The second part of Emily Hauser’s Golden Apple trilogy, For the Winner, is a reimagining of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Like the first book of the series, For the Most Beautiful, it tells a popular story from a female perspective, something that is rare in Greek and many other mythological traditions.
There are several versions of the myth of the expedition to find the Golden Fleece, and some of them mention the presence of a woman among the crew of Greek heroes. In this retelling, Atalanta is an independent, headstrong girl who won’t do “women’s work,” like cooking and tending to the family hearth; instead, she runs and hunts, excelling in both of these skills. Upon learning that she had been abandoned as a newborn on the slopes of Mount Pelion, where she was rescued by Eurymedon, her foster father – she sets off for Pegasae to learn the truth of her heritage. There, Atalanta finds out that she is the daughter of Pegasae’s ruler, King Iasus, who had deemed her an unfit successor because she had been born a girl. She therefore decides to join the expedition of her cousin Jason – also a contender for Pegasae’s throne – to the land of Colchis for the legendary Fleece.
According to a prophesy, the person who finds and brings back the prize will
succeed King Iasus, and Atalanta is determined to prove her worth by beating Jason to it. However, as she gets to know her rival during the months-long journey, the quest becomes not just about proving her father wrong, but also about saving the kingdom from the threat of Jason’s cruel rule.
Just as with the Trojan War in For the Most Beautiful, the story of Atalanta’s exploits is interspersed with scenes set on Mount Olympus, where the gods interfere with the humans’ fates, and with each other’s designs. The divinities may be as flawed as the mortals, but at least they have a good insight into human affairs, as when Artemis remarks that “the prophesies have always concerned men (…) Who will get the kingdom next. Who will kill the king (…) Who will destroy the kingdom.” In the end, it is a goddess (and a minor one at that) who determines the outcome of the rivalry over the throne of Pegasae.
As I wrote in my review of the first book, the sections set on Mount Olympus provide moments of comic relief. That, combined with the female viewpoint, makes the story more accessible to modern audiences. In fact, just by introducing a woman’s perspective, we are faced with themes that are depressingly familiar from the life in the 21st century: Atalanta is judged to be less capable because of her sex; she is required to prove that she deserves something that would be accorded to a man without questioning; and she is subjected to sexual assault when she dares to enter a milieu typically reserved for men.
And who said that Greek mythology was archaic and irrelevant?