Greeks Bearing Gifts

interview-with-madeline-millerI read the Odyssey in high school and bits and pieces of the Iliad in high school and college. I read some Greek drama over the course of my education and I’m familiar with the usual mythology. But in general it was never my thing. I’m totally a mythology and folklore junkie but for some reason the Greco-Roman variety never really spoke to me.

When I fist heard of Madeline Miller’s work I wasn’t particularly interested in it. Sure I remember the figures of Achilles and Circe from the Iliad and the Odyssey respectively, but I had no desire to revisit them. However when I saw both novels praised extensively by reviewers who also professed to have little interest in the Greek Classics I became slightly curious, but I still had the sense that it would end up being the kind of thing that I’d  end up being disappointed in due to overhype.

Well, I admit it. I was wrong. I actually read Circe first. It comes second chronologically but since both books are essentially stand alone, it doesn’t really matter which you read first. I found that Miller had told a very human story featuring witches, gods and monsters. Song of Achilles focus more on “human” characters (with a few exceptions) but turns the Trojan war into the setting for a beautiful love story between the titular hero and his longtime (male) companion Patroclus.

After reading these books I did what I always do after reading something great: I googled the author.  I discovered several essays that she wrote, including one about adapting existing works. Though in the essay Miller writes about adapting the Greek Classics, I think that what she says encompasses everything from classic literature to mythology and folklore. She writes about feeling like writing adaptations is cheating somehow:

When I was a teenager, the thought of a classical story being rewritten sent me into a rage. I cherished the ancient Greeks’ myths deeply, and adaptations seemed like nothing but assault: an unnecessary adulteration of something that was already perfect. Why rewrite Homer, I thought, when you can re-read the original? Adaptations were an admission of artistic laziness. Couldn’t these authors find something original to write about?

 

She started to write Song of Achilles while she was directing a production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida in college. The play is Shakespeare’s take on the Trojan war,  so Miller figured it was permissible for Shakespeare to adapt,  because it was a play: it was being retold for a different artistic medium. But seeing it acted made her think about the voice of a character she hadn’t heard from and she started to write. She was embarrassed by what she was doing: her (now ex) boyfriend contemptuously called it “Homeric fan fiction.”
This struck me because I had a similar feeling when I was writing Beautiful. I felt like because I was retelling the Beauty and the Beast story, I wasn’t original. I was tackling a story that had been retold so many times. But like Miller, I felt like I had something to say about it.
As she wrote, Miller discovered other authors that had written innovative work adapting Homer:
Not one of these authors seeks to supplant Homer, but to engage and illuminate him. They do what adaptation does at its very best: stand brilliantly on its own, while inspiring a fresh look at the original. And there is absolutely nothing lazy about any of it – all those works show how the authors steeped themselves in the source material, and how thoughtfully they approached it. Besides, if I had been thinking straight from the beginning, I would have realised that some of my favourite ancient authors are themselves adapters – Virgil’s Aeneid is based on the Iliad and Odyssey, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses draws on everyone from Homer to Virgil himself.
I think that while Greek Classics are never going to be my favorite genre, this author sees  and understands what’s beautiful about literary adaptation. To me that’s something exciting. I’m eager for her future work.

My Bookish Identity Tag

My Bookish Identity

I was tagged by The Orang-utan Librarian the other day. So here is some info about my Bookish Identity.

  • What dystopian/fantastical world would you live in?
  • Who would your partner be?
  • Who would be your godly mother/father? [Percy Jackson]
  • Would you be a downworlder or nephilim? [Shadowhunter world]
  • Which house would you be in? [Harry Potter]
  • Which faction would you be in? [Divergent]
  • What would be your daemon [Northern Lights]

WHAT DYSTOPIAN/FANTASTICAL WORLD WOULD YOU LIVE IN?

I don’t think that I’d want to live in a dystopian world! Sometimes this world seems frighteningly close! But as far as fantastical…. I could go for the world of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s strange and dreamy, and doesn’t seem like it’s ever boring!

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WHO WOULD YOUR PARTNER BE?

I suppose that depends on what kind of partner we’re talking about! Romantic partner? Business partner? Partner in crime? I think that Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series might actually do well as all three. He’s eternally devoted to his one true love, but he’s also a really smart, strategic thinker (when his emotions aren’t clouding his judgement).  He’s good at math, which could be useful in a business partner. Especially since I’m…not! Plus, he’s good at getting himself out of a tight spot, which would be useful for a partner in crime. Plus he’s tall and can reach things that are up high.

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WHO WOULD BE YOUR GODLY MOTHER/FATHER? [PERCY JACKSON]

I had to google this one since I haven’t read Percy Jackson. I took a quiz here and I am apparently a child of Demeter goddess of agriculture, grain, and bread. I don’t know if that makes me Persephone or just her sister…

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WOULD YOU BE A DOWNWORLDER OR A NEPHILIM [SHADOWHUNTER WORLD]

I’d probably be a Nephilim. I’m pretty firmly on the side of good. Not that there aren’t some shady Nephilim! But between that and a Downworlder I’m definitely Nephilim. (Just a note, I read the first 3 Shadowhunters books and that’s pretty much it. So if there are things we learn later that make this not applicable let me know!)

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WHICH HOUSE WOULD YOU BE IN? [HARRY POTTER]

Ravenclaw. I was definitely a “brain” in school. By that I mean that I was always reading, and always the really obnoxious kid with her hand raised to answer every question (regardless of whether or not I was right!). I love to read. I love to learn. I’m creative. I think the sorting hat would be pretty definitive.

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WHAT FACTION WOULD YOU BE IN? [DIVERGENT]

I think I have elements of all the factions in me. But I suppose that most of us do! I guess that Amity is the one I’d be most drawn to. I’m pretty peaceful. I try to be kind to everyone. I am very loyal to my friends, and I’m pretty forgiving.

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WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DAEMON? [NORTHERN LIGHTS]

This is a tough one. I actually had to do another quiz, because there are so many options! This is what I got.

You are someone who lives in the present and you care deeply about your friends, whom you consider to be your sisters and brothers. You know how to enjoy life. But if anything threatens your future or that of those you love, you will always be the first person to fight for it.

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Actually it’s probably pretty accurate.

I tag Emma, Caitlin Stern, Jessica, Cam, and  Holly.