The Song of Achilles and 5 other books Classics students need to read

February 16, 2021
Students

With the world as crazy as it is at the moment, there’s nothing better than curling up with a good book and escaping the news for a while. 

In the past few years, there’s been a flurry of amazing books retelling Ancient Greek tales and turning mythology on its head. These retellings of classical stories make for great escapism at the moment. They’ll make you gasp, laugh, cry and shake your fist at Zeus. 

Here’s a list of books we recommend… 

1.The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller’s first book is an epic retelling of the Trojan war and its main hero - Achilles. Arguably the most famous character in Greek mythology, this story develops the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus.

The bond between Achilles and Patroclus has been the subject of much exploration in Classical studies and literature. Their relationship is undoubtedly one of deep friendship and attachment and in many instances they’ve been depicted as lovers. The Song of Achilles goes further than any before in its tragic love story. 

2. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Pat Barker tackles the silent history of the Trojan War in this moving and devastating story about the Trojan women captured by Greek soldiers. 

The Silence of the Girls tells the story of Briseis, a noble woman given to Achilles as a reward after the Greeks raid of a Trojan city. We follow her and the other women through their enslavement to these ‘war heroes’.  The forgotten stories of these captured women remind us to look at classical stories with a critical eye and remember those whose voices were silenced by the victors.

3. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood 

The tale of Penelope and her twenty year wait for Odysseus is a famous one. She fends off unwanted and unruly suitors by weaving and unweaving a shroud to keep them at bay, brings up her son Telemachus alone and is the vision of a long-suffering, devoted wife. 

In her typically wicked fashion, Margaret Atwood turns the myth on its head. In Penelope’s version, we find out what she was really getting up to during her two decade wait for her husband. 

3. House of Names by Colm Tóibín

Before going off to war, Agememnon sacrificed his daughter in exchange for a favourable wind from the gods. But his victory at Troy did nothing to appease the anger of his wife, Clytemnestra. When Agememnon returns to his kingdom, Clytemnestra and her lover conspire to kill him and reign in his place. 

Colm Tóibín takes the Oresteia - the story of Agamemnon and his murder at the hands of his wife - and turns it into a compelling novel about  betrayal, dysfunctional family and vengeance. 


5. Circe by Madeline Miller

A captivating retelling of the story of Circe - witch, daughter of Helios god of the sun and scorned woman. This book spans thousands of years and is impossible to put down. 

Circe is different from the other members of her family and for the first few hundred years of her life struggles to find her true purpose. In her isolation, she discovers her incredible talent for witchcraft and in doing so threatens the gods and Zeus himself. Banished to a desert island, Circe will encounter some of the most famous characters in Greek mythology including the Minotaur, Odysseus and Hermes. 

6. Mythos by Stephen Fry

Mythos is a collection of Greek myths, retold for our age by the brilliantly funny and clever Stephen Fry. The reader will follow Persephone down into the darkness of Hades, beg Pandora not to open the box and watch Hermes steal his brother Apollo’s sacred cattle. 

Fry’s choice of myths is interesting, varying from the normal tales about Achilles and Agememnon. This is a great book both for those looking to dip their toe into Greek mythology and for those who know and love these tales well. 


If you're looking for some extra support with your Classics or English Literature studies, check out our top-rated tutors here.


Laura Reid

Laura is our Social Media Assistant and Content Writer. She studied English Literature at University of Bristol and loves nothing more than reading and listening to a good podcast! Laura worked as a volunteer tutor whilst in Bristol and is passionate about making education accessible for everyone.

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