Women of the Trojan War
It was a war that gave birth to legends — to Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, and Hector, prince of Troy. Three thousand years later, it’s time for the women of Troy to tell their story… The daughter of a prince should never defy her father and an imprisoned princess should never fall in love with her captor. However, in turbulent times, rules can be broken. And as war raged, the lives of two women collide. Captives of the Greeks, Briseis, princess of Pedasus, and Krisayis, daughter of the high priest of Troy, are pawns in a battle fought by men. But choices they make will determine their fate and that of the city and its people they hold dear, in an epic tale that has waited millennia to be told…
My debut novel For The Most Beautiful is a re-telling of the tale of the Trojan War, one of the greatest legends of all time, from the point of view of two women, Briseis and Krisayis. These women are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, the archaic Greek epic which tells the story of the battle for Troy. But, as many of us know, Homer’s version of the Trojan War is anything but a woman’s story: it’s filled with overweening heroes (Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, to name but a few), male gods, and blood-and-guts battles between the Greeks and the Trojans.
When I set about writing For the Most Beautiful, one of the things I wanted to do most was to recover and re-tell the experiences of the women of Troy. The question is often asked, why does history matter? And why re-write it? To me, the fact that the legend of the Trojan War has been passed down for thousands of years suggests that there has to be something in it that appeals to us; something about it that allows us to reflect on who we are as humans, why we’re here, and who we want to be. So what is it? Perhaps it’s the very human wrath of Achilles that draws us in, or the tragedy of the death of Hector as we watch his wife, Andromache, cope with her grief at his loss. These are very real human tales, and they are ones that are enduringly relevant.
But I began to wonder if there wasn’t also another way in which we might be able to connect to the story of the Trojan War, another way of seeing it that might allow us to understand it – and ourselves – a little bit better. When I looked more closely at the stories of Briseis and Krisayis (spelled Chryseis in the Iliad), I discovered a completely new tale lying hidden within the text of Homer’s epic. The story tells how Briseis, a princess of Pedasus (a city nearby Troy), saw her husband and three brothers killed by Achilles – and then was captured by him as a sex slave. Krisayis, my second protagonist, even opens the Iliad with a debate over her release when her father, a Trojan priest, wants to ransom her from the Greek camp. These women lie at the very heart of the action, and by looking at their stories, we discover not only a breathtaking tale full of courage, betrayal and sacrifice – but also a new way of looking at the Trojan War.
But why focus on the women? I’ve studied the classical world for many years, first at Cambridge and now at Yale, and one of the enduring fascinations for me has been the women of ancient Greece and Rome. As the textual record – one of the most reliable sources we have for antiquity – is heavily biased towards men (written both by, about and for men), it’s always been a challenge to uncover the lives and stories of the women of the ancient world. To me, fiction provides a unique way in which to imagine ourselves back into the past, and, grounded in the archaeological and textual details we do know, to bring back the lost voices of the women of the Trojan War.
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About the Author
Born in Brighton and brought up in Suffolk, Emily Hauser studied Classics at Cambridge, where she was taught by Mary Beard. She then went to Harvard on a Fulbright Scholarship, and now studies and teaches at Yale, where she is completing her PhD. For the Most Beautiful – the first book in a trilogy based on the myths of the Golden Apples – is her debut novel. Find out more on Emily’s website, and follow her on Twitter @ehauserwrites.