Circe and The Song of Achilles are two highly acclaimed novels by Madeline Miller that retell stories from Greek mythology. Circe follows the story of the eponymous character, who is the daughter of the Titan sun god Helios and a nymph.
Circe is considered to be a lesser goddess and is often overlooked and underestimated by her family and the other gods.
She possesses the power of witchcraft and is exiled to the island of Aiaia, where she spends her time practicing magic and encountering various mythical creatures.
Through her interactions with mortal visitors and other gods, Circe learns about the complexities of power, love, and family. The Song of Achilles tells the story of the Greek hero Achilles, as narrated by his companion and lover, Patroclus.
The novel explores the bond between the two men and their experiences during the Trojan War. It also delves into themes of fate, mortality, and the cost of war.
Both novels are written in a lyrical and poetic style that draws on the language and imagery of ancient Greek literature.
Miller’s writing has been praised for its vivid descriptions and emotional depth, as well as its ability to breathe new life into classic myths and legends.
If you enjoyed the mythical retellings and settings found in both Circe and The Song of Achilles, you will surely enjoy the likes of Ariadne, Bull, and The Penelopiad to name a few choices.
Themes In Circe And The Song Of Achilles
Love And Relationships
Both novels explore the different forms that love can take, from obsessive to selfless, and highlight the challenges of navigating complex emotions.
In both novels, love and relationships are portrayed as complex and nuanced, with different forms having their own unique challenges and rewards.
Ultimately, the theme of love in both novels highlights the importance of human connection and the role that love can play in shaping the course of a person’s life.
Power And Agency
The books feature protagonists who are underestimated and undervalued but ultimately discover their own power and agency.
Fate And Destiny
The idea that some events are meant to happen, even if they come at a great cost, is central to both novels.
While fate is portrayed as a powerful force that can shape the course of individuals’ lives, both novels also suggest that individuals have agency in shaping their destinies.
The theme of fate ultimately underscores the idea that individuals must navigate their own choices and their sense of purpose in a world where the future is uncertain.
Both novels highlight the challenges of being an outsider, whether because of gender, power, or other factors, and the importance of finding one’s own path despite societal expectations.
The Cost Of War
War is also a prevalent theme, with the novels exploring the human cost of war and the toll it takes on individuals and relationships.
The House of Names is a retelling of the Greek myth of the House of Atreus, which includes the stories of Agamemnon, and Clytemnestra, along with their children Electra, Orestes, and Iphigenia.
The novel explores the family’s tragic story of betrayal, revenge, and violence in a way that emphasizes the psychological and emotional motivations of its characters.
- Engaging characters
- Psychological depth
- Unique retelling
- Some readers may find the novel’s pacing to be slow, as Toibin spends a great deal of time exploring the psychological motivations of his characters
Themes: Complex family relationships, mythology, the consequences of violence, fate, and destiny, the dangers of hubris, and the power of storytelling.
Ariadne retells the story of the mythological figure of the same name, who is best known for her role in helping Theseus defeat the Minotaur.
The novel follows Ariadne’s life from childhood to adulthood and explores her relationships with her family, particularly her father King Minos, her sister Phaedra, and Theseus.
The novel is told from the perspectives of both Ariadne and Phaedra and is notable for its focus on the lives and experiences of women in Ancient Greece.
- Strong character development
- Beautifully written
- A unique perspective
- Features graphic depictions of violence, which may be disturbing for some readers
Themes: The impact of family relationships, the role, and experiences of women in ancient Greek society, mythology, the power of love, the danger of hubris, the influence of destiny
This next book is a young adult fantasy novel that tells the story of the ancient Greek gods, who have been reincarnated as mortals and are slowly dying.
Athena and Hermes, two of the gods, are desperately trying to find a way to stop their inevitable deaths. They soon discover that their deaths result from a curse placed upon them by a vengeful goddess, who wants to destroy them all.
Along with a group of mortal allies, Athena and Hermes embark on a dangerous journey to break the curse and save themselves and their fellow gods.
Antigoddess draws upon classic myths and legends to create a rich and detailed world that is steeped in history and tradition.
- A creative take on Greek mythology
- Fast-paced and action-packed
- Strong female protagonists
- The novel’s modern setting might be jarring for those looking for a more traditional myth retelling.
