Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Writing Polypoetes, son of Pirithous

Perithoos Hippodameia BM VaseF272
Pirithous and Hippodamia
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
Among the men listed as suitors of Helen, and those named as leading ships to Troy, we find the footnote of Polypoetes, the son of Pirithous. Those of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time know that I've done a lot of THINKING (and writing!) about Pirithous, and Polypoetes's mother, Hippodamia -- but until I started writing my last manuscript, I hadn't really considered their son.

It's funny how you can write two or three books about a character just for your own pleasure or entertainment, and then realize after the fact how desperately important it was for you to write those other books, so that when you sit down to write the thing you are writing at that moment, you have the background you need to tackle it. And that's kind of what happened for me with Polypoetes and this last manuscript. Because I was so caught up in the more familiar names and characters -- Odysseus, Ajax the Great, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Penelope, Castor and Pollux -- that I had overlooked Polypoetes as a part of the story I was writing. Until he was on top of me.

And I couldn't help but explore his perspective, just a little bit. Because here was the son of Theseus's best friend, Pirithous the instigator. Here was the son of the man who, by some accounts, provoked the entire Kidnap-of-Helen-and-Persephone adventures. Here was the son of the man who, one might argue, cost Theseus EVERYTHING, and by extension for my narrative, cost HELEN everything too. What kind of courage did it take him to march or sail himself to Sparta and present himself as a suitor to Helen? Or was it a matter of honor, itself? Was he there because of Helen's beauty, or was Helen's beauty just a happenstance, because he felt there was a debt that must be paid?

And what does he think about his father's adventures?  Or his father's reputation, generally, for that matter? What does he know, and how closely is he bound up in the affairs of Athens, and Theseus's family? Certainly he was old enough by the time HELEN OF SPARTA takes place that he could be left in Thessaly to rule in his father's place -- I imagine he was of a similar age to Hippolytus, Theseus's oldest (deceased) son. Were they friends? Does he grieve?

Fortunately for me, I knew Polypoetes's early history. I knew Pirithous and Hippodamia's story already, because I'd written their book just before. And I think that made giving Polypoetes a voice that much more attractive and inspiring. Because having known his parents, I wanted desperately now, to know their son.

I hope someday you'll get a chance to know him too!




Available Now!
Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Podcast Adventure: Rocket Punch Radio, and Battles of the Gods

Last week I was interviewed on Rocket Punch Radio (Episode 6) where I got to talk about HELEN OF SPARTA, and which gods would win in some epic throw-downs (Zeus vs Odin? Everyone has an opinion!) I also talked a little bit about Paris of Troy, because it's pretty much impossible to write a book about Helen without stumbling over Paris's part in the whole thing -- thankfully I had recently re-educated myself on his history!




I had a great time recording this, and you should definitely give it a listen and let me know in the comments who YOU think would win if the gods battled it out!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Authorial Adventures

Helen of Sparta Sorry!, Risk,
and Theseus's edition of Candyland
from the HELEN OF SPARTA launch party!
It's been pretty non-stop Mythology and Mycenaean Greece on the blog since HELEN's release, but I figured it was about time for an authorial update!

I've been writing like the wind behind the scenes, and researching all kinds of suitable mythological figures along the way. Lots of goddesses and judgments and some awesome, fun, surprise characters I wasn't expecting to find in this latest manuscript. I've been deep in the bronze age for two new manuscripts in a row now, plus HELEN OF SPARTA's edits before that, and it'll be fun to step outside of that and play around with some other projects while contractors come to tear up our 70s carpets and put in (long long long overdue) new flooring. (Seriously. Carpet from the 70s should not still be in ANYONE'S house.)

The EXCITEMENT of carpet destruction (etc) is likely to be impossible to escape and even more impossible to write through, so I don't expect to do more than pick at things here or there, but maybe if I'm lucky I'll get through some edits for that other Amalia. We'll see. Best Laid Plans, and so on!

Here's hoping your May is a lot quieter than mine, and that June will be clear sailing for everyone -- and at the very least, I've got the Historical Novel Society Conference at the end of June to look forward to, so Sound Off in the comments if I'll see you there!


