A THOUSAND SHIPS by Natalie Haynes, narrated by The Author

I have never heard of Natalie Haynes before, so I was completely unsure as to what this volume would entail, apart from it being (yet another) retelling of the Trojan War.

Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry

In some ways, I was disappointed. I felt that in places (not always) the narration was lacking in sensuous descriptions. I wanted to know more about the clothes the women were wearing, the smells and the sounds of the world they inhabited. Instead, what I experienced was mostly monologue.

But as the book gathered steam, as Penelope grew more exasperated, as Calliope complained more and more about the men she was expected to serve, (“Sing Muse”) I began to enjoy it more and more.

Circe Invidiosa painted by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

I especially loved Penelope’s unbelieving skepticism as to what the (male) bards were singing about her husband’s adventures. For starters, she has a hard time believing all the monsters that he “met.”

Then there are all the women he encountered, like Circe, a powerful Sorceress who has the unnerving habit of changing people that she doesn’t like into animals. Although most sources (including Wikipedia) claim that Odysseus visited her for just one year, it seems that he actually stayed a lot longer, enough time for her to produce at least two sons.

In Natalie Haynes retelling, Penelope opines that when Circe finally let him go, she deliberately sent Odysseus home along the most perilous route, thus prolonging his journey and making his wife wait TWENTY YEARS before she was able to see him again. (Note: The Romans referred to Odysseus as “Ulysses.”)

Penelope at her loom, painted by Sidney Meteyard (1868-1947)

And then there are the many many tragic stories: the sacrifices of Iphigenia and Polyxena at the beginning and end of the Trojan War, Cassandra’s tragic condition, and Andromache’s unspeakable grief. Ms Haynes deftly cut out all the blood and gore of battle in Homer’s Iliad, replacing it with the stories of the silent women who surrounded that tale, pointing out that the women were just as heroic as the men.

Rating: 4 out of 5.