Her Kind: Stories of Women from Greek Mythology by Jane Cahill. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1995. Reprinted 1997. PBK 232 pp. ISBN 1-55111-042-3 $29.95
If I used a star system, this would be a four star book. Her Kind should be in every collection that includes myths, and even those that don't.
In Vol.l, No.3 of the SSR I reviewed the audio cassette North from Centre by the trio of storytellers called Earthstory. Jane Cahill, one member of the trio, mesmerized me by telling the Medusa story from Medusa's own point of view. It prompted me to look ,with fresh eyes
That they can be disturbing is an understatement. In them we find jealousy, revenge, treachery, children sacrificed at the whim of the gods or murdered and served up as dinner to an unsuspecting parent. And then there is the incest, rape, and other violence.
Many storytellers I know avoid telling them, while others search for ways to tell the the myths so that contemporary people can relate to them. Barbara McBride Smith did so by using an irreverent, down-home style. Her tape Greek or Wh II t has brought many listeners back to m)lths with a renewed interest.
But Cahill, a professor of Classics at the University of Winnipeg, has chosen another way. "If we are to concern ourselves with Greek myths as stories," she says, " the relationship between the oral and written versions of the myths needs to be understood and the vastness and diversity of what is missing appreciated."
Take a look at the myths as we knovv them and you'll see that they have come to us through the literary works of men who were writing for men. They were part of an oral tradition before that, but that tradition has disappeared and we are left with the writings of Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and others. Using these ancient literal sources Cahill gives us some of what is missing as she retells the stories from the woman's point of view --as they might have been told by women, for women.
The result is an emotional as well as intellectual involvement. The stories, many told in the first person, drew me in, and Cahill's comprehensive notes satisfied my curiosity as to how and why she arrived at her interpretations of the characters and their actions.
There are stories of 13 women here, among them, Clytemnestra and Thetis. In Cahill's telling, we begin to understand why Clytemnestra plotted with her lover to kill her husband Agamemnon. We share the angllish of Achilles' mother Thetis, an immortal woman who is mother of a mortal child; a mother who grieves through eternity for her child killed by a cheating god.
One myth with which the author takes some license is that of the story of Myrrha. In ancient texts, this is ttie story of a girl who desires her father and is driven by her passion to attempt suicide. Cahill retells it as the story of father-initiated incest and offers it, not a replacement to Ovid's story, but as an alternative to it.
I don't know how I missed this book when it first came out in 1995. Hopefully the occasion of its reprinting will bring it to the attention of teachers who will want to use it as an adjunct to their other texts, storytellers who will look to it as a source for new appreciation of the myths, and general readers who may now be able to find themselves in some of the stories and discover that, at times, they have been "her kind." Broadview Press, 71 Princess St. P.O. Box 1243, Peterborough, ON Canada K9J 7H5 (705) 743-8990; fax (705) 743-8353;
Order the Earthstory tape with the Medusa story on it from M. .L. Chown, 35 Cordova St., Winnipeg, Manitoba R3N OZ9. ($10 + $2 SH)
The Second Story Review, Vol 2 , No. 2, June 1997