Sing, Goddess, of the wrath of Achilles...

So begins perhaps the most famous war poem of them all: Homer's Iliad, composed something like 2,800 yeas ago and describing an even older war between the ancient Greeks and the Trojans whose city guarded trade access to the Black Sea.

It is a heroic, epic tale about the almost fatal split in the Greek ranks between their most fearsome warrior, Achilles, and Agamemnon, king of the most powerful Greek city state, Mycenae.

The thing they fell out about? A woman, Briseis, the queen of a small city allied to Troy, who was captured and kept as a slave and concubine by Achilles, then stolen from him by Agamemnon.

The poem presents the Greek and Trojan warriors alike as outwardly heroic. But it is subtle: read between the lines, and you get a sense, through their own words, of what these characters, in Homer's telling at least, were really like: Agamemnon arrogant, boastful and cowardly; Odysseus cunning; Achilles spoiled and petulant.

What you don't get, in Homer, is any sense of the women. Almost all - apart from Helen of Troy, who sparked the whole ten-year war - are victims: Trojan women captured by the invading Greeks and brought back to Greek rape camps. But other than acting as plot points for the feud between the two Greek leaders, their stories go unheard.

Step forward Booker Prize-winning author Pat Barker. In her new novel, The Silence of the Girls, she retells the events of the Iliad from the point of view of the Trojan women enslaved by the Greeks.

It is a powerful modern reinvention of an ancient, epic tale. And in a notable coup, the author herself will be at the new Tang Hall Explore Library - The Centre@Burnholme - on Monday to talk about her book. It will be the first major event at the new library - and sounds like one not to be missed.

Pat Barker at TheCentre@Burnholme, Monday September 3, 7pm. Bookings £6 (£20 with a copy of the book) from Waterstones or online at

Stephen Lewis