5 Retellings That Put A Fresh Spin On Homer's Epic Poems

by Sadie Trombetta

Whether it was in high school English class, a college history lecture, or while watching The Simpsons, you have learned about or at least heard of the ancient Greek author Homer and his two epic poems, the Odyssey and the Iliad. Perhaps you slogged through his centuries-old work begrudgingly, but if, like me, you loved reading about vengeful gods, deadly love affairs, and bloody battles, then you'll be delighted to know there are several fiction books inspired by Homer’s stories.

Set during the Trojan War, the Iliad tells the story of the 10-year siege of Troy and the battle between King Agamemnon and the doomed warrior Achilles. The Odyssey follows Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, on his journey home after the war and the fall of Troy. Considered to be two of the most important works of ancient Greek literature, these poems have been translated, studied, and analyzed for centuries. They have also been adapted into many, many other forms, from the comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou? to the space opera Jupiter Ascending and beyond. In the literary world, there are plenty of books that draw inspiration from Homer’s epics, including some that retell, revamp, and rework his poems to go beyond the stories of warring cities and the men who rule them.

If you loved the Iliad and the Odyssey and want to revisit the ancient stories in brand new ways, then pick up one of these five novels inspired by Homer and his most famous works.

'The Silence of the Girls' by Pat Barker

In this powerful and poignant new book from Booker Prize-winning author Pat Barker, readers see the ancient city of Troy through the eyes of the girls and women who lived through the decade of the kingdom's war and devastation. From slaves and prostitutes to nurses and former queens, including Briseis, The Silence of the Girls gives a voice to those seen but not heard in the Iliad, completely transforming the way readers see the epic poem in the process.

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'Circe' by Madeline Miller

In her follow up to The Song of Achilles, bestselling author Madeline Miller takes on another chapter of ancient Greek history in this mesmerizing narrative about Circe, a powerful witch and one of the characters from Homer's the Odyssey. A fiercely feminist epic about family, love, violence, betrayal, and loss, Circe is a must-read for Homer fans who want to see another side of the poet's original stories.

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'The Penelopiad' by Margaret Atwood

As the title suggests, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad is a retelling of Homer's the Odyssey told from the point of view of Penelope. A lyrical and darkly beautiful literary novel, this story reveals what Penelope was really doing while Odysseus was away, and finally gives a voice to the original epic's 12 hanged maids.

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'Cold Mountain' by Charles Frazier

In his National Book Award-winning historical novel, Charles Frazier takes the basic story of the Odyssey and retells it to be about a mounded deserter from the Confederate army near the end of the Civil War, and the woman he loves that waits for him at home. A gorgeous and haunting narrative, Cold Mountain — the novel that inspired Anthony Minghella's Academy Award nominated film by the same name — is a true literary feat.

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'For the Most Beautiful' by Emily Hauser

A moving novel about pain, suffering, courage, and sacrafice, For the Most Beautiful is another Homer-inspired novel that lets the women of Troy tell their own story. An interwoven tale about Krisayis, the daughter of the High Priest of Troy, and Briseis, princess of Pedasus, this breathtaking book gives readers a whole new way to experience the epic story like never before.

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