blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Post: Atalanta – Jennifer Saint

Exposed on a mountainside, the defenceless infant Atalanta is left to the mercy of a passing mother bear and raised alongside her cubs under the protective eye of the goddess Artemis. Swearing that she will prove her worth alongside the famed heroes of Greece, Atalanta leaves her forest to join Jason’s band of Argonauts. But can she carve out her own place of legend in a world made for men?

Thanks to a lifelong fascination with Ancient Greek mythology, Jennifer Saint read Classical Studies at King’s College, London. Since September 2022, she has been a Visiting Research Fellow in the Classics Department there. In between, she spent thirteen years as an English teacher, sharing a love of literature and creative writing with her students. Ariadne is her first novel, Elektra is her second, and Atalanta is her latest mesmerising mythological retelling.

When I wrote my previous novels, Ariadne and Elektra, my aim was to bring women whose roles in myth had been side-lined back into the spotlight. I wanted Ariadne to take centre stage over Theseus and for Elektra to be defined by something more than her famous obsession with her father – I wanted to view these women as fully human, multidimensional characters with a life of their own who didn’t just exist as adjuncts to the heroes who attracted all the glory. But when I came to write my third novel, Atalanta, I realised that at least Ariadne and Elektra had been allowed a role, however limited, in the retellings of their lives. Atalanta, meanwhile, had been written out of her story altogether. Virtually everyone has heard of Jason and the Argonauts, but when I began to tell people that my next novel was about Atalanta, very few recognised her name at all. But in ancient myth, Atalanta was legendary: a woman who led a rich and colourful life in which the quest for the Golden Fleece was one of many episodes. Part of this novel is a retelling of Apollonius’ Argonautica, but where the epic poem refuses Atalanta permission to board, claiming instead that she gave Jason a spear to take on the voyage in her place, I have put her back in the heart of the action. It’s allowed me to reinterpret the mythical voyage through her eyes; a journey on which she learns to question everything she believes about heroism as she carves out her own place in the legends. But there is so much more to Atalanta’s story than just one quest. Atalanta is a heroine unlike any other: exposed on a mountainside to die as an infant, she is instead rescued by a bear and grows up in the wild. Growing up as a powerful, fleet-footed huntress who lives beyond the confines and restrictions of society, Atalanta has a unique freedom. Her unusual life brings her into contact with a host of famous characters from Greek mythology – Jason of course, but also Medea, Heracles, Orpheus and Artemis among others. Atalanta’s name means ‘equal in strength’ and I wanted to bring her to readers who haven’t had the chance to get to know her before now and show a woman who is fearless, independent and strong: a woman who gets to have as many adventures as the heroes of Greek myth have – adventures that don’t end with the capture of the Golden Fleece. Greek mythology can be a way for us to explore the darker elements of the human experience and it’s often full of tragedy. In this novel, I wanted to showcase a more joyful aspect to the myths and to bring to light a story that’s rooted in nature, full of thrills and led by a woman fuelled by passion, courage and rebellion. Atalanta is a woman who defines her own destiny, and I am honoured to be bringing her story to the audience she deserves.

My thoughts: I don’t remember Atalanta getting much mention in any lessons on Greek mythology, even at uni, which is a real shame because her story is cracking. More so than some of those so-called heroes (yes, Jason, I’m looking directly at you).

She’s abandoned on a mountainside, raised by a bear, then by nymphs, serves that most unforgiving of goddesses Artemis, joins the Argonauts, is better than them in pretty much every way, stops them getting too off track in their quest, is mates with Heracles, kills a murderous boar, is an insanely skilled archer, could outrun Usain Bolt and somehow gets forgotten by history (men).

Men who get raised by wild animals found cities (Romulus & Remus), serve gods in huge wars ( Troy) and we remember their names. This was also a nice reminder that if it wasn’t for Medea, Jason wouldn’t have got that fleece. He’s one of history’s scumbags and for good reason.

In this retelling Atalanta is the one who keeps the “heroes” of the Argo on track. She saves their skins in various ways as they sail to claim the Golden Fleece, but nobody stops to thank her. Written out of the stories, forgotten among the various men she travelled with, despite her prowess and being favoured by Artemis (until she breaks a vow), I’m glad that Jennifer Saint has written her back into the story.

The boom in retellings is fascinating, these are some of our oldest stories, ageless almost and I love the number putting thr women back in the heart of them. Atalanta makes a good point when she asks about Heracles’ wife (who he killed) and no one can tell her her name (Megara for the record), women are so often nameless and faceless, not the centre of their own stories, but thankfully things are changing and women like Atalanta are where they belong.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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