A Thousand Ships - Natalie Haynes


The House of Atreus

AGAMEMNON, king of Mycenae, near Argos, on the Greek mainland. Son of Atreus, husband of:

CLYTEMNESTRA, queen of Mycenae, and mother of:


MENELAUS, brother of Agamemnon, husband of:

HELEN of Sparta, later known as Helen of Troy. Helen was both sister and sister-in-law to Clytemnestra. She and Menelaus had a daughter:


In addition:

AEGISTHUS, son of Thyestes (the brother of Atreus), was cousin to Agamemnon and Menelaus

The House of Odysseus

ODYSSEUS, king of Ithaca, son of ANTICLEIA and LAERTES. Husband of:

PENELOPE, queen of Ithaca, weaving expert, mother of:


Their household also contained:

EURYCLEIA, Odysseus’ nurse

EUMAEUS, a loyal swineherd

Odysseus was delayed on his way home from Troy by (among many others):

POLYPHEMUS, a one-eyed giant or Cyclops. Son of POSEIDON, the god of the sea

CIRCE, an enchantress who lived on the island of Aeaea (pronounced Ai-ee-a)

THE LAESTRYGONIANS, some cannibal giants

THE SIRENS, half-women, half-birds, with a song that drew sailors to their deaths

SCYLLA, a dog-woman hybrid. Lots of teeth

CHARYBDIS, a ship-destroying whirlpool

CALYPSO, a nymph who lived on the island of Ogygia (pronounced Oh-gi-jee-a)

The House of Achilles

PELEUS was a Greek king and hero who married:

THETIS, a sea nymph. They had a son:

ACHILLES, the greatest warrior the world had ever known. His closest friend and perhaps lover was:

PATROCLUS, a Greek warrior and minor noble. During the Trojan War, they captured:

BRISEIS, princess of Lyrnessus, a smaller town not far from Troy

Achilles also had a son:


Other Greeks embroiled in the Trojan War include:

SINON, a warrior

PROTESILAUS, king of Phylace, a small Greek settlement. Husband of:

LAODAMIA, his queen


The House of Priam

PRIAM, king of Troy, father of countless sons and daughters and husband of:

HECABE, also called Hecuba by the Romans and later by Shakespeare. Mother of:

POLYXENA, heroine of Troy

CASSANDRA, priestess of APOLLO, the god of archery, healing and disease

HECTOR, the great Trojan hero

PARIS, Trojan warrior and seducer of other men’s wives

POLYDORUS, the youngest son of Priam and Hecabe

Hecabe and Priam were also parents-in-law of:

ANDROMACHE, wife of Hector, mother of ASTYANAX

Other Trojans embroiled in the war include:

AENEAS, a Trojan noble, son of ANCHISES and husband of:

CREUSA, mother of EURYLEON (later known by the Romans as Ascanius)

THEANO, wife of ANTENOR (an adviser to Priam) and mother of CRINO

CHRYSEIS, a Trojan girl and the daughter of CHRYSES, a priest of APOLLO

PENTHESILEA was an Amazon princess, sister to HIPPOLYTA. She was not a Trojan, but fought as their ally in the last year of the war

OENONE (pronounced Oi-no-nee), a mountain nymph, lived near Troy


CALLIOPE, muse of epic poetry

ZEUS, king of the Olympian gods. Father of countless other gods, goddesses, nymphs and demi-gods. Husband and brother of:

HERA, queen of the Olympian gods and disliker of anyone Zeus seduces

APHRODITE, goddess of love, particularly the lustful variety.

Married to the blacksmith god, HEPHAESTUS, and occasional lover of the god of war, ARES

ATHENE, goddess of wisdom and defensive warfare. Supporter of Odysseus, patron goddess of Athens. Loves owls

ERIS, goddess of strife. Troublemaker

THEMIS, one of the old goddesses. Represents order, as opposed to chaos

GAIA, another one of the old goddesses. We think of her as Mother Earth

THE MOIRAI, the Fates. Three sisters – CLOTHO, LACHESIS and ATROPOS – who hold our destinies in their hands



Sing, Muse, he says, and the edge in his voice makes it clear that this is not a request. If I were minded to accede to his wish, I might say that he sharpens his tone on my name, like a warrior drawing his dagger across a whetstone, preparing for the morning’s battle. But I am not in the mood to be a muse today. Perhaps he hasn’t thought of what it is like to be me. Certainly he hasn’t: like all poets, he thinks only of himself. But it is surprising that he hasn’t considered how many other men there are like him, every day, all demanding my unwavering attention and support. How much epic poetry does the world really need?

Every conflict joined, every war fought, every city besieged, every town sacked, every village destroyed. Every impossible journey, every shipwreck, every homecoming: these stories have all been told, and countless times. Can he really believe he has something new to say? And does he think he might need me to help him keep track of all his characters, or to fill those empty moments where the metre doesn’t fit the tale?

I look down and see that his head is bowed and his shoulders, though broad, are sloped. His spine has begun to curve at the top. He is old, this man. Older than his hard-edged voice suggests. I’m curious. It’s usually the young for whom poetry is such an