Helen of Sparta
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Myth of Theseus and Democracy in Athens

What if Theseus is the first Adopted heir? And the reason he's credited as bringing democracy to Athens is because he was claimed the "long lost son" of Aegeus as a political necessity, to appease the people of Athens and Attica?

Theseus Minotaur Louvre F33 n2
Theseus slaying the Minotaur
photo by Jastrow, via wiki commons
Theseus had a purpose -- he was going to Athens to claim (or make?) his place there. He built his reputation along the way in such a manner as to make it virtually impossible for Aegeus to turn him away. When he arrived, according to some myths, Medea advised Aegeus to kill him, because he was obviously seeking to usurp Aegeus's power.

And maybe she was right. Maybe Theseus was a champion of the people of Attica, intent on upsetting the status quo, to overthrow the king (and his sorceress mistress?) and reassert the peoples' power -- to speak with the peoples' voice? And maybe, Aegeus, realizing the error of his ways, (was he a tyrant? he might have been!) instead of being overthrown, used it to his advantage to preserve his own power while at the same time giving his people the appearance of winning, by adopting Theseus as his son. He didn't have any heirs,  and if the people were revolting against the current leadership, whatever Medea's plans were, they weren't going to work. And there was always the hope that Theseus might end up dead in Crete anyway.

And maybe that was even a condition of the adoption -- maybe to be declared Aegeus's heir, Theseus had to go to Crete as tribute, and IF he survived and returned to Athens, he would then be given the kingship, free and clear.

And maybe when Aegeus leaped from the rock to his death, it wasn't grief that drove him. Maybe it was the realization that he'd lost the gamble, and Theseus had returned -- and knowing he'd lost his kingdom, maybe he wanted to save face. Rather than being removed, he made a statement, and shadowed Theseus' ascendance with his suicide.

All of this assuming, of course, that a man named Theseus might have lived, and a king named Aegeus might have died.



Available now!
Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Influence of Zeus on the Trojan War

Peter Paul Rubens - The Judgement of Paris, c.1606 (Museo del Prado)
Peter Paul Rubens Judgment of Paris,
via Wiki Commons
Often, the Judgement of Paris is considered to be the first seed of the Trojan War -- the story of Eris tossing an apple to the goddesses of Olympus, inscribed with the words "for the fairest," which caused Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite to squabble over who it should belong to. The three goddesses are then referred to Paris for judgement, and proceed to each bribe him for the apple and the title of "fairest." Paris ultimately chooses Aphrodite, who offers him Helen, and then, with the goddess's encouragement goes to Sparta to fetch her for his own.

But the beginnings of the Trojan War go back even farther than Paris's ill-considered judgement. There are a couple of accounts which place the blame squarely on Zeus' (premeditating) shoulders:
"There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass" (Cypria Fragments).

And according to Hesiod's Catalog of Women:

"Now all the gods were divided through strife; for at that very time Zeus who thunders on high was meditating marvellous deeds, even to mingle storm and tempest over the boundless earth, and already he was hastening to make an utter end of the race of mortal men, declaring that he would destroy the lives of the demi-gods, that the children of the gods should not mate with wretched mortals, seeing their fate with their own eyes; but that the blessed gods henceforth even as aforetime should have their living and their habitations apart from men. But on those who were born of immortals and of mankind verily Zeus laid toil and sorrow upon sorrow" (II: 2-13).
Hesiod's account is almost Old-Testament-I'll-Flood-The-World-and-Destroy-Everyone in its tone, but both of the texts make it clear that Zeus had a plan to rid the world of a good portion of its population, be they demigods and their children, or just men in general. From this perspective, Paris, Helen, Menelaus -- they were simply expedient tools to bring about this master plan. A plan that it seems, when taking into account the events of  The Iliad, the other gods and goddesses weren't necessarily privy to. It also makes Zeus into a fantastic puppet master, or grants him a level of omniscience we don't often associate with the Olympian gods.

However the Trojan War came about, it was devastating. Not just for Troy, but for the Greeks as well. And in my opinion, it seems the perfect mythic explanation for the Greek Dark Ages, which followed. And what's a better story to tell around the hearth than one with a mess of  meddling by the gods?



