There are a number of Greek mythology books and Greek myth retellings on the market, and I’ve read quite a few of them. From the classicist Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, I’ve been through list after list of popular fiction. I’ve even meandered through Devdutt Pattanaik’s retelling and attempt to connect Greek myths to Indian mythology.
And while many of these stories can be fun and exciting, there’s something missing from 99% of the Greek retelling booklists—actual Greeks.
As someone with Greek heritage and who is studying the modern Greek language, this has always been a point of frustration. After all, there must be books by Greek authors who reference and delve into their own history, both ancient and modern. But outside of the high literary scene, there’s very little translated from Greek into English.
So, in this list, I wanted to find some Greek myth retellings by Greek authors and share them with you.
But first: The Modern History Behind Greek Myth Retellings in Europe
Saying that a lot has happened in the region today known as Greece since Homer first penned The Illiad and The Odyssey is an understatement. Ancient Greece, as taught in the Anglophone world, is the “birthplace of Western Europe”, but the fact is, this version of history is far divorced from its geography and people.
While there’s no doubt Ancient Greek culture influenced the Romans, the history of the Greek people and their literature is woven into the fabric of the Mediterranean, including Northern Africa, Anatolia, and the Levant.
Between then and now, numerous empires have risen and fallen. The Byzantines took over in the Middle Ages, and their successors, the Ottoman Empire, ruled for hundreds of years, gradually devouring Venetian territories in Greece. Before Independence in 1830, modern-day Greece was split between three empires—the Ottomans, the Venetians, and the British. Shortly after independence, the Central European powers imposed a foreign monarchy, led by a Bavarian prince, which had long-lasting ramifications on the early nation.
It was during the 18th and 19th century that the central European powers “rediscovered” Ancient Greece, and sought to use Greek mythology and history as a part of their own nation-building exercises. Philosophers during this time considered themselves to be the “true heirs” of Socrates and Plato, believing the modern Greeks to be unworthy of their own past. For this reason, many of the myths were stripped from their roots as they were crudely translated into English, often pandering to English sensibilities and interpretations.
Between the mid-1800s and the 1970s, the country has changed political systems nearly every 20-30 years, in addition to suffering wars, coping with ethnic cleansing, military juntas, civil war, and general outside interference.
As a result, Greek literature and mythological retellings are rife with expressive and vast experiences that run the gambit of philosophical, political, and cultural identity. We just don’t see it in the western world, because Greek culture is not completely considered “western”, but rather as a boundary between Central Europe, Asia, and Africa. But the appropriation and integration of Anglicized Greek myths live on.
I won’t go into detail, because it could be a post in itself, but Thomas Gallant’s Modern Greece: From the War of Independence to the Present is probably the most comprehensive and accessible book on the subject.
A footnote on Greek Publishing
Greece has nearly always been in a state of economic uncertainty, but the 2009 financial crisis decimated a number of industries. The combination of inflation, high employment, and skyrocketing taxes pulverized the publishing industry. During 2015, at the peak of the crisis, Greek bookshop turnover dropped by 50-80%, and publishers reduced production by 90%.
Despite the country having recently paid off its debt, the economy still suffers from double-digit unemployment and reduced spending. Therefore, many Greek authors today choose to write in English for Anglophone markets to make a living and supplement their income.
A significant problem arises when Greeks are barred from new retelling opportunities due to an “over-saturated” market. As a result, Greeks writing in English find it difficult to market and sell their stories based on their own culture.
While there are Greek retelling lists across the internet, most do not contain works by Greeks or the Greek diaspora. Out of dozens and dozens of books, I could only find two published novels, one upcoming release, and four short stories that are from Greek authors.
Greek Myth Retellings from Greek Authors
1. The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis
At first, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to include this work by Nikos Kazantzakis, purely based on my personal preference. Famous for his novel Zorba the Greek, Kazantzakis is well established in the European canon and was nominated for the Nobel Prize nine times. And thus, his work is hardly contemporary. But it is fundamentally Greek.
This retelling of The Odyssey, translated by Kimon Friar, is a novel in verse. Odysseus journies through the Mediterranean while questioning the nature of God. And having been born in the late 1880s, at a time when the Greek national identity was still fluid, Kazantzakis’ work is a unique snapshot in time – one that merges ancient myth with an era of modern mythmaking. While incredibly descriptive, it can be a bit tedious. But well worth the ride.
