text in inventing a backstory for Circe, all to riveting effect.

15

The Penelopiad

Authors have more often explored the experience of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, who waits for his return for decades in Ithaca. In Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Penelope reflects on the events of The Odyssey from the underworld, as do the Greek chorus of maids who are hanged in the poem for their supposed betrayal. Atwood uses various forms of poetry for her Greek chorus, along with Penelope’s more traditional narration.

16

Ithaka

Adèle Geras offers a young adult spin on the women of Ithaca with Ithaka. This novel is told from the point of view of one of Penelope’s servants, Klymene — a granddaughter of Odysseus’ beloved nurse who pines for Odysseus and Penelope’s son, Telemachus. In this immersive novel, Geras expertly balances characters and plots of her own invention with familiar elements from The Odyssey.

17

Ithaca Forever: Penelope Speaks

For a more sober appraisal of Penelope’s experience, check out Luigi Malerba’s Ithaca Forever: Penelope Speaks. Malerba, who was a prominent Italian avant-garde novelist in the 20th century, doesn’t shy away from depicting Penelope and Odysseus’ marriage as fractured and troubled. He also, refreshingly, focuses on the anger that Penelope would have felt after Odysseus’ return — a topic glossed over in The Odyssey and often neglected in retellings.

18

Ulysses

Not every updated version of The Odyssey hews so closely to its source material. The most famous example of this approach, which continues to serve as inspiration for writers the world over, is James Joyce’s epic modernist novel Ulysses. First published in 1922, the story contains Odysseus’ world-spanning journey to the streets of Dublin. Though it’s hardly an easy read, Ulysses will reward those who stick with it, especially if they’re already experts in Homer’s poem.

19

An Orchestra of Minorities

Chigozie Obioma, like Joyce, takes inspiration from The Odyssey to tell a story about original characters set in the recent past — in this case, Nigeria in the 2000s. Obioma’s novel, which follows the story of Nonso, a poor chicken farmer who upends his life in pursuit of the wealthier Ndali, isn’t an exact recreation of The Odyssey. Instead, it weaves references to Homer together with Igbo mythology, demonstrating how classical stories can still feel relevant today.

20

Tales from Ovid: 24 Passages from the Metamorphoses

But Greek mythology isn’t limited to Homer. Many of the most familiar — and oft-retold — stories originate elsewhere, like in the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses: a collection of 250 Greek and Roman myths that has influenced writers from William Shakespeare to Robert Graves to the English poet Ted Hughes. The latter wrote this loose translation of some of Ovid’s tales, which serves as a handy introduction to Ovid but also stands on its own as a work of art.

21

Metamorphica

If you’re looking for a recent prose version of the Metamorphoses, check out Zachary Mason experimental novel-in-stories Metamorphica. Mason, who is also a computer scientist, has written a similarly unconventional reimagining of The Odyssey, The Lost Books of The Odyssey, and his experimental approach and beautiful prose are also on display in this book.

22

Girl Meets Boy

In Girl Meets Boy, Scottish author Ali Smith brings Ovid’s myth of Iphis to contemporary Scotland. In Metamorphoses, Iphis is a child who is born female and raised male, and eventually transformed into a man by the goddess Isis so that he may marry the woman he loves. In Smith’s novel, the story revolves around two sisters, one of whom falls in love with a genderqueer environmental activist. Like many other contemporary interpretations of Greek myths, Smith’s retelling of Ovid is loose but ingenious, and foregrounds a lesser-known myth that will resonate with many readers today.

23

The King Must Die

Mary Renault is now best known for her pioneering gay novel The Charioteer, first published in 1953. An expert in classical languages and literature, she frequently wrote about Greek mythology and culture, including in The King Must Die, a retelling of Theseus’ story. This novel spans Theseus’ early life, from his early days at Troizen to his romance with Ariadne to his coronation at Naxos.

24

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold

This last novel by C.S. Lewis, the author best known for The Chronicles of Narnia, shows that recentering Greek myths around secondary female characters isn’t a new trend. Till We Have Faces, which recounts the story of Psyche and Cupid from the point of view of Psyche’s sister Orual, was published in 1956. Orual, who is cursed to be ugly and remains bitter about it despite her many accomplishments, is a riveting study in loneliness. Philosophically and psychologically rich, this novel will appeal to readers who want a darker or more challenging take on a familiar story.

25

Alcestis

Katherine Beutner, like C.S. Lewis, put her own spin on a lesser-known figure from Greek mythology. In the original story, Alcestis sacrifices herself to save her husband from death, traveling to the underworld in his place. Beutner offers a feminist slant on Alcestis’ story. Instead of dying for her husband, this Alcestis chooses to go to the underworld on a quest to search for her long-lost, beloved sister — and meets legendary figures like Heracles, Persephone, and Hades himself along the way.

26

The Golden Apples

Anyone familiar with Greek mythology will recognize that the title of this novel is a reference to the goddess Eris’ golden apple of discord, which leads to the beginning of the Trojan War. Eudora Welty’s book, told in a series of short stories and set in the fictional Mississippi town of Morgana in the 1940s, is rife with references to Greek myths, which savvy readers will enjoy picking out.

