Why is mythology having a moment?

Pat Barker, Michael Hughes and Madeline Miller are among many modern writers reinventing the classics

Lynn Buckle: The Greeks serialised our morality, foibles and failures in the guise of gods and goddesses lest we recognise our mortal selves – or lest we don’t.

Lynn Buckle: The Greeks serialised our morality, foibles and failures in the guise of gods and goddesses lest we recognise our mortal selves – or lest we don’t.

 

Glancing through the book review sections one can’t help noticing the preponderance of mythopoeia in literary fiction and wondering if there any new stories at all or just reworkings of old tropes? Why such an interest in mythology?

If a novel contains appalling behaviour, family drama, endless sparring or infidelity on an epic scale, it is simply describing the human condition. The Greeks serialised our morality, foibles and failures in the guise of gods and goddesses lest we recognise our mortal selves – or lest we don’t.

These ancient insights remain pertinent; they are as eternal as immortality itself. And that is the point. We are always ourselves; misogynistic, warring, selfish, idolising, yearning perfectionists. Tragic, clever and beautiful.

Dystopia was never an imaginary place of ruination – it is now

The regurgitating, the reinventing, the references and rewrites of Greek mythology will continue for as long as humanity remains on this planet. In case it doesn’t we have a genre of literature dealing in every apocalyptic disaster.

But dystopia was never an imaginary place of ruination – it is now, and authors are at pains to either point out our dystopia-blindness or to salve our weariness of it with idealised beauties and escapist yarns.

Authors and readers alike fall into one or other classical camp. But then every human discord has an opposing virtue and a story to help us to understand it. Authors of these stories are seeking congruence with the ancients or opposing them. Either way the Greeks are lending credence to contemporary fiction.

Pat Barker rights gender imbalance wrongs in her Silence of the Girls, giving voice to women, not just of the past, in her retelling of Homer’s Trojan Wars. Country by Michael Hughes also repeats the Iliad but sets it in Northern Ireland where conflict and sexist wrongs continue aplenty, although Anna Burns winningly attests to this in Milkman without so much as a glimpse of a Grecian.

Madeline Miller’s classicist background lends academic rigor to an engagingly written Circe, the novel’s heroine being an extension of Homer’s same character in the Odyssey. Here she presents us with timeless dilemmas.

Others, like Daisy Johnson in Everything Under The Sun and myself in The Groundsmen, weave Greek allusions and archetypes throughout our tales like Arachne herself, while creating new myths for the modern world.

From tragedy to beauty, on Mount Olympus or in Mountjoy Square, we tread in well-worn footsteps.

Lynn Buckle, author of The Groundsmen published by époque press, continues her Irish and UK book tour Myth & Narrative throughout 2019.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.