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  • Writer's pictureSophia Kouidou-Giles

Obsession, Redemption, And Tragedy In Feminist “Circe” Greek Myth Retelling

By Sophia Kouidou-Giles

Stories based on Greek myths have been told and reimagined for centuries. Ancient narratives often have multiple versions. Through the centuries, writers have used basic myths to explore their meaning and shed a fresh lens on the messages they hold. For me, borne and raised in Greece, myths from my natal home offer a boundless playground for imaginative storytelling.


I have wanted to write ever since I was in middle school. My grandmother’s gift to me was making up stories, some based on myths, before nap time, a habit I took up later with my family, my son and grandchildren. As a teen, I was an enthusiastic reader of Greek and world literature, and I enjoyed writing and learning about mythology. Now that I have settled in the Pacific Northwest, working with myths feels like a satisfying way to bridge two cultures and share the riches of my natal home.


I joined the tradition of rewriting myths with my debut novel, An Unexpected Ally: A Greek Tale of Love, Revenge, and Redemption (She Writes Press, October 3, 2023). The story of Circe begins during the time Odysseus was preparing to leave her island and return home. Drawing from Homer’s epic, the Odyssey, and interweaving the myths of Skylla and Charybdis, and Glaucus, this novel explores the adventures and alliances of a complex set of characters. Another draw for me was the flexibility myths offer.


While mythology provides a rich backdrop to storytelling, it tends to be relatively concise portraying two-dimensional characters. Homer dedicates a few lines to Circe. I took the liberty to expand the narrative and created additional scenes that flesh out the story and built out the characters. Following the restoration of the beasts, Odysseus announces his journey to Hades at a symposium, where he announces his impending journey to Hades. That scene gave me the opportunity to amplify the warrior’s nostalgia for home and detail the enchantress’s relationship to Odysseus.


Drawing on this array of mythical beings who mirror the human condition, psychological processes, struggles and transformations are highlighted. In line with the subtitle of An Unexpected Ally: A Greek Tale of Love, Revenge and Redemption, the central characters experience seeking and losing love, the most potent of all emotions, while jealousy, its shadowy counterpart, leads them through tumultuous paths. However, redemption brings the story to full circle, transforming their struggles into wisdom, and their failures into stepping-stones. My hope is that these emotions enhance the relevancy and readability of the story, adding depth to each myth.


My aim was to create a believable world, a crucial aspect of writing a novel. In an Unexpected Ally, I had the opportunity to provide a detailed portrayal of Circe’s mythical island, Aeaea. I used visual imagery to immerse readers to experience the sights, sounds and atmosphere of this captivating place. That work was also loosely based on my visits to museums and archeological sites that stimulated how this world could look like. I used a different approach in researching the island of Delos, an island Circe visits. The island exists today and is a rich archeological site. As I have not visited it, I relied on descriptions of the site and photographs available in books and online.


Establishing new connections between myths and characters was challenging and interesting. For example, although Ovid, a Roman author who recorded Greek tales, mentions the myth of Skylla and Charybdis, but he makes no link to the story of Glaucus. I found that selecting and linking these myths took special effort, but added freshness and energy to the story, offering new opportunities to flesh out a believable plot and shape the personalities of the characters in significant ways.

Retelling these Greek myths has been a challenging yet joyful experience during the covid days. Working with universal themes and convincing the reader to suspend disbelief, the tale becomes new and fresh. I hope this investigation of myths will make the tales more relevant and easier to read.


(First published on GirlTalkHQ.com)



 

In “An Unexpected Ally” (She Writes Press, October 3, 2023), Sophia’s debut fiction sheds new light on the classic story revealing the terrible origins of one of the most legendary Greek monsters against a background of romance, revenge, and unlikely sisterhood. Following Odysseus’s departure, Circe journeys to Delos to meet an amphibian god, Glaucus. Intrigued by his abilities with herbs, she finds Glaucus to be a suitable match only to realize he’s in love with the local beauty, Skylla. However, the same couldn’t be said about Skylla and when Glaucus’s jealousy turns into revenge, it’s up to Circe to help the two undo the damage they’ve caused.

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