starlady: (utena myth)
Jo Graham, Black Ships (New York: Orbit Books, 2008).
Ursula K. LeGuin, Lavinia (New York: Harcourt, 2008).

Both these books tell, in completely different ways, the story of the woman who helped Aeneas found his new kingdom in Italy after his wanderings following the fall of Troy.

For Graham, that woman is Gull, the daughter of a slave taken in the first sack of Wilusa (the name of Troy in the HIttite archives) to Pylos; after she is lamed in an accident, Gull becomes an acolyte of the Pythia, and then the Pythia herself; following the will of her Lady she sails with Prince Aeneas and his seven ships after they come to Pylos to take back the slaves stolen from Wilusa in its second, final destruction. Obedient to Gull's vision, the refugees of Wilusa make their way through the Middle Sea at the end of the Bronze Age, finding the world they knew falling into fire and barbarism as they go; after escaping Egypt and Pharaoh's vicereine Basetamaon, they make their way slowly to Latium, by way of the underworld navel at Cumae, where Aeneas saves a kingdom from destruction and becomes its king, living to a ripe old age and world made anew.

LeGuin, by contrast, focuses on Lavinia, Aeneas' Latin bride who in Vergil's poem never speaks, but who in LeGuin's telling speaks the whole story, even to her poet, with whose dying shade she communes while wandering the sacred groves of Latium, her father's realm. She even gets Vergil to wish he could give her a voice, and her true hair color (brown, not gold), but it's too late, the poet is dying, he has someone else to lead through a dark wood, and Lavinia is left to hold to her fate, to marry a foreigner rather than her cousin Turnus, in the face of madness and war, given life in the poem, but not enough to die.

Arma virumque cano... )

Finally, another contemporary novel that provides an excellent interpretation of mythology is Barry Unsworth's The Songs of the Kings, which deals with the sacrifice of Iphigenia prior to the Achaians' sailing to Troy.

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