A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

“But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.”
― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships

Natalie Haynes has come into her own with her 2019 retelling of the Trojan War called A Thousand Ships. In previous writings, she has focused on the lives of those ignored in Greek mythology and life. A Thousand Ships amplifies this by telling the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective. She has managed to discuss mythology’s greatest war by highlighting the problems of modern day wars. Haynes brings to light the impacts of war on women, children, and families while more traditional retellings instead focus on the bravery of the men in war. Their brutal assaults leave out the impact that war has on society, only focusing on the male heroes and male victims. A Thousand Ships is a blessed divergence from the traditional: instead showing the women’s perspectives, from servants to goddesses and all the women and families in-between.

Calliope, a muse, is singing to a mortal poet man, hoping that he will instead tell the stories of wartime women. She is tired of hearing the stories of the warriors and feels that the women’s stories are equally as important. Through rotating narration, readers are taken from the start of the Trojan War to the sacking of Troy to Penelope finally welcoming Odysseus home after twenty years of his absence. This broader look shifts from Hecuba, Cassandra, Penelope, Calliope, Clytemnestra, Helen, Laodamia, among many others. The title of this book even focuses more on women than men: Helen of Troy is often called ‘the face that launched a thousand ships,’ a phrase coined by Christopher Marlowe in the 17th century. This cast of female characters battles war, politics, and religion as they either survive or come to a bad end.

“A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”
― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships

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