Still Greek to Us: Greek Myth and 21st-century Literature (Part 2) (Panel)

Comparative Literature / Classics

Craig Smith (Grande Prairie Regional College)

Stories from ancient Greek myths dot the literary landscape of the early 21st century. To some extent, this has been the result of deliberate planning, as when Canongate began publishing a series of mythological retellings by well-known authors in 2005. But alongside and independent of such coordinated efforts to keep old tales alive for contemporary audiences, offerings from both established authors – David Malouf, Barry Unsworth, Colm Toibin, Pat Barker – and successful newcomers – Madeline Miller, Daisy Johnson – have likewise retold and reimagined mythical narratives in recent years.

The ubiquity of Greek myths in contemporary literature raises larger questions that panelists are encouraged to consider. For instance, what explains the current fascination with mythical tales, generally, and Greek myths in particular? If some stories, such as tales related to the Trojan War, are being told more often now than at any other time, according to Adam Goldwyn, what does that say about either the stories’ power to speak to contemporary concerns or the international audiences that continue to provide a market for them?

Of course, the current proliferation of retellings of Greek myths cannot be separated from a wider cultural context in which, as Linda Hutcheon and others have noted, adaptation has become a norm. But in the case of Greek myths, can their retellings simply and comfortably be understood within a paradigm of postmodern pastiche and textual play, or does the continuing interest in retelling these stories resemble modernist projects of a century ago, shoring particular mythological fragments against a broader postmodern ruin?

While extant criticism on individual works tends to discuss mythic retellings in relative isolation, this panel seeks to set works in dialogue with each other to better understand the current resurgence in appetite for the myths of ancient Greece.

This panel will address the proliferation of retellings of ancient Greek myths in international 21st-century literatures. Our aim will be to understand the resurgence in appetite for these stories in different locations. Moreover, we will explore how the transplanting and adapting of these ancient myths in modern times speaks to ongoing political, cultural, and literary needs.