Mythology in the Modern Age

Summer is upon us. And with it comes long days reading in the sun. A week ago I spent one said day with Madeline Miller’s newest novel Circea retelling of The Odyssey’s witch of Aeaea. The new hardback bent and warped in the heat, and my damp hands made imprints on the pages – puckered them like petals and smudged the ink.

Myth and solitude and witchcraft and power and transformation and a narrative voice that had me obsessed. The novel was everything.

Once finished I was struck dumb, not quite wanting to read anything else for fear of forgetting. So I pillaged it for gems. Underlining and annotating. I flicked and folded. Read and re-read. Then I turned to the world of pixels. I watched interviews with Madeline Miller, listened to podcasts, researched literature on Circe herself. And, I booked a ticket to see Miller in conversation with Kamila Shamsie at The British Museum.

‘Ancient Myth in the Modern World’ was the name of the talk. I read Shamsie’s Home Fire (devastating, but what did I expect – an Antigone retelling that wasn’t tragic?) and Miller’s Song of Achilles in a feverish few days. The talk itself was at once erudite and personal, it spoke to the then and the now, and tugged at my thoughts and heartstrings of possibilities.

Instead of attempting to wrangle my thoughts into something coherent, I’ve instead transcribed my notes here. In translation (or transcription…) their words have moulded and mixed with my own thoughts – like a retelling I suppose.

So much can be learnt from the past. But we always forget.

Now is the right time to rewrite Mythology from a female perspective for, just as we’re looking for women’s voices now, we look for them in the past too.

The female characters aren’t weak, they’ve always been strong, they just don’t have a voice.

What is Antigone in the 21st Century? It’s about dictatorship and civil liberties within democratic states.

Translations are gendered.

Language is gendered.

On writing minorities: stories told in ways we haven’t heard before.

Circe is the incarnation of male anxiety about female power. Witch is the word we use when a woman has more power than society believes she should have.

Witch: the tradition of the powerful and knowledgeable woman.

There are so many revisions of each myth, so why can’t we write our own versions?

“The Gods love to fuck with us” (from Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies)

Gods never have to work for anything – it is the mortal toil that makes anything worthwhile.

Writing is witchcraft. It’s about transformation – transforming one thing, like Circe, into something completely different.

Narrative brings order to the chaos of the world around us. Stories help us control and deal with our lives. They allow us to connect with others.


Empathy is the greatest hope we have.


And now, as I look for other mythological retellings I realise that I need to look no further than the news. The #MeToo movement is a collation of Cassandra retellings: the woman who refused a man’s sexual advances. For this, she was cursed to always tell the truth, but never be believed.

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