Article published on January 28, 2016.
Beautifully imagined and exquisitely written, For the Most Beautiful chronicles the defeat of Troy as you’ve never seen it before, through characters almost entirely disregarded in Homer’s Iliad. Among legends such as Achilles, Hector and Odysseus, walked the unsung heroines, famed for their beauty, yet wholly underestimated for their influence.
This is the story of the women of Troy.
All’s fair in love and war, when Briseis, princess of Pedasus, witnesses her husband slain in cold blood, and is enslaved by his killer in the Greek camp. Krisayis, daughter of the High Priest of Troy, dreams for more than the life set out for her by her father. Captured by her enemies, she is given this opportunity, but must sacrifice everything to protect the city that she loves.
Subject to the whims of the Gods and the wrath of men, these two extraordinary women will bring a hero to his knees.
Author Emily Hauser explains how she came to write it…
I have always been struck by the power and eloquence of the women of Homer’s Iliad. Reading their stories was like opening up a window onto a different Troy – one which both allows us glimpses of a tantalising world at peace, and which shows the devastating impact of war on the women who stayed at home. As an undergraduate studying Classics, I struggled with their silence. It seemed to me that the Iliad was as much about their story as the great men and heroes – Achilles, Hector, Patroclus – whom we normally associate with the epic of Troy. Yet, when we think of the Iliad, hardly anyone seems to think of Andromache, Hector’s wife; Briseis, Achilles’ captive slave; Chryseis, sex slave to king Agamemnon; Hecuba, Hector’s mother; all the other women of Troy whose husbands, sons and brothers went to fight the war against Achilles. I already knew I wanted this to change. These women have powerful voices, when they speak: voices which are capable of commanding armies, as Hector admits of Andromache; of uttering deep and powerful laments, as Helen does for Hector after he dies (‘you were my only friend’, she says).
These were women whose story deserved to be told.
So when, in my first year of my PhD, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (a re-writing of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective), I suddenly realised the extraordinary capacities of fiction to write back the women’s stories of the past – as well as an opportunity. I knew I wanted to rescue the stories of two of the most extraordinary – and the most overshadowed – women of the Iliad, whose stories begin the entire epic and whose fates are deeply intertwined with the fate of Troy: Briseis and Chryseis (or Krisayis). By telling their story – not just the tale of ‘the rage of Achilles’ – I wanted to bring to light a different side of the Trojan War, one which shows the other side of Achilles’ search for glory in the unthinkable costs that had to be paid by women like Briseis and Chryseis. I wanted to rescue and retell their story by giving them a voice – to see what the Trojan War looked like from the perspective of a woman, not a warrior; a slave, not a soldier. Ultimately, when I looked into the text of the Iliad and wove together the threads of these women’s stories, what I uncovered was a harrowing, moving, profound tale of love, loss and betrayal – but even more than that, I found a rich, captivating story that had somehow been forgotten down the centuries: the forgotten story of the women of Troy.
About the author
Born in Brighton and brought up in Suffolk, Emily Hauser studied Classics at Cambridge where she was taught by Mary Beard. She then went to Harvard as a Fulbright Scholar and now studies and teaches at Yale, where she is completing her PhD. For the Most Beautiful – the first book in the Golden Apple trilogy – is her debut novel.
For the Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser, published by Doubleday on 28 January, 2016 in hardback at £12.99