27

Oreo

This satirical novel by Fran Ross, originally published in 1974, is based on story of Theseus. It follows Oreo, a mixed-race Black and Jewish girl growing up in 1970s Philadelphia, who (like Theseus) goes on a quest to find her father — but hers takes her all over Manhattan, rather than ancient Greece. The book, which mixes English, Black vernacular, and Yiddish, is both linguistically and narratively anarchic; it’s also very, very funny.

28

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

Canadian poet and former MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Anne Carson has extensively translated ancient Greek literature, including plays by Euripides and poetry by Sappho, over the course of her career. She brings that expertise to her novel-in-verse, Autobiography of Red, which is based on the fragmentary poem Geryoneis by the Greek poet Stesichorus. In that poem, Geron is a monster killed by Hercules; here, Carson reimagines him as a young queer man who comes from in an abusive home and later embarks on a romance with a man named Herakles. Haunting, beautiful, and romantic, this book was a surprise hit when it was released in 1998.

29

Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

In this addition to Canongate’s Myth Series, English author Jeanette Winterson, best known for her semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, takes on the story of Atlas, who was tasked with holding the world on his shoulders. In keeping with much of her other work, Winterson expands her premise beyond this narrative to her own experience of isolation and loneliness.

30

Ariadne

Fans of Madeline Miller will no doubt enjoy Jennifer Saint’s debut novel Ariadne. Saint, a former high school English teacher, explores and expands upon the familiar story of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur, as well as Ariadne’s subsequent marriage to the god Dionysus. Most of the novel takes place after the dramatic and familiar events of the myths, allowing Saint to flesh out Ariadne’s relationship with her sister Phaedra.

31

Medusa

English writer Jessie Burton has written books for adults, children, and now young adults with Medusa, a feminist retelling of the legend that revolves around a budding romance with young Perseus. Burton’s version of Medusa is far more sympathetic than the original, and explores themes of sexual assault as well as gender expectations and self-image. It’s also beautifully written and illustrated: Kirkus Reviews writes that Burton’s prose is “aquatic and mythical but not overwrought, its beauty ... reflected in [Olivia Lomenech] Gill’s sublime full-page illustrations.”

32

The Darker Face of the Earth

Over the years, authors have also found inspiration in the myth of Oedipus, most famously depicted in Sophocles’ plays Oedipus Rex and Antigone. After being exiled from his home as a baby, Oedipus accidentally kills his father as an adult and unwittingly marries his mother, Jocasta, the queen of Thebes; when he discovers what he has done, he blinds himself. In her verse play The Darker Face of the Earth, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove adapts Oedipus Rex, setting it at a slave plantation in antebellum South Carolina instead of in ancient Greece.

33

Mother Love: Poems

Rita Dove wrote this collection of poems as an homage to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus. Instead of Orpheus, she focuses on the tragic, complicated mother-daughter relationship between Demeter and Persephone, transporting the mythological figures into the modern era and placing them in unlikely locales including Arizona, Mexico, and Paris.

34

The Children of Jocasta

Natalie Haynes’ retelling of the Oedipus story follows the pattern of her other books: It’s set in ancient Greece and revolves around the myth’s female characters — in this case, Oedipus’ mother Jocasta and her daughter Ismene. Haynes focuses on Jocasta’s unhappy first marriage and Ismene’s efforts to uncover a plot to kill her. Controversially, though, Haynes has stripped the original myth of its core feature — incest — so this book will likely appeal more to readers who are looking for a grounded, historical version of the story, rather than Greek tragedy experts.

35

Home Fire

In Home Fire, British writer Kamila Shamsie brings Antigone, the sequel to Oedipus Rex, to 21st century London. This Women’s Prize-winning novel follows the orphaned Pasha siblings, who are haunted by the legacy of their jihadi father. When Parvaiz, the only son in the family, tries to join ISIS, everything in the siblings’ lives goes horribly wrong very quickly. Shamsie expertly melds the Greek tragedy of Antigone with contemporary characters and political concerns, once again demonstrating the durability of these ancient stories.

36

The Bluest Eye

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison drew much looser inspiration from the Oedipus story for her first novel, The Bluest Eye. The novel takes place in the 1940s and tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young girl who has been sexually abused by her father and is now living in foster care. Morrison imbues her characters and setting with the feeling of doomed fate that haunts Sophocles’ characters, and further explores the trauma of incest and the family estrangements and rejections that result.

37

The Icarus Girl

Helen Oyeyemi is now a beloved novelist best known for her reworkings of classic fairy tales. That skill was already on display in her debut novel, The Icarus Girl, which she wrote when she was only 18. In The Icarus Girl, Oyeyemi draws on both Nigerian and Greek myths to tell the story of Jess, an awkward Nigerian-British girl, and TillyTilly, the odd, unsettling friend she makes on a family trip to Nigeria.

