Tell me about Ariadne, Elektra, and Atalanta - A KS3 Guide to Greek Myths with Jennifer Saint
The Ancient Greek myths are endlessly fascinating. There's a reason why we are still telling each other tales of the Minotaur, Medusa, and an unfortunate bloke called Midas, thousands of years after they were first told; it's simply because these stories are brilliant.
Even better, if you are seeking to understand more about the Ancient Greeks - their beliefs, what was important to them, and how they lived their lives - then learning more about their myths is a great place to start, as Ancient Greek mythology can teach you all those things.
Reading up on the Greek Myths is more enjoyable than ever, due to some fantastic retellings by modern authors hitting book stands across the UK in recent years. One such writer is best-selling author Jennifer Saint, who, with her brilliant historical-fiction novels for grown-ups, 'Ariadne', 'Elektra', and 'Atalanta', is shining a light on the female stars of the Greek Myths.
We wanted to learn more about the characters of Ariadne, Elektra, and Atalanta. Who were they? What did they do? Why are they awesome? Jennifer was kind enough to provide fantabulous answers to all those questions and more besides!
Check out the interview a few centimetres - or inches, or meters, I guess it depends on how big your phone or your monitor screen is - below:
Imagining History - You’ve written three fantastic books about three very different female protagonists from Ancient Greek Mythology. We’d like to cover each of them a little bit for our readers!
First off, Ariadne, who was she and what did she do?
Jennifer Saint - She did most of the hard work that Theseus later took the credit for, or at least she was the brains behind the operation! She was the daughter of King Minos of Crete who had ordered that fourteen Athenian young men and women be sent into the Labyrinth as sacrifices to the Minotaur (a half-man half-bull with an appetite for human flesh). Theseus was one of them, and Ariadne decided to betray her father in order to help him. She gave Theseus the thread that would lead him safely out of the pitch-black maze after he killed the Minotaur – and she also made sure he had his club with him in there so he had a weapon to use against the monster (he’d never have stood a chance bare-handed!).
Why did Theseus behave like such a berk? Did the Ancient Greeks have a very different idea of what made for a heroic hero than we do today?
A very different idea! Today, we think of a hero as someone who is self-sacrificing and wants to help others. In the ancient world, being a hero meant being strong and ruthless. A hero’s aim was to become so famous his name would never be forgotten. Theseus admired Heracles, probably the most famous hero of all, and he wanted to replicate his idol’s success. Heracles completed the mighty Twelve Labours, which involved slaying beasts and performing feats of great strength and courage. By killing the Minotaur, Theseus hoped to prove himself to be a hero like Heracles, but he absolutely wouldn’t have wanted to share the glory with Ariadne – he probably didn’t think it was very heroic to need help from a woman.
Next up, Elektra. Elektra was caught up in the Trojan War, but how did the Trojan War start?
It started with a squabble about an apple! It wasn’t an ordinary apple: this was one of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, which were very special. Eris, the goddess of strife, was very upset that the other gods hadn’t invited her to a wedding so she started an argument between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite over which of them deserved to have this particular apple. Zeus didn’t want to choose between the goddesses, so he asked the Trojan prince Paris to choose instead. Aphrodite promised Paris that if he gave her the apple, she would give him the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen of Sparta. Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite – but there was one snag... Helen was already married to a Greek king called Menelaus! So, when Paris ran away with her, Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon raised a huge army of Greeks to sail to war against Troy to get her back.
What was Elektra’s role in the Trojan War?
Elektra was Agamemnon’s daughter. She loved her father very much and was devastated when he sailed away to war. Unfortunately, the Trojan War lasted ten years and Elektra spent that decade waiting for him to come home. In the meantime, her mother was also waiting for Agamemnon to come home but for a very different reason! Her mother, Clytemnestra, hated Agamemnon because he’d sacrificed their other daughter to the goddess Artemis at the start of the war. While he was away, Clytemnestra took power over their kingdom and plotted to murder her husband when he arrived home. This meant Elektra’s heart was broken again – she lost her father as soon as he got back to Mycenae. Elektra then plotted her own revenge against her mother. It was a very complicated family!
Sounds it! Finally, your latest book focuses on one of our favourite Greek Heroes, Atalanta, could you tell our readers a little about her?
Atalanta is an amazing heroine of Greek mythology! She was exposed on a mountainside as a baby, which means her father commanded that she be left out there to die because he didn’t want a daughter. But Atalanta didn’t die – she was rescued by a mother bear and grew up alongside her bear cub siblings. She became a powerful huntress and a very fast runner and was the only woman to join Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.
What makes Atalanta stand out from other Greek Heroes? What makes her so awesome?
She’s a survivor who doesn’t let anything scare her. She always stands up for herself and does what she wants to do. Later in her life, her father was impressed by her feats and wanted her to return home on the condition that she got married. Atalanta insisted that she’d only marry a man who could beat her in a footrace – and of course, there was no man fast enough to manage! She’s clever as well as strong, and she doesn’t care about fitting in with everyone else – she’s always proud to be herself.
Ancient Greek Heroes rarely had a happy ending, without too many spoilers, how did things turn out for Atalanta?
She ended up making a powerful goddess very angry and getting punished for it – but in true Atalanta style, she turned that punishment into something triumphant!
A palm-achingly epic high-five to Jennifer for so ably answering our questions!