The best retellings of Greek myths

Our edit of the best books based on myths from ancient Greece, traditional folk stories, and fairytales.

05/04/2021
2 minutes to read

Ancient myths and legends have been passed down for thousands of years. These stories fascinate us with their compelling mix of epic adventure, intriguing mystery and lurking, sinister evil. 

In recent years, a number of books that tell the unheard stories of mythological characters have become huge bestsellers, adored by critics and readers alike. Read on for our edit of some of the best retellings of Greek mythology and other traditional stories that provide new insights into the stories we thought we knew so well.

A Thousand Ships

by Natalie Haynes

Book cover for 9781509836215

The Siege of Troy is perhaps the best known of the Greek myths. For ten long years, the Greeks waged a brutal war against the city of Troy as revenge for the kidnap of Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. This story has been told many times, but most often through the eyes of men. Natalie Haynes’s A Thousand Ships tells this story from an all-female perspective, giving a rich and layered voice to the many women, girls and even goddesses who have often been unheard.

Oreo

by Fran Ross

Book cover for 9781509888467

Oreo is a playful retelling of the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur with a feminist twist. In the epic legend, Theseus must make his way through the complex labyrinth to find and defeat the Minotaur, fulfilling his destiny. Fran Ross’s hero, who shares her name with the book’s title, is on a quest to find her father who vanished when she was just a baby, leaving behind a mysterious note. As Oreo searches for her father in the labyrinth of Manhatten, her journey becomes one of self-discovery and she is able to break free of the myths that have always constrained her.

Circe

by Madeline Miller

Book cover for Circe

Circe, a powerful enchantress, is well known for her part in The Odyssey, the story of Odysseus and his long and difficult journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. But, in Madeleine Miller’s latest book, Circe, the formidable Witch of Aiaia is no longer just a character in someone else’s story . . . The book takes us through Circe’s beginnings as an outcast teenager struggling with her powers, to her transformation into a strong and independent woman who must fight to protect herself and that which she holds dear.

The Penelopiad

by Margaret Atwood

Book cover for The Penelopiad

Margaret Atwood’s incredible novella, The Penelopiad, follows the story of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, who is left alone in Ithaca when he goes to war. In the book, Penelope finally gets the chance to tell her side of the story, revealing the truth behind some of Odysseus’s greatest heroic triumphs and the reality of her long wait for his return. In The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood expertly shows us the double standards between the genders and the importance of perspective.

The Children of Jocasta

by Natalie Haynes

Book cover for 9781529057133

In this book, Natalie Haynes reimagines another ancient myth - that of Oedipus and Antigone. Upon his birth, Oedipus is destined for a tragic fate: to murder his father and unknowingly marry his own mother, Jocasta. Their daughter, Antigone, is horrified upon discovering the truth and decides to take her own life. The Children of Jocasta is split between the voice of Jocasta and that of her other daughter Ismene, giving new perspective to the well-known myth.

The Silence of the Girls

by Pat Barker

Book cover for The Silence of the Girls

The critically-acclaimed The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the Siege of Troy, told from the perspective of just one woman, Briseis, a Trojan Queen who is captured by the Greek army and forced to become a bed-slave to Achilles. In this story, Pat Barker focuses on the experience of women through the war, showing us the extent of their loss, the depth of their courage and bravery, and the strength of their connection to one another. 

The Odyssey

by Homer

Book cover for 9781909621459

Of course, the reason many myths and legends have endured for centuries is our love of epic adventures, and Homer’s The Odyssey is perhaps the greatest adventure of them all. Here, in our Macmillan Collectors edition, discover the T. E. Lawrence translation of the text, credited as the first to be both faithful to the original and accessible for the modern reader.

Pandora's Jar

by Natalie Haynes

Book cover for 9781509873111

Until recently, most modern retellings of Greek myths have been written by men, with their focus firmly on male protagonists – from Zeus to Agamemnon and Oedipus to Jason. In her new book, bestselling novelist Natalie Haynes places women on equal footing with their male peers. Starting with the tale of Pandora, the first woman according to Greek Mythology, Haynes gives voice to characters who have, until now, primarily played a supporting role. Read the stories of Hera, Athena and Artemis, Jocasta, Eurydice and many more in this celebration of the females at the heart of these ancient stories. 


Looking for more reading recommendations for books based on traditional stories? These retellings of fairytales and folklore stories offer a fresh perspective on these ancient tales. 


Rumaysa: A Fairytale

by Radiya Hafiza

Book cover for 9781529038316
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Weaving together the well-known stories of Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, this modern retelling offers a fresh new perspective on three classic fairytales. Locked away in a tower for her whole life by an evil witch, Rumaysa has no idea what lies outside, until one day, she lowers her hijab out of the window and escapes to freedom. As funny as it is escapist, this debut novel will be loved by fans of young adult fiction as well as readers who enjoy retellings of classic stories. 

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Sistersong

by Lucy Holland

Book cover for 9781529039030

Set in a magical ancient Britain, Lucy Holland's Sistersong is based upon the traditional folk ballad of 'The Two Sisters'. A tale of betrayal, love and death set among a dead king's warring family, this powerful novel tells the stories of three women, who all secretly long for what they can't have. As they search for love, healing and adventure, Riva, Keyne, and Sinne will shape the future of a nation for centuries to come.