The Missing Thread: A Women’s History of the Ancient World


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*One of the ’10 Biggest Books for Spring’ – Daily Telegraph 

Spanning 3,000 years, from the birth of Minoan Crete to the death of the Julio-Claudian dynasty in Rome, a magisterial new history of the ancient world told, for the very first time, through women.

For centuries, men have been writing histories of antiquity filled with warlords, emperors and kings. But when it comes to incorporating women aside from Cleopatra and Boudica, writers have been more comfortable describing mythical heroines than real ones.

While Penelope and Helen of Troy live on in the imagination, their real-life counterparts have been relegated to the margins. In The Missing Thread, Daisy Dunn inverts this tradition and puts the women of history at the centre of the narrative.

These pages present Enheduanna, the earliest named author, Telesilla, who defended her city from attack, and the poet Sappho. Here is Artemisia, sole female commander in the Graeco-Persian Wars, and Locusta, Rome’s premier toxicologist. Cleopatra may be the more famous, but Fulvia, Mark Antony’s wife in Rome, fought a war on his behalf. Many other women remain nameless but integral.

Through new examination of the sources combined with vivid storytelling, Daisy Dunn shows us the ancient world through fresh eyes and introduces us to an incredible cast of ancient women, weavers of an entire world.

Reviews of The Missing Thread

With wonderful lightness of touch, Daisy Dunn has rewritten the history of the ancient world. Coming out of the shadows, so many human faces, from Homer to Agrippina, from Lucretia to Cleopatra. Our vision of antiquity will never be quite the same again. As with all her previous books, Daisy Dunn has constructed an utterly compelling narrative. The men are not neglected, but they stand aside to reveal the neglected other half of the human race. ― A.N. Wilson, author of Victoria

‘A gem of a book. Thanks to Daisy Dunn’s elegant and lively retelling of history, the women of the ancient world are restored to the centre of the story of classical antiquity. It was a joy to read.’ ― Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads

A beautiful, gloriously intricate tapestry, full of fresh faces and revitalised tales, woven with all the artistry and wit we’ve come to expect from Daisy Dunn. A stunning tribute to the women of the ancient world. ― Jessie Childs, author of God’s Traitors

I loved this radical new take on the familiar stories of the ancient world we all think we know but clearly only know the half. Dunn succeeds magnificently not in erasing men but in bringing out of the shadows some extraordinary women and giving them much more than merely reflected glory. The book sparkles with fresh ideas. ― Anne Sebba, author of Ethel Rosenberg

Beautifully written, witty and wry, this is a great his – and her – story of the ancient past, carefully sifting the evidence to shine light on the power and influence women have wielded through the ages. ― Michael Scott, author of X Marks the Spot

A brilliant concept, executed with enviable elegance. People will go to college to study the ancient world because of this book. Brava, Daisy Dunn! ― Lucy Worsley, author of Agatha Christie

Daisy Dunn is the real deal. No thread is left hanging, let alone missing, in her closely woven tapestry of ancient women’s history. Brilliantly conceived and written, The Missing Thread unerringly fingers the (chiefly male) ancients’ inability to understand women and view them in the round. ― Paul Cartledge, author of Thebes

Daisy Dunn is a wonderful writer and The Missing Thread is a wonderful book: rich, immersive, breathtaking in its authority and scope. This is a history of the ancient world which puts women where they belong – at the heart of the narrative – and the result is both deeply absorbing and urgently timely. ― Helen Castor, author of She-Wolves

‘The title of “the next Mary Beard” is one bandied around with wearying predictability, but judging by this terrifically readable and deeply researched new book, Daisy Dunn is in prime position to take up such a mantle…By turns authoritative, witty and revelatory, The Missing Thread feels like a book for our times and for all time. ― The Observer

Groundbreaking…barnstorming…As well as being a well-researched and elegantly written counterpoint to the way men have dominated the histories of antiquity, she has an eye for the quirky, revealing detail…Dunn’s spirited work not only puts the overlooked women at the core of the narrative, but it also reminds us that the past, particularly with sexism and misogyny, has vital lessons for the 21st-century present ―The Independent, ‘The best new books to read this May’

Forget the bitty style of “10 women who…” books. Daisy Dunn is rewriting 3,000 years of ancient history in one go, by reframing the whole lot around female figures ― Daily Telegraph‘The 10 biggest books for spring’ 

[Written] with characteristic style and wit…The Missing Thread is a bold and ambitious book…fill[ed] with brilliantly drawn pen-portraits…a wonderful book: informative, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read ― Daily Telegraph (5 Stars *****)

Daisy Dunn, a celebrated classicist…has opted for facts over reimaginings…The Missing Thread is learned, spritely and hugely ambitious – Sunday Times 

Deft…Again and again, Dunn shows us women guiding and shaping their world…You might call the book an epic act of noticing. Narratives of political and military ambition – the bloody internecine battles of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, for example – become more clearly explorations of intense familial and inter-personal dynamics, laced with division and rancour, rage and loathing – but also grief and longing, loyalty and love. It is all so utterly and desperately human – The Spectator

Daisy Dunn has taken up the cudgels on behalf of ancient-world women with delicacy and gusto…The scholarly study of these women began in earnest in the 1970s…Dunn’s pioneering volume is their most worthy companion and successor. For anyone even to undertake a single-authored general ancient history would be bold enough. To do so with the focus on the distaff side and without falling into grave distortion just adds to the complexity of the task…She carries it off triumphantly, the outcome of 15 years’ research – The Oldie 

The tales Dunn tells are always pertinent…In The Missing Thread, Daisy Dunn shows us once again why all children should learn about ancient civilisations: because they provide great stories that are powerful and always fresh and relevant ― Literary Review (cover story)

Dunn’s deft sleuthing uncovers long-overlooked realities…Her erudition is impressive, and her narrative is consistently animated. A sweeping history thrumming with energy ― Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

An admirable book…Dunn is a serious classicist, who seeks not so much to change the narrative as to highlight the neglected role of women within it. She writes well and describes works of art vividly ― Country Life (lead review)

It certainly delivers, providing a magisterial general history of ancient Greece and Rome with all the landmark men…seen alongside, and through, the many compelling women who have largely occupied their shadows…Dunn offers a much-needed addition to standard histories ― The TLS