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Culture

New York Times Features the ‘Women of Greek Myths’ Trend in Literature

NEW YORK – Greek myths have long inspired artists and writers, and recent years have seen a surge in literature focusing on the female characters of these ancient tales. The New York Times explored this trend in the article “The Women of Greek Myths Are Finally Talking Back,” highlighting the numerous novels giving voice to figures like Medusa and Penelope.

The article begins by noting the transformation of Medusa’s story, traditionally viewed as a monstrous figure with snakes for hair and a deadly gaze. Nataly Gruender, while studying classics at the University of Arizona, delved deeper into Medusa’s story, inspired by references in works by Hesiod, Apollodorus, and Ovid. Ovid’s account, in particular, revealed that Medusa was not born a monster but was transformed by Athena after being raped by Poseidon in her temple. Drawing on these fragments, Gruender wrote her version of the myth, aiming to give Medusa a voice.

Gruender’s debut novel “Medusa,” set to be published by Grand Central this August, is part of a growing genre of fictional reworkings of Greek myths. This trend includes novels like Natalie Haynes’ “Stone Blind,” Hannah Lynn’s “Athena’s Child,” and Jessie Burton’s “Medusa: The Girl Behind the Myth.” These works follow the success of Madeline Miller’s “Circe,” which spotlighted the powerful witch from Homer’s “Odyssey” and sold over 2.5 million copies.

For the authors and readers of these feminist revisions, centering women in ancient myths is seen as a necessary corrective. Historically, Greek and Roman mythology has been dominated by male perspectives, from ancient bards like Homer and Euripides to modern translators and scholars. Female characters were often sidelined, depicted as victims, objects, or monsters. Madeline Miller points out that ancient stories have predominantly male voices, and it’s crucial to hear the women’s perspectives.

Medusa by Nataly Gruender. Photo: Amazon

The article highlights other characters being reimagined in fiction, such as Queen Clytemnestra and Medea. This summer, new releases like Claire North’s “The Last Song of Penelope” and Caro De Robertis’s “The Palace of Eros” continue this trend. Jennifer Saint’s upcoming novel “Hera” reinterprets the goddess as a powerful deity, challenging traditional portrayals of her as spiteful and vindictive.

The trend of revising Greek myths is part of a long literary tradition, including works by Virgil, Ovid, Shakespeare, and contemporary authors like Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin. The recent rise of feminist retellings stands out for its volume and popularity, influenced by movements like #MeToo, which resonate with stories of female agency and resilience.

New translations of classical texts by women are also reshaping the understanding of these myths. Stephanie McCarter’s translation of Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” uses direct language to describe the gods’ actions, labeling assaults as rape rather than using euphemisms. Emily Wilson’s translations of Homer’s “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad” have been acclaimed for their straightforward language and avoidance of sexist terms.

Despite some criticism, such as Finn McRedmond’s argument in The New Statesman that feminist revisions can be one-note and misinterpret the original stories, the genre remains popular. For fans and writers, Greek myths continue to offer endless possibilities for reinterpretation.

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