APHASIA|Retellings of Epics, Forgotten Identities, and Memory
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by retellings of classical works — often, I find it far more rewarding and interesting to revisit an old text such as Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad from a contemporary perspective than immerse myself in a relatively new universe whose understanding I must construct from scratch.
This has pushed me to understand narrative as enacted memory — often, works critiqued for being ‘too tropey’ are also the works that appeal the most to popular audiences, simply because they evoke a sort of familiarity while simultaneously putting a new spin on old ideas. Beowulf, for instance, has found resonance in every work of fantasy written since The Lord of the Rings, and created some of the foundational tropes of the genre. It has made fantasy narratives feel familiar even as it leaves scope for creativity.
Revisionist interpretations that privilege feminist voices in texts like Odyssey and Iliad where they were prominent by their absence make it possible for modern readers to better appreciate what the text has forgotten while at the same time honouring the memory of the characters, plot devices, settings, and themes that make these stories classics and still worthy of critical attention. This double play of memory becomes especially important in the context of subaltern voices that are not heard across the history of literature but which can be read into classical texts through creative reinterpretation — for instance, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles brings the much-needed queer clarity to the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, while her Circe puts a feminist spin on the demonised witch who had trapped Odysseus during his travels back from Troy to Ithaca. Finally, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad gives voice to the twelve slain slave girls and makes us question our memory of Telemachus and Odysseus as ‘heroes’ or even good people, while simultaneously celebrating the broader narrative framework of the epic through commemoration.