The Greek myths are ones that have been told thousands of times in every form and to varying levels of degree. Yet, I can never seem to keep myself from reaching for them and devouring page after page. My absolute favorite is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and now there’s Arcadian Nights.
Arcadian Nights is somehow, miraculously, approached differently than the other retellings of myths I’ve read. Author John Spurling draws from his own experiences in Greece to give the reader a sense of the modern country and the land that is very much still Greece from the soil to the olive groves it nourishes, from the seas to the ships they stock with fish. At the same time, however, his focus remains on the myths. Spurling approaches these stories with the tone of an authoritative historian, but his third person narration offers the read a glimmer of the fantastical nature the myths are known for. Inventing dialogue to ease emotional responses into the narration and offering the classic characters with relatable motivations, Spurling’s writing promises to keep even the most well-read mythology lovers intrigued.
I love any telling that is able to bring these characters back to life, but I’m finding more and more now that any great departure from the traditional tellings of the myths is enough to get me to close the book. Spurling walks that tightrope between not transforming the characters enough and tampering with the authenticity and offers the reader a well-balanced collection of myths that hovers nearer the realistic side of the spectrum than Homer and Aeschylus may have endorsed, but it is nonetheless well tailored to a modern audience.