Stories from Long Ago: Classical Myths in Today’s World


Mythology has served as a backdrop to several successful stories. Many poems, songs, and novels have been inspired by the mythology of Greek and Roman antiquity. Myths are stories of connection and belief, serving to bring together civilizations. In turn, authors use these stories to bind their own tales with both the modern and ancient world.

Perhaps not known to most, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story of two doomed lovers from rival families, is a retelling of the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the tale, Pyramus and Thisbe lived next to each other, and though they were not allowed to marry due to the long standing feud between the families, they fell in love while seeing each other through the crack in the wall of the neighboring homes. The stories end with the demise of both lovers, with Pyramus and Romeo thinking their lover dead, and Thisbe and Juliet unable to live with their grief.

As literature has entered a new age with tales geared towards younger generations, classical myths have found their way into the hearts of many modern writers. This can be seen in the ever popular love story of Hades, the original mysterious bad boy, and Persephone. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter is a young adult novel following a young girl named Kate that agrees to a bargain with Henry, who claims to be the god Hades, in order to keep her mother alive. The bargain? Kate must pass seven tests in order to become a goddess and Henry’s wife and, in return, her mother will live. Another spin off of Hades and Persephone is The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. The novel about a princess that is married to a king of another kingdom is a fresh twist on the myth, one part the original story, where a girl falls in love with the ruler of the Underworld, but also one part a new twist with different characters and motives. 

Likewise, the legendary Trojan War, a 10 year-battle where the Greeks lay siege to the great city of Troy after a Trojan prince absconded with Helen of Sparta, is a popular source of inspiration for authors. The Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney tells the story of a young girl who assumes the identity of a princess to survive a pirate attack during travel. The girl is rescued by King Menelaus, only for the Trojan War to break out soon after her arrival in Sparta. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a well-known rendition of the love story between Achilles and Patroclus. Achilles is one the most popular heroes of ancient Greece, and this moving retelling showcases a personal view on him and his actions during the siege of Troy through the narration of Patroclus. 

Additionally, some reinterpretations of myths are told within a different setting. Pandora, a new adult novel by Susan Stokes-Chapman, is the classic tale of a woman too curious for her own good but set in London during the late 1700s. In this novel, Dora works in her family’s antique shop where she discovers an ancient Greek vase, which reveals truths she might not want to know. Claire M. Andrews, author of the young adult novel Daughter of Sparta (as well as two sequels), gives an alternate story to the tale of Daphne and Apollo. This story of the god who fell in love with a nymph is set in the city of Sparta, where Daphne is a warrior that battles gods and monsters while meeting several legendary heroes and falling for Apollo. 

Another way authors have built their own interpretation of mythology is by introducing the gods to child readers. The Goddess Girls by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams are children’s books that tell the tales about numerous different goddesses and ancient Greek icons, from Athena and Persephone to Medea and Calliope. These stories are set at Mount Olympus Academy where the students are taught how to manage their magic. Heroes in Training, also by Joan Holub, is an 18-book adventure that follows Zues and his friends as children facing off against the monsters of myth to aid humanity and protect the people they care about.  

Perhaps some of the most fascinating stories come from authors reimagining myths alongside brand new characters. Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan have become well known pieces of children’s and young adult literature. The tales of demigods facing the same monsters and immortals of old have left readers fascinated and created a new bridge between youth and mythology. A similar story is seen in the Pegasus series by Kate O’Hearn. The series is about a young girl that meets the immortal Pegasus, who guides her as she teams up with unlikely heroes to save Olympus and the Roman gods. Another popular adaptation is Lore by Alexandra Bracken. This story follows a girl named Lore in a world where the gods are stripped of their immortality. If a descendant of one of the ancient bloodlines manages to kill the god, they will gain the god’s immortality and power. In the modern age, Lore must team up with her childhood friends and the goddess Athena in order to escape her family’s legacy.

Throughout literature, many stories have been influenced by Greek and Roman antiquity. These myths have captivated me for years, leading to further study and a greater love for both the original myths and modern retellings. I find it inspiring that authors have built a connection to a world long since past by creating their own twists on the legends of those people—on their stories that are just as beautiful today as they were hundreds of years ago.

Hannah Goerndt, Pine Reads Review Writer