Update 8: It’s not the Renaissance Anymore!

As the summer drew to a close, I decided to do some relevant but slightly less topical reading about Helen of Troy to round out my last week of research before the semester. Although my project is mainly focused on the Renaissance period with background in both the medieval and classical periods, I read two books by contemporary authors that retell certain episodes of the Homeric canon. First, I read Margaret Atwood’s novel The Penelopiad, which essentially takes another look at the Odyssey but from Penelope’s perspective. I also read Pat Barker’s new novel Silence of the Girls. Both of these books feature Helen, albeit in more minor roles, so it was interesting to see how Helen’s literary fame has not been lessened basically since her Homeric origins in the Iliad and Odyssey. In Atwood’s novel in particular, I was expecting a more feminist reading of Helen, but the work was from Penelope’s perspective and Penelope had negative feelings towards her cousin, so Helen still came out the other end appearing vapid and indecisive, if not outright as an adulterer.

While these novels were interesting to read in the pursuit of understanding current perspectives on Helen of Troy, they’re definitely not the main point of my research this summer. I think I might talk a little bit about them in my eventual final product, but mainly as a sort of closing sentiment to bring home the idea that Helen of Troy and her literary legacy are still important and still being talked about, especially in terms of women and their agency in literature.

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