If Homer had my Editor: Emailing the Ancients

Rosaria Munda

To view the winners of the Polite Emails to the Ancients competition, click here!

Homer and his guide, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1874 (Milwaukee Art Museum, WI, USA).

Dear H,

Thank you for your patience as I looked over this draft of the ILIAD (love the title!). I’m very impressed with all the work you’ve done here. Love, love, love Achilles’ arc (and Patroclus—so sad!) and the final chapter with Priam—ugh. Just devastating. I think you’re off to a tremendous start.

A few ideas for some things you might want to consider (all suggestions—remember YOU are the final authority on what your work needs).


Agamemnon is such an intriguing antagonist—arrogant, brutal, and such a bad manager!—and the way he and Achilles set each other off is a potent setup. With so much character-based conflict driving the action, are you sure you need the gods? I loved your vivid worldbuilding with Mount Olympus, but I’m worried all that divine talking and meddling really subtracts from your main characters’ momentum. I kept finding my mind wandering during those sections, wondering what the humans were doing. The stakes are so much higher on the ground!

**Would you consider cutting the gods sections down, or maybe taking them out altogether?


I’m having a little trouble buying that the Greeks would all sit on the beach for ten years without someone thinking of cutting off Troy’s supply lines. Any chance wily Odysseus (love that epithet!) could invent siege warfare instead of a big wooden horse? Just a thought 😀


You have SUCH a wonderful, extensive cast of side characters on the ground here. I loved the way every new fighter was introduced with his lineage, family history, and multiple alternate names. However, I wonder if less might be more! Would you consider stripping the story down to a handful of key actors: Achilles, Patroclus, Hector, Priam? I feel like that’s where your story is, and I’m worried readers will skim the 10 books cataloguing ships and disembowelments of side characters.

**Would you consider using just one name for each character, instead of four? I worry that some readers might have a little trouble following along—though I love the texturing you get from all those epithets!


Be careful of leaning on dialogue for exposition. It’s important to know everyone’s backstory, but dumping it in dialogue can feel a bit unnatural. Can you find a way to tell us Andromache’s father, mother, and all her brothers were killed by Achilles other than having Andromache recount it to Hector by way of hello? They’re married, so he probably already knows how her family died 😀


I think you’re off to a great start with your representation of women and I’m wondering if we can push that further. Would you consider giving Briseis, the sex slave whose trafficking motivates the central conflict, a speaking role? We know Achilles is sad she’s taken by Agamemnon. But how does Briseis feel about being raped by first Achilles and then Agamemnon after they killed her family? Let’s get inside her head a bit. Similarly, with Helen, I’m wondering if we can get a bit more nuance in her portrayal. Yes, her adultery led to a ten-year war, but do we need to have her come on to Hector and then refer to herself as a “nasty bitch”? It feels a little heavy-handed. (Consider taking that out entirely?)


Your imagery is STUNNING (rosy-fingered dawn!!!) but beware writing tics. You have a habit of repeating entire sections of dialogue verbatim as characters relay conversations—consider summarizing instead? Easy way to bring down your word count, which is creeping up here.


Okay, I’ll admit I LOVED these two. They made the book for me. The sizzle! The possibility! I want MORE of that. Can we get some of their relationship on the page a bit more? What is going on in that tent? Show us!!

**Would you consider a sex scene? Your readers will CRAVE more of these two! (Doesn’t need to be too graphic 😀)

Really good work here, H.

And remember—I am here to help you make this the epic poem YOU want it to be. This is just meant as the start of a conversation.



Rosaria Munda is the author of The Aurelian Cycle (Putnam), a young adult trilogy starring a dragonrider named Antigone and based on Plato’s Republic. She is very fond of both the Iliad and her editor. 

Cast-iron evidence for the ancient use of laptops (Greek grave naiskos, c. 100 BC, John Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA).

emails to the ancients: the third antigone competition

A new season brings a new competition for Antigone. Inspired by Rosaria’s pitch-perfect piece above, we invite our readers to set about crafting their own polite email to an ancient. It may be a Greek poet, it may be a Roman Emperor, perhaps a mythological heroine, perhaps a character from comedy. The choice of recipient is in some senses by the bye: the challenge is for you to pose as a modern-day figure of your own invention (so not yourself) who hold some soft power over the recipient, or at least thinks they do. It could be a literary editor, as we’ve just seen, or perhaps you’d prefer to channel a lawyer, a health and safety officer, a journalist, a psychiatrist, a personal trainer, or whatever else takes your fancy? You are charged with writing a polite email to a figure from Greco-Roman antiquity (factual or fabulous), gently but firmly taking them to task for not quite living up to the tastes, standards and fads of the modern day.

Does Socrates finally need pinning down on a few points of fact by his despairing students? Does Medusa need her Gorgonian away day risk-assessed? Does Cicero’s account of the Catilinarian Conspiracy need a journalistic fact-check? Does Odysseus need EDI training? Does Callimachus need to change some of his Library’s policies? Does Dionysus/Bacchus/Liber need an urgent intervention after last Tuesday’s performance? Is the Minotaur problematically microaggressive?

Your email can run up to 250 words and the two winning entries will each win £250 – money which they can of course spend however they like.

As with previous competitions, there are two categories: 18 and under and over-18s. Anyone from anywhere in the world can enter. But, for this contest, the message should be written in English; the more it conveys the feel of email as a medium, the better. The winning entries will be playful and inventive: they may well be very funny (and we look forward to laughing) but they will certainly be deft and clever in reframing the Classics as we know it/them. We promise to host the 20 best entries on the site.

To enter, please email your emails to competition@antigonejournal.com. Send the message to us as it is meant to look, with the title and ‘Dear X’ recipient being those of your composition. (Only address it ‘Dear Antigone‘ if you wish to have a few words with Antigone herself!) At the end of your message, please add at the bottom your own name and state which age category your entry falls into.

The deadline is 31 October, and, yes, you can enter more than once. For all who give it a go, good luck to you!

Fortune, Tadeusz Kuntze, 1754 (National Museum, Warsaw, Poland).