2. Ariadne and Dionysus: A Modern Tale by Stamatia Karampini
Stamatia’s Ariadne and Dionysus is a novel that transcends borders and firmly brings Greek myth into the modern era. In this English debut novel, Stamatia weaves a tale of a young Greek woman named Ariadne who journeys across Europe in an attempt to realize her dream of becoming a musician. As the intensity and difficulty of immigration and the music world set in, Ariadne meets Dionysus, an experienced artist exhausted by the system.
3. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
Better known for his crime novel, The Silent Patient, British-Cypriot writer Alex Michaelides infuses this murder mystery with myth. While not a mythological retelling, it does lean heavily into allusions.
In The Maidens, therapist Mariana Andros is convinced that Greek tragedy professor Edward Fosca is a murderer after a member of a Persephone-inspired secret society is killed.
4. Back to Delphi by Ioanna Karystiani, translated by Konstantine Matsoukas
Ioanna Karystiani’s Back to Delphi also isn’t a conventional retelling. But given its setting and the tragic nature of the text, I thought it would be a good “reach” book to include. Masterfully written, this novel inspects the complex relationship between a mother and her imprisoned son. When Linus is given a brief furlough, his mother takes him to Delphi in an attempt to repair their relationship.
5. The Names of Women by Natalia Theodoridou
Appearing in Uncanny Magazine, this short story is a contemporary retelling of Philomena. In Greek mythology, Philomena was a princess of Athens. After being raped by her sister’s husband Tereus, and mutilated, she was said to have been turned into a nightingale or swallow. In another version, Philomena, unable to speak, weaves a tapestry describing the rape and sends it to her sister, who exacts revenge.
Natalia’s modern retelling of this ancient Greek myth is a tasteful page-turner that never deprives Philomena of her agency. A definite must-read.
6. An Odyssey: Echoes of War by Natalia Theodoridou
For those who love interactive fiction, Natalia has penned a choice-based text game version of The Odyssey. Take on Odysseus’ role as you attempt to return to Ithica and reclaim your throne after the Trojan War, Poseidon placing obstacle after obstacle in your path. At over 250,000 words, this text-based Greek retelling of Homer’s timeless classic is a steal – and you can play the first 3 chapters for free.
7. Darkness Our Mother by Eleanna Castroianni
In this short story, Eleanna takes the myth of the minotaur and places it in a science fiction setting, with Sadne, his sister, the main character. but it isn’t a simple, clearcut retelling of Theseus and Ariadne. I don’t want to give too much away, but this Greek retelling is an incredibly detailed, captivating narrative with marvelous world-building.
8. Kairo’s Flock by Avra Margariti
In this mythological retelling of Icarus, Avra combines aspects of the original Greek myth with Frankstein to create a seamless fantasy short story, with tinges of horror. Elegantly described, this contemporary retelling is a lush, introspective narrative you won’t want to miss.
9. Threads That Bind by Kat Hatzouplou
This currently unreleased YA fantasy-noir follows Io, a young woman who witnesses a murder by someone who is supposed to be dead. While not a surface retelling, Kat’s characters are descendants of the gods, and there is bound to be an abundance of creative twists and turns in this novel as she blends ancient myths and modern folklore. The Threads that Bind is set to be released in the summer of 2023.
There are two other loosely related books that fans of Greek myth retellings would want to add to their to-read pile:
- Dedalus Greek Fantasy Literary Anthology – This anthology combines work from groundbreaking Greek authors in 20th-century literature. There are a few loose retellings that are allusions to ancient Greek myths, including Oedipus and mermaids, but this volume of fantasy and science fiction often touches on antiquity while staying firmly rooted in the present. Some of the work may seem a bit too “literary” or antiquated, based on your tastes, but this is a great introduction to a vast array of modern authors from Greece.
- Nova Hellas: Greek Science Fiction – Far more contemporary than the above anthology, this one is comprised of recently published short stories in science fiction. All the stories are incredibly dystopian but also fundamentally Greek and linked to the nation’s recent and ancient past. The vast creativity displayed in this single collection is fantastic and a must-read for anyone who enjoys the genre.
Basic Vocabulary for Greek Myths
|the myth||ο μύθος|
|the mythology||η μυθολογία|
|ancient Greece||αρχαία Ελλάδα|
|It's a love story.||Είναι μια ιστορία αγάπης.|
|This myth is a tragedy.||Αυτός ο μύθος είναι μια τραγωδία.|
|the gods||οι θεοί|
|the nymphs||οι νύμφες|
|the war||ο πόλεμος|
|He/she/it represents||Αυτός/αυτή αντιπροσωπεύει…|