Life lessons from myths and monsters
By Nikita Gill
Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill is a perfect blend of Greek mythology and contemporary feminism. In an anthology of poems that gives voice to the women of classical myths, Gill allows for the creators and destroyers, mothers and daughters, and fighters and survivors to tell their own story.
If you’re a Penguin Classics poetry lover (who covets their Shakespeare Sonnets and Robert Burns Ballads), you might find yourself sticking your nose up at this one. As a poetry anthology, it doesn’t really work. There’s no comprehensive flow — instead passages are disjointed and unique in style. However, this is not unlike the women they recount. As a retelling of Greek myth, it works amazingly.
Gill shares the stories of the women whose lives have been overshadowed by history’s heroes. Everyone knows of Zeus, but what about Metis, Zeus’ first wife and perhaps the primary influencer of his cunning? Everyone knows of Odysseus, but what of Scylla, the nymph-turned-monster that almost sank his ship and devoured his precious argonauts? Gill does not allow these women, goddesses and monsters to be kept in the shadows anymore. Rather, she casts the spotlight on them and showcases their triumphs, heartbreaks, fury, and wit.
Adapted for modern times, these millennia old tales written and recounted time and time again by old white men have instead been told with a strong feminist gaze. Gill subverts old tropes and offers a fresh perspective of the ancient stories of old: Pallas and Athena as star-crossed lovers, Medusa as the victim she finally deserves to be recognised as, and Amphitrite as a patient, cunning Queen of the sea. Hand-drawn ink illustrations are also scattered throughout, with visions of starry-night deities and sword-wielding heroines adding both beauty and visual significance to the poetry written beside them.
A handy glossary of Greek gods and goddesses can also be found at the back of the book. For those not as familiar with Greek mythology, you may not necessarily appreciate the nuance of some passages, and this book mightn’t be for you. That being said, for those who love history, mythology or even just Madeline Miller’s books, Nikita Gill’s poetry is a knockout.