Comedy and classicism might seem an unusual pairing, but Natalie Haynes has parlayed her two areas of expertise into a career as a bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction, respected scholar and journalist, and popular podcaster (the BBC’s “Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics”).
Her new book, Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth, is a fascinating follow-up to last year’s history of mythological women, Pandora’s Jar. Here, she revisits Greek mythology with an eye to interrogating and reconsidering the stories we’ve long been told—and the roles to which goddesses have been relegated—from a feminist perspective.
Haynes’ passion for her subject is evident whether she’s conveying the results of rigorous research into the works of Homer, Ovid, Sophocles and Aeschylus; explaining how modern pop culture reflects common interpretations of Greek mythology; or describing in vivid detail her experiences of wondrous works of art both ancient and modern (poems, plays, sculptures, paintings, films, music videos and more).
Divine Might begins with the Muses and ends with the Furies; in between are chapters about Hera, Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, Hestia and Athena. All have been underestimated, whether in terms of their strength and wisdom, or their vengefulness and anger. As Haynes notes, “We like to be able to separate heroes, villains and victims. It’s convenient for a simple narrative, but it isn’t always reflective of the truth.”
For example, Hestia is not as well known as her counterparts, but as goddess of the hearth she “must have been constantly referred to in daily life, even if not in grand mythological narratives.” And while Artemis is portrayed as “a woodland goddess, riding through mountainous forests with her entourage of wild creatures” we mustn’t forget she revels in “absolute lawlessness, her insistence that everyone subscribes to her view of the world or pays the price.”
With intellectual rigor and contagious enthusiasm, Haynes urges readers to take a second look at contemporary art and society with a new, enlightened appreciation for these mythical women. After all, she writes, “When women make art like men do, their goddesses look divine.”