Themes: Morality, love, relationships, the struggle for power, strong women, mythology
This next novel moves away from Greek mythology and instead ventures into the territory of Norse mythology, retelling the Norse mythology that centers on the story of Angrboda, a giantess with the ability to see the future, and her relationships with Loki, the god of mischief, and their three half-human, half-giant children.
Angrboda is a complex and sympathetic protagonist who must navigate the treacherous world of Norse gods and goddesses, while also protecting her children from the dangers that surround them.
The novel also delves into the mythology of the Norse world, bringing to life the rich and vibrant culture of the time.
The relationships between the characters are complex and layered, with Angrboda and Loki’s love story serving as a driving force for the narrative.
- Another highly unique perspective
- Charcter-driven story
- Rich world-building
- The novel can be complex at times, with many characters and relationships to keep track of, which may be challenging for some readers
Themes: Love, relationships, power, control, fate and destiny, mythology, tragedy, loss
This next book retells the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis, a queen who is captured by Achilles and becomes his concubine.
Like “Circe” and “The Song of Achilles,” the novel takes a character-driven approach and explores the complexities of relationships, power dynamics, and the ways in which individuals cope with trauma and loss.
In the novel, Briseis is forced to confront her own powerlessness in a world dominated by men, as well as her complicated feelings for Achilles, who is both her captor and her savior.
The story also delves into the experiences of the other women who are caught up in the war, including the captive Trojan princesses and the wives of the Greek soldiers.
- Another fresh perspective
- Thought-provoking themes
- Historical accuracy
- While some readers may appreciate the pared-down writing style, others may find it too sparse or lacking in detail
Themes: Mythology, relationships, the role, and experiences of women in ancient Greek society, trauma, loss, fate, and destiny
This novella by Margaret Atwood retells the story of Homer’s The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope, the wife of the hero Odysseus.
The book is narrated by Penelope in the afterlife, as she reflects on her life and the events that led up to the Trojan War. The Penelopiad retells a well-known myth from the perspective of a minor character who is often overlooked in the original story.
It also focuses on the inner lives of characters who are often seen as one-dimensional in the original text. The novella is also written in a lyrical, poetic style, which gives it a timeless quality and allows it to transcend its mythological roots.
- Provides a fresh perspective on a well-known myth and a minor character often overlooked in the original text
- Written in a lyrical, poetic style that gives it a timeless quality
- Offers a nuanced look at the character of Penelope and her experience
- The book is quite short and may not satisfy readers who are looking for a longer, more detailed retelling
Themes: The role of women, the consequences of war, the search for identity, love, relationships, mythology, fate, and destiny
Lavinia is a novel that retells the story of Lavinia, a minor character from Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid. In the novel, Lavinia narrates her own story, revealing her thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
She is the daughter of the king of Latium and the future wife of the Trojan hero Aeneas. Lavinia is a feminist retelling of a classical Roman myth that gives voice to a marginalized female character.
The novel is also notable for its experimentation with narrative form, as Le Guin blurs the lines between past, present, and future and allows Lavinia to speak directly to the reader.
- Le Guin’s writing is lyrical and poetic, making the novel a pleasure to read
- An imaginative and nuanced look at a period of Roman history that is often overlooked in contemporary literature
- The portrayal of Lavinia as a complex and multidimensional character is both engaging and thought-provoking
- Some readers may find that the novel’s treatment of gender dynamics is overly simplified or not fully explored
Themes: Mythology, fate, free will, power, agency, love, relationships, transformation, the role of women, mortality, and immortality
Much like The Silence of the Girls, A Thousand Ships is focused on the Trojan War and retells the story from the perspective of the women involved in the conflict.
The book explores the experiences of the women who are usually relegated to the background in traditional retellings of the Trojan War, such as Penelope, Cassandra, and Helen.
The book draws on classical mythology and reimagines the stories of ancient characters, whilst also exploring the impact of war on individuals and communities and the human toll of conflict.
- A fresh perspective on the Trojan War
- The book challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes and highlights the importance of women’s voices and experiences in classical mythology
- The writing is engaging and accessible, making it easy for readers to get invested in the characters and their stories
- The book may not be suitable for readers who are looking for a more traditional retelling of the Trojan War, as it diverges significantly from the original myth
Themes: The role of women, the power of love and desire, the impact of war and violence, the limitations of power and free will, self-discovery, the search for self-identity, mythology
The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason is a novel that explores the world of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, through a collection of stories that take place within the framework of the original tale.
