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Chapter 15 - The Secret History

It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun and if we stretch that a little further than we might understand that there are really no new stories to write. Many of the myths we learned in school are revisited in books either retelling those myths or somehow buried within the books themselves. How often do we talk of "the hero's journey" (think Homer's Odyssey) or the whims of fate (any one of the Greek gods or goddesses could apply here).

If you are in the mood to get your "mythology" on without delving into either Edith Hamilton's well known book, Mythology or Bullfinch's Mythology, here are some books which tell versions of those tales we learned as children.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides - At first glance this psychological thriller might not look like a retelling of a myth but the eponymous "silent patient", a woman who has killed her husband, is a painter. Her latest painting is called Alcestis, an illusion to a Greek who sacrificed herself for her husband. The intricacies of the myth are interwoven in this story.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt - The Secret History revolves around a group of students who study Classics in a small New England College. They immerse themselves culturally into their studies especially the Bacchanal rite, inspired by Bacchus, the god of wine. While you don't have to have a great background in mythology to read this novel, it does help.

Circe by Madelyn Miller - The story of Circe is that of an enchantress and minor goddess. Exiled to an island, Circe turns her enemies into animals. Odysseus lands on her island with his men and she convinces him to stay for a while. Miller is a terrific author for spinning a tale.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman - While American Gods was recently made into a series for Amazon Prime, the book is better. The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on the mysterious Shadow, an ex-con. You will find more than a few updated myths to keep your interest.

Helen of Troy by Margaret George - This is a retelling of the Trojan War and the "face that launched a thousand ships." In this telling, Helen narrates her own story, starting with how Zeus seduced her mother, Helen's childhood and terrible beauty, and then Helen's passionless marriage and dalliance with Paris. This is a very interesting and readable book.

Have you read any books based on mythology? Let me know!


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