Jennifer Saint: Giving the Women in Greek Myth a Voice

“So what happened to Ariadne?” Well, the answer to this can be found in Ariadne by British author Jennifer Saint, who I had the pleasure to meet during a writing retreat in Athens and interview for The Greek Vibe’s “Touched by Greece” series. 

This is the question her young son asked after she finished reading him the myth of Greek hero Theseus, who we all know slayed the Minotaur on Minoan Crete.

This is also the question we should all be asking when reading Greek myths, tales and all sorts of books and stories. And Jennifer knows this all too well. That’s why she decided to leave her teaching career behind several years ago and embark on a new calling… writing. 

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Jennifer Saint: Giving the Women in Greek Myth a Voice
‘Men and women are equal and their stories and voices deserve to be heard in the same way,’ said Jennifer Saint during a writing retreat in Athens, Greece.

What does Sunday Times bestselling author Jennifer Saint write about? The untold stories of women in Greek mythology. 

With a degree in Classics and as a Visiting Research Fellow in Classics at King’s College London, Jennifer describes herself as a feminist writer. I would also add, a passionate philhellene.

“I absolutely am a feminist and very proud of it,” she said when I asked her about that during our interview. “The female experience is absent,” she goes on to add.

“Feminism should be the baseline from which we’re all writing from – men and women alike. Feminism should really be where we are and that men and women are equal and their stories and voices deserve to be heard in the same way,” she said, adding that the feminist retelling of Greek myths also helps bring the characters out of stereotypes.

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Passion for Greece

Jennifer Saint: Giving the Women in Greek Myth a Voice

For Jennifer, Greek mythology has been a passion for as far back as she can remember. It all started when as a child her family would take her on summer holidays to Cyprus. There, she would be carried away by the tales the Greek myths told.

“I’ve been reading Greek mythology all of my life. It’s hard to go back and separate all the elements and how they’ve all come together,” she tells me.

From her childhood reading and daydreaming to studying the Classics and then exploring the traditional, academic, modern retellings of myths “it all combined together” to bring us Ariadne in 2021, Electra in 2022 and just out now Atalanti – three Greek female characters who for centuries have stood in the shadow of their male counterparts. 

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Jennifer Saint: Giving the Women in Greek Myth a Voice

Finding the retreat really eye-opening as I had (as a woman) never thought about the female side of the ancient stories I grew up with, I asked Jennifer if she identifies with any of her heroines?

“I think with all of them to some extent,” she said, giggling with excitedness like a schoolgirl.

“I think that’s because Greek mythology speaks to our humanity… you could always find a way to relate… I always find a way to relate to the women in these stories because they are women who fall in love, who experience grief, who experience loss, who have hopes and dreams and ambitions, and I find that there is so much about them that is truly human.”

Who would she be if she could choose any mythological character?

Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, because she stays out of all the drama, she sits by the fire stays out of trouble but has such enormous power and commands such great respect because the fire is the center of the home, she’s the first goddess to be honored,” says Jennifer.

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Why Greece is Special

As many I have interviewed for the “Touched by Greece” series, Jennifer too just can’t get enough of Greece. She’s been here over 20 times and will be back with her family soon.

But there is an added element that makes Greece special for Jennifer Saint: the places that fascinated her in the stories she read as a child are actually still standing today.

“I find it mind-blowing every single time,” she says of the sites and places that feature throughout Greek mythology. “Yesterday, at the Acropolis… to think of people truly being there and just the idea that so much time has passed but you are so close to it. In Greece, you can still have a physical connection … real life meets myth… the two worlds ancient and modern meet.”

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Jennifer Saint: Giving the Women in Greek Myth a Voice
The Caryatids: five of the six Greek maidens said to still be grieving over the loss of the sixth, who was torn off in the 1800s and standing in the British Museum… alone.

Speaking with Jennifer a day after our visit to the Acropolis and the Parthenon about the 2,500-year-old Greek works of art, she presented an aspect of the thorny and ongoing Parthenon Marbles debate I have not considered.

“I don’t believe I have a full understanding of the situation but in principle I think the Marbles belong in Greece and that I would love to see them in Greece,”  she said.

“However, I also feel that I have benefitted so much from having seen them in the British Museum, I can’t deny that I have seen them there and loved them.”

And so true it is, one can only wonder how many millions of people across the globe have been inspired by the Greek sculptures during their visit to the British Museum in London. 

But yes, they belong here in Greece,” Jennifer concluded.

To make a very long and sad story short: British diplomat Lord Elgin, seeking to decorate his home in Scotland, illegally removed – or better yet, tore off – the Greek sculptures from the Parthenon frieze causing irreparable damage to the Acropolis in the process and sold them to the British Museum, where they have been on show ever since as its top attraction. As of late, efforts have been made to repatriate the art works to Greece and to the Acropolis, an UNESCO World Heritage site, but there are no final decisions. Earlier this year, the Vatican returned three fragments from the Parthenon to Athens as a gesture of good will.

Of the many inspiring things Jennifer openly and wholeheartedly shared with the women who came to Athens from the US, Australia and the UK to see her in the retreat, I will mostly hold on to two: “We want to see ourselves in literature” and the “truly human” Greek myths which continue to this day, thousands of years later, to touch the hearts of men and women worldwide. 

Touched by Greece!

Guests and friends tell us how they’ve been ‘Touched by Greece’

Jennifer Saint: Giving the Women in Greek Myth a Voice

How were you touched by Greece?

“Greece really felt rooted in me from the time I can really consciously remember.”

What does Greece mean to you today?

“As a mother now I find that Greece is such a wonderful place to bring my children and for them to have similar experiences and to enjoy the culture and the beauty of it all, the food the weather… there are so many different aspects of Greece that I want them to experience that I too enjoy,” she says.

Your favorite place in Greece?

Crete will always have a very special place in my heart because it is where Ariadne, my first novel, is set. But it’s so hard to choose

Pour yourself a glass of fine Greek wine and sit down with AriadneElectra or the latest Atalanta: three female characters in Greek myth who come to the forefront through Jennifer’s mesmerizing writing. You can also find Jennifer Saint on Instagram.

☞The retreat with Jennifer Saint was organized by retreat experts Travelgems.

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