Lore Olympus Reimagines and Reframes Ancient Myths in Webcomic and Graphic Novel

Lore Olympus Trailer | WEBTOON

Still from Lore Olympus Trailer.

Spoiler Warning for Season 1 of Lore Olympus

The myths of the ancient Greeks have captivated the human imagination for millennia, spanning the globe and crossing linguistic divides since their inception. Such a claim is attested by the fact that we still read these tales today, but perhaps even more persuasive of an argument for their longevity are the ways in which almost every era has repurposed these tales for contemporaneous audiences. Rachel Smythe’s insanely popular webcomic now turned graphic novel (and future Netflix animated series), Lore Olympus, is a recent iteration of this trend – one that combines both the art of storytelling and digital illustration. 

Brought to life with blinding color and a whimsical, unique style, Smythe’s creation has revitalized once again the tale of Hades and Persephone, the King and Queen of the Greek underworld. While Smythe’s version of the story acknowledges the ancient origins of Persephone’s tale, with cleverly entrenched easter eggs for the Greek myth enthusiast scattered throughout her illustrations, the world of Lore Olympus fully brings these gods and goddesses into a modern context. 

Smythe has depicted Olympus and the Underworld as bustling metropoleis that look down and above to a human world that reflects the time of the myth’s origin. The gods call each other on cellphones, take yoga classes, and buy overpriced coffee, while the human world is still lit by torches. Even the ways in which Smythe fashions her characters pays heed to the juxtaposed timelines she has crafted. In the world of the gods, clothing styles tend to be mostly modern garb (Hades is partial to three-piece business suits and Persephone to couture-styled ensembles) while in the human world deities are dressed in garments that draw on ancient Greek styles (chitons, peploi, varying tunics, etc.). Where Smythe truly brings the story into modernity, however, lies not in her artistic choices but in her literary ones.

Smythe, Del Ray Books

Lore Olympus Vol. 1 printed cover.

Contrary to the original myth, Persephone is not whisked away by a lustful Hades without her consent but rather she is the victim of a cruel prank that results in her unconsciously and unwittingly hitching a ride with Hades to his home in the Underworld. The attraction between the two characters is instead mutual and grows from a place of understanding and genuine effort. And although Persephone begins the story as a naïve young woman, much of the story focuses on themes of personal growth, mental health advocacy, and Persephone’s own journey of stepping into her own godly powers and capabilities. 

What is more, Smythe turns many misogynistic hallmarks of the original Greek myths on their heads by blatantly subverting and calling them out – usually through her strongly written and complex women characters. Unchecked actions of masculine desire are ubiquitous in ancient myths and very rarely do the aggressors find themselves under scrutiny or in trouble; especially if they are gods. The ever-problematic Zeus is perhaps the reigning champion of unwarranted and unsolicited romantic and/or sexual advances foisted upon, well…just about anything that could breathe. More often than not, Greek myths end with very few consequences for the godly attacker while the objects of their unchecked desires are either killed by jealous spouses, turned into plants, turned into plants after being killed by said jealous spouses, turned into animals, or, if they’re lucky, exiled. Very few romances in ancient myth actually play out romantically and the majority that end tragically tend to be more tragic for the women involved.

Smythe, on the other hand, takes most opportunities to have her characters rag on Zeus in particular for his rakish and problematic behaviors and elsewhere she actively works to craft stories for the women of her world that center around their autonomy and agency. Smythe’s Persephone is not a damsel that has been captured but a charismatic and jubilant young woman who is finding her voice and finding her place in her world. Touching upon crucially important topics like sexual violence, trauma, and mental health, Smythe’s universe focalizes upon a woman’s right to choose and the strength that is very often needed to go against what a male-dominated world would rather have as the outcome – an increasingly poignant topic in modern social climates. 

Glimmers of such themes are visible in even the Greek original version of Persephone as the goddess becomes an incredibly potent and multifaceted deity in her own right, and it is perhaps the desire to see a more relatable version of such a powerful and meaningful transformation depicted and made relevant for our modern contexts that has driven our continued cultural interests in the stories of the ancient Greeks.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rachel Smythe (@usedbandaid)

Smythe is not alone in this and the last few years in particular have seen a notable rise of published stories that retell ancient myths, either in ancient or modern settings (Madeline Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles, Fran Ross’ Oreo, and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad just to name a few). If we are to believe the idea that there are only seven stories to be told, then it is perhaps not too surprising that we continue to return to some of our oldest recorded tales. Smythe has done exactly this, successfully interweaving both the ancient roots of her chosen fable with a modern flair such that her revitalization of these characters has made them all her own.   

Lore Olympus is now posting weekly updates for season 2 on webtoons.comPrinted versions of volumes 1 and 2 are available for sale wherever books are sold.
About the Author

Danielle Vander Horst

Dani is a Ph.D. student in Classical Archaeology at Duke University. She has excavated with multiple projects in Italy and predominately researches ancient identities in the northwestern Roman provinces.

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