The book is a unique re-imagining of the classic story, blending elements of fantasy and science fiction with the original epic. The novel is structured as a collection of 44 short stories, each one a variation on a particular episode from The Odyssey.
The stories are not presented in chronological order, but rather in a random sequence that jumps back and forth through time, creating a non-linear narrative that adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue.
- A unique and creative re-imagining of the classic epic poem
- Structured as a collection of short stories, which allows the reader to dip in and out of the narrative at their own pace
- Mason’s writing style is poetic and atmospheric
- The non-linear structure may be confusing for some readers
Themes: The power of love, desire, the struggle for power, self-identity, self-discovery, mythology
Bull is a novel that retells the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur, a creature that is part-human, part-bull, and is confined to the Labyrinth on the island of Crete.
The book is narrated from multiple perspectives, including the Minotaur, King Minos, Daedalus, and Ariadne, and combines poetry and prose to tell the story.
The novel explores the backstory of the Minotaur and the events that lead to his imprisonment in the Labyrinth, including his birth as the result of a curse placed on King Minos, and his subsequent exile to the island of Crete.
It also follows the story of Theseus, the Athenian prince who ventures to Crete to slay the Minotaur, and his relationship with Ariadne, King Minos’s daughter.
- A unique and creative retelling of a classic myth
- Engaging narrative that blends poetry and prose
- Multiple perspectives provide a more nuanced and complex view of the story and its characters
- Some readers may find the blending of poetry and prose to be jarring or distracting
Themes: Love, fate, power, destiny, self-identity, self-discovery, ancient Greek society
Written in 1958, this historical novel retells the myth of Theseus, the legendary founder-king of Athens.
The novel is set in Ancient Greece and follows Theseus from his early life as a prince in the city-state of Troizen to his eventual ascension to the throne of Athens.
Along the way, Theseus faces a number of trials and challenges, including the killing of the Minotaur on Crete and his involvement in the political turmoil of Athens.
The King Must Die & The Bull By The Sea is the first book in Renault’s Theseus series and is considered a classic of historical fiction.
It has been praised for its vivid portrayal of Ancient Greece and for its exploration of timeless themes and issues that continue to resonate with contemporary readers.
- Well-researched and historically accurate
- The character of Theseus is well-developed and complex, making for a compelling and engaging protagonist
- The story is full of action and adventure, making it an exciting read
- Some readers may find the use of archaic language and dialogue to be difficult to follow or off-putting
Themes: Mythology, legend, fate, destiny, coming of age, relationships, love, politics, power
Last but not least, this book retells the legend of King Arthur from the perspective of the women who played a significant role in his life, such as his mother, Igraine, his half-sister, Morgaine, Guinevere, and the Lady of the Lake, Viviane.
- A unique retelling of the King Arthur legend from a feminist perspective
- The characters are complex and multidimensional, with their own struggles and motivations
- The novel is well-researched and incorporates elements of Celtic mythology and religion, which can be fascinating to readers interested in these topics
- The author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, has been accused of sexual abuse and supporting her husband’s abuse of children. This has led many readers to boycott her work and/or feel uncomfortable supporting her financially
Themes: Mythology, love, relationships, fate, destiny, strong female characters, political intrigue, and conflict
These books all have their similarities to Circe and The Song of Achilles due to their themes and settings, often exploring themes of love, fate, and destiny, as well as the human experience and the challenges and complexities of relationships.
They also frequently incorporate elements of mythology and ancient history, providing readers with a fresh perspective on stories they may already be familiar with.
They also offer rich and complex storytelling that can be both entertaining and thought-provoking.
Readers who enjoy exploring the intersections of mythology and literature, as well as those who appreciate vivid characters and intricate relationships, are sure to find these books to be a worthwhile read!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Circe And The Song Of Achilles Part Of A Series?
No. Both of these novels are written by the same author- Madeline Miller- but they are standalone novels.
Are Circe And The Song Of Achilles Historical Fiction Or Fantasy?
They could be considered a blend of both. While they are based on Greek mythology and incorporate fantastical elements such as gods and monsters, they are also grounded in historical and cultural aspects of Ancient Greece.