“The bards all sing of the bravery of the heroes and the greatness of your deeds: it is one of the few elements on which they all agree. But no one sings of the courage required by those of us who were left behind.”
― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships
The more I read, the more I write, and the more I consume all forms of storytelling from films, to TV, to poetry, the more I realize how unfamiliar I am with the bases for so many of these tales. I’m not sure what piqued my interest but, sometime last year, I decided I would start with the Greek myths and then move onto other foundational stories.
Thus begins my 2023 as I dive into all things myth.
A Thousand Ships tells the stories of the women, of the casualties and survivors, of the ten-year siege of Troy. The perspective of the wives, mothers, daughters and even the goddesses is described in clear and often painful detail as we see how the actions, or inactions, of the heroes affect the women around them.
Most of the chapters are one-offs, but a few key stories keep building in the chapters titled “The Trojan Women.” This includes Hecabe, the queen of conquered Troy, and her daughters, Cassandra (cursed by Apollo to know the future but forever be ignored), Polyxena, and Hecabe’s daughter-in-law, Andromache and her infant son and how they came to be on the shore near the remains of their burning city as they wait for the Greek soldiers to divvy them up as slaves or sacrifices before finally sailing back to Greece.
I’m glad I finished this book. Read into that what you may. It was beautifully written but it was not an easy read and I didn’t expect it to be. I nearly gave up on it a few times but I was reading The Song of Achilles at the same time. I burned through that book in a matter of days and, once I finished it, I wasn’t ready to leave Troy behind just yet. So, I finished this book.
My favorite parts were Penelope’s letters to her forever-absent husband, Odysseus. She is clearly fed up, and her sarcastic and clearly pained letters were the best parts of this book. I wish I could find more quotes but here is one of the better ones. There is one quote about “and now is when the bard gets to the sea-monster part of your journey,” that killed me.
“Because really, how many cannibalistic giants can one Greek plausibly meet as he sails the open seas?”
And from Calliope, the muse:
“But it is surprising that he hasn’t considered how many other men there are like him, every day, all demanding my unwavering attention and support. How much epic poetry does the world really need?’
In summary, this book was interesting but not interesting enough for me to recommend it.