Available Now!
Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mycenaean and Homeric Burial Practices

Dying Centaur
(photo by me!)
I've been doing a LOT of reading regarding funerary and burial practices of Mycenaean Greeks, and particularly those living in Bronze Age Thessaly, and I have learned a great many things -- the most important being, while Homer makes much of the funeral pyre and cremation of the dead, there is little to no evidence of cremation taking place in Mainland Greece during the period (LH IIIB ish) of the Trojan War.

There's evidence for it elsewhere, sure. Other cultures absolutely honored their dead with cremation via the funeral pyre. But in Mycenaean Greece? Cremation doesn't seem to show up until the Early Iron Age, and even then, it's not at all widespread. But as someone writing historical fiction built off the mythic traditions and heroes of Homer -- this presents a bit of a quandary to me, as the author.

Historically speaking, the inhumation of the dead into tombs (of varying size and style) or simple graves is more correct. But is the reader more familiar with the funeral pyre? Will they be expecting it? And if I don't make use of it, how do I reconcile or explain the difference between the practices of these heroes before they set out to war, and their sudden alteration while afield?

Ultimately, while the difference between cremation and inhumation APPEARS to be large, it seems that the burial and funerary practices of Mycenaean Greeks are not entirely different from what occurs within the pages of the Iliad. In fact, according to Mylonas (who, I will grant you, was doing his research in the 40s -- which was a very long time ago in terms of Archaeological practices, technology, and the vast amount of new information available to us today), it seems that apart from the actual disposal of the body itself, the practices and rites surrounding that ultimate disposal are VERY much the same, and the Homeric accounts of things like gifts of jars of oil and honey set around the bier for the dead, and even the funeral games and the feasting, seem to be holdovers from the earlier tradition of inhumation, when the shade might have lingered during the much longer process of decomposition of the flesh, and could appreciate the supplies and honors bestowed upon his corpse.

But ultimately, the novel I'm revising is a book in which no one passes peacefully into death. The Centauromachy is a violent slaughter, and the bodies certainly would have piled up. And in my reading and research I have yet to find a reference to any kind of mass burial due to war -- no large numbers of people all entombed together. And I wonder if that might have made a difference in how the bodies of the dead were honored or addressed.

I haven't decided yet how I'll work through this particular challenge -- if Homer or the Archaeological record will rule in this particular novel. But it's a fascinating problem, all the same! And I have to admit, I kind of love the learning along the way.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Assembly of Helen's Suitors

Detail Menelaus Painter Louvre G424
Helen on a krater, via wiki commons
public domain
There's a reason that these myths surrounding Helen of Troy and the Trojan War have been retold so many times, and a reason the retelling often begins with the assembly of Helen's suitors -- it's high stakes and high tension, and there are a lot of powerful men in a confined space, all hoping to win the same GLORIOUS prize. And it wasn't just Helen herself they might have wanted, either, but the entire kingdom of Sparta that came with her. Which means this particular moment in myth (and history?) is a breeding ground for conflict. And conflict is where stories are born.

Odysseus, scheming with King Tyndareus, or with Helen herself and her brothers, looking for a way to prevent the gathering from turning into all-out war the minute a husband is chosen. Tyndareus just sweating with nerves, walking on the edge of a blade and fearing even the smallest misstep, because the wrong word to the wrong man at the wrong moment will doom not just his daughter, but perhaps even his kingdom, or the man he most wants to make his son-in-law. Helen, surrounded by dozens of men, all looking at her like she's a treasury of gold and silver and bronze, theirs for the taking. Or worse, panting and lusting after her body, with no consideration for her kingdom or her people, at all.

There are so many ways that things can go horribly wrong, even when you know how it ends. And poor Tyndareus. Helen's story makes it so clear that when it comes to possessing her, the violation of Xenia is the least of what a man will risk.

To say that I was looking forward to writing it is an understatement. But it wasn't where I wanted to begin. There is so much more to Helen's story than the moment when she was offered up as a prize.
Which is why I wrote Helen of Sparta -- the story of the girl who feared what would come when she became a woman. The story of the woman who realized she couldn't leave her fate in the hands of anyone else. Not her father, not her brothers, and absolutely not the gods. The story of Helen before the myths we all know.

...Which isn't to say I'm not looking forward to tackling the rest of her more well-known adventures, too!



Available April 1st!
Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.