Michille: Ancient Love Stories

"Illustration for the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Rapunzel." by Simon Kozhin/С.Л.Кожин - Иллюстрация к сказке Братьев Гримм Рапунцель.

I am nearing the end of a Master of Liberal Arts program and have been giving a lot of thought to my final project. I plan to write a contemporary hero’s journey – a romance, of course. I have been looking to ancient love stories to find one that could work if brought into the modern world. In Harry Brown’s updated version of the story of Achilles and Hector, The Stars in Their Courses, he took the story out of ancient Greece and set it in the Old West. Achilles becomes Arch Eastmere, a gunslinger, hired to help Mark Lacy (Menelaos) get his wife (Ellen/Helen) back from Pax (Paris) after Pax abducted her. Brown brings other characters along on the ride, including Hallock (Hector), Alan (Agamemnon), and Oliver Swindon (Odysseus). There are a lot of parallels between The Iliad and The Stars in Their Courses, but Brown switched some of it up: Achilles fights from great glory in battle, but Arch Eastmore does it for a paycheck; there are no gods, but the weather and the land are described using terms that give them power over man; and he adds a hooker for Arch and the sheriff to fight over.

The problem I’m finding with looking to the ancient (or old) love stories is that many of them end badly. Paris and Helen lead to the downfall of Troy and the death of Paris. Eurydice dies on Orpheus and when he tries to bring her out of the world of the dead, she falls back in. Tristan and Iseult (much like Lancelot and Guinevere) were adulterers and they both die. Let’s not forget the fake death, subsequent suicide stories like Pyramus and Thisbe and the very similar tale of Romeo and Juliet.

The story of Psyche and Cupid has potential, particularly the version that has them fighting to stay together despite a lot of outside interference. There are several versions of the tale, but I like the one that has Venus sending Psyche on a hero’s journey to accomplish a series of difficult tasks in order to get Cupid back while Cupid is fighting his own demons to get back to Psyche. They eventually have their HEA and Psyche becomes a goddess.

Many old tales have been updated to contemporaries. Beauty and the Beast has been done many times, along with Cinderella, Snow White, The Ugly Duckling, and others. Recently there has been a spate of live action remakes of old tales. I’m looking for one that is off the beaten path.

What other old love stories are out there? How have they been updated to fit a modern world?

11 thoughts on “Michille: Ancient Love Stories

  1. Hmm, that’s a really interesting question! Why don’t happy endings seem to survive as well as the tragedies?

    The only thing I could come up with was Lysistrata, but that’s really about power and war and peace. (The women of Greece are persuaded to withhold sex to force their lovers to stop warring with all the neighbors. That was brought up to date by a musical a few years ago.

    Baucis and Philemon? The two old people who were rewarded for their kindness by being turned into trees and entwining forever? Not a lot of conflict in the story, though. The conflict is between the gods and the unhospitable neighbors, IIRC.

    There must be some nice Bible stories where true love was rewarded . . . . Can’t wait to see what other people say!

    • Hey Michaeline, Lysistrata was also done by Kinley Macgregor (Sherrilyn Kenyon’s alter ego). Set in Medieval Scotland, here’s the blurb for Claiming the Highlander: ‘after losing her eldest brother to the feud with the MacDouglas Clan, Maggie Ingen Blar comes up with a daring plan to get the men to forgo their hostilities – until the feud ends, no woman in either clan will bed or feed her man.’

    • We looked at Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon), which is about love, but there isn’t any conflict, it is more descriptive (of course, that is just one of many books in the Bible)..Recently, women in Barbacoas in Colombia, South America pulled a modern-day Lysistrata by refusing sex with their men until they lobbied the government to fix the road.

  2. There’s also Warm Bodies, the 2013 American paranormal romantic zombie comedy (tagline: ‘he was dead inside until he met her.’). The marketing doesn’t mention Romeo & Juliet, but it couldn’t be clearer. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs, but I’ll just say I love it. I think it’s genius.

    If you find a tragic story that inspires you, Michille, you could always give the characters their HEA as part of your re-imagining.

  3. My favorite ancient play is Antigone (Sophocles) – heroic woman, yay! – but pretty much no one gets out of that one alive. Shakespeare had several comedies with HEAs, but those have been done to death (and his works aren’t ancient, although sometimes based on stories that are). I like Jilly’s idea, though, of re-imagining a happy ending for a tragedy.

    Sorry to be of no help, but I am excited to see what story you choose and what you do with it!

    • We are looking at Antigone next week and Lysistrata the following week. I should have lots of ideas. Changing it up would work, too, especially if one of the changes that needs to be made to bring it into the modern world would negate the downfall of one or more of the characters.

      • For a few years, I’ve been toying with the idea of re-writing The Count of Monte Cristo as a space opera, but giving it a happy ending — because it was a great book until people started dying! One person snorted at the idea, though. “What’s the point of the book if it has a happy ending?” LOL, I just don’t get that worldview. I want a little hope at the end of a story — not a bodycount!

        (Hamlet, I am looking at YOU!) (BTW, on one of my lists, someone mentioned that Hamlet was a comedy where everyone dies, and I think it was 12th Night that was a tragedy where everyone laughs. I need a film festival so I can see and compare!)

  4. I’m not much up on the ancients, and it seems that those Greeks and Romans absolutely *relished* making their lovers miserable, but I looked around to see what I could find, and I got this, which seems like fun and potentially adaptable for a modern audience: The story of Hypermnestra.

    Danaus was the king of Argos; his brother, Aegyptus was the king of Egypt. Aegyptus sent his fifty sons to marry Danaus’s fifty daughters. Danaus had reason not to trust his brother, so on the wedding night, he gave each of his daughters long, sharp pins, with which to kill their new grooms, to conceal in their hair. All obeyed except one, Hypermnestra. Her husband, Lynceus, was good and kind and spared her virginity (although why? That’s sort of weird). So instead of killing him, she helped him escape. Danaus, furious (and her father, remember), had her tried, but her life was spared and she reunited with Lynceus. Her love also saved her from the fate of her murderous sisters: a lifetime of carrying water in jars full of holes.

    I love that part.

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