38

Salvage the Bones

Jesmyn Ward directly invokes classical mythology in her debut novel Salvage the Bones, which went on to win the National Book Award. Although Ward doesn’t write explicit adaptations of Greek myths, her work is clearly informed by them: Her second novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, was influenced by The Odyssey, while Salvage the Bones, which tells the story of Esch, a teenager in a coastal town in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina, draws on the story of Medea. In fact, Esch spends much of the book literally reading about Medea and Jason and the Argonauts, and thinks of her unborn child as a Black Athena. Ward’s writing has the heft and scope of an odyssey all its own.

39

Fifteen Dogs

In this audacious novel, Canadian-Trinidadian writer André Alexis uses Greek mythology to kick off a surreal premise. After Hermes and Apollo have a friendly dispute, the gods decide to endow a group of dogs in a Toronto veterinary clinic with the ability to think and speak like humans. Chaos — and existential crises — ensue in this parable on the beauty, dangers, and limitations of human consciousness.

40

The Giant Dark

In this acclaimed novel, Pakistani author Sarvat Hasin interrogates modern fame by loosely adapting the tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Her protagonist, Aida, is a world-famous rock star whose obsessive fans follow her every move — including her romance with Ehsan. When the two reconnect after decades apart, it changes Ehsan’s life, though perhaps not for the better: soon he’s one of the people following Aida around the world, desperate for a piece of her.

41

Olympus, Texas

In this compulsively readable novel, debut author Stacey Swann paints a portrait of the powerful but dysfunctional Texas family. Infidelity, intrafamily fighting (violent and otherwise), and estrangement are only some of the issues that face the Briscoes — there’s also an accidental murder. Swann infuses her novel with allusions to Greek mythology, and any aficionado of those ancient stories will recognize the hubris of the gods on display in the Briscoe clan.

42

The Secret History

In her bestselling debut, Donna Tartt, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Goldfinch, doesn’t retell a specific Greek myth. Instead, she evokes the tropes and feeling of Greek tragedy. The Secret History takes place at a secluded liberal arts college, where a group of classics students form a cult-like attachment to their charismatic professor. Soon, they’re holding bacchanals in the woods at night — which sounds fun until those bacchanals lead to murder.

43

The Maidens

Like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Alex Michaelides’ The Maidens makes a classics department the site of intrigue and even murder. This time, that classics department isn’t in a small, remote college but at Cambridge University. The plot revolves around Mariana, a psychologist who begins investigating the murder of a student. She quickly suspects that classics professor Edward Fosca is guilty — but how can she prove it?

44

Antigoddess

If you want your Greek mythology update to come with a young adult spin, look no further than Antigoddess, a YA fantasy novel that takes gods, goddesses, and tropes from Greek mythology and places then in a contemporary urban setting. These gods are just as flawed as humans — they’re just a lot harder to kill, which might cause some problems if they start acting up.

45

Dio in the Dark

Like Kendare Blake, Canada-based author Rizwan Asan — who also runs the popular food blog Chocolates and Chai — puts a modern YA spin on Greek myths. Set primarily in Toronto, where Asan lives, Dio in the Dark finds the gods living normal human lives — sort of. (One of them is Martha Stewart.) The action kicks off when Dionysus, the titular Dio, has to go on a quest to find his father, Zeus, who’s mysteriously vanished.

46

Lore Olympus: Volume One

Lore Olympus is another book that places Greek gods and goddesses in the modern era, but a couple things set it apart. First of all, it’s a graphic novel with an impressive pedigree: It started out as a webcomic, was nominated for an Eisner Award, and was then published as a book, after which it was nominated for a Hugo Award. It’s worth reading for Rachel Smythe’s striking illustrations alone. But Smythe also focuses on one particularly compelling aspect of Greek mythology — the relationship between Penelope and Hades — instead of telling an ensemble story.

47

Lore

The latest novel to place the Greek gods in the modern world is Lore, written by bestselling YA author Alexandra Bracken. Bracken weaves a complex, compelling narrative set in New York City, revolving around Lore Perseous, a descendant of the gods who’s attempted to escape their brutal world. She gets sucked back in when a childhood friend and the great god Athena turn to her for help. How can she say no?

48

Gods Behaving Badly

If you want a more grown-up version of a story about Greek gods living in the modern world, look no further than Marie Phillips’ Gods Behaving Badly. In this clever novel, the gods are beset by existential malaise while languishing in a London townhouse. They feel depressed, purposeless, and their powers don’t work as well as they used to. Phillips ingeniously inserts two normal humans into this heightened scene, who have to navigate not only this bizarre situation but also the potential end of the world.

49

Oh. My. Gods.

Tera Lynn Childs takes a lighter approach to the “gods in the modern world” trope with her YA fantasy novel Oh. My. Gods, the first in a series. Instead of focusing on the gods themselves, Childs goes one step removed — to their children. Phoebe, the novel’s protagonist, is initially skeptical about moving to Greece with her mom and new stepdad. Soon, she finds herself at a super competitive new school — and on the track team — with the literal descendants of the gods. Does she have what it takes to keep up?

50

Lovely War

Just because a novel alludes to Greek gods and myths, it needn’t be overly heavy or serious. Julie Berry’s clever, page-turning young adult novel Lovely War isn’t exactly a comedy — it takes place during WWI and WWII — but the way Greek gods meddle in its central romances is playful and original.

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