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Thursday, July 13, 2023

A BROKEN HORSE: A Story of Helen's Suitors and the Trojan War

Episode ONE of my serialized podcast retelling of A BROKEN HORSE is now available to listen to for FREE--and if you like what you hear, there are SIX MORE episodes over on patreon you can binge for as little as a dollar a month! 

This audio format of A BROKEN HORSE would not have been possible without the help of Libbie Hawker/Grant who acted as my producer, piecing together the episodes for me after I recorded them chapter by chapter! 

As hero after hero falls before the walls of Troy, Achaean and Trojan alike, two reluctant warriors--neither remembered as a hero--must sacrifice themselves for the sake of the people they love. 

Prince Paris has all the fame he ever wanted, anointed by the gods, honored as a youth for both his bravery and judgment, and gifted the most beautiful woman in the world by Aphrodite. If his theft of Helen results in a war, surely he is not meant to stop it. Let all the world burn to ash; so long as Paris has Helen, he is content to leave the destinies of kings and nations in the gods’ hands. But to keep Helen, they must survive. Paris must survive.

Even as a grandson of Zeus, Polypoetes is a king of little consequence—his kingdom beyond the long-armed reach of Mycenae in ordinary times, yet forced still by oath and duty into a war he doesn’t want to fight. Desperate to save his lover Leonteus and protect the rest of his people, left behind in Thessaly, Polypoetes struggles to keep his forces out of harm’s way, even if it means making himself an enemy of Achilles.

While A BROKEN HORSE can be enjoyed as a standalone work, if you haven't read or listened to my other mythic retellings, don't miss HELEN OF SPARTA and BY HELEN'S HAND, the story of Helen's life BEFORE she was stolen away to Troy!

Support Amalia and get early access to more episodes of A BROKEN HORSE at

Saturday, May 27, 2023

King of the Lapiths: A Helen of Sparta Side-Story

It's a big year!

Not only did you get Aethra's novella, THE LION OF TROEZEN, but I have another short story that is releasing to Patrons now--King of the Lapiths, which takes place during the events of HELEN OF SPARTA.

You all know I have a certain fondness for Pirithous by now, and his son Polypoetes is one of my absolute favorite characters. But we don't get a lot of background on Polypoetes before his appearance in BY HELEN'S HAND, and we never see him (as an adult) on the same page as his father. Until now.

King of the Lapiths is just shy of 6K words, and takes place before Pirithous arrives in Athens to demand that Theseus accompany him to Hades on his quest to liberate Persephone in HELEN OF SPARTA. It's told from the points of view of both Pirithous and Polypoetes, giving us a glimpse of the relationship between father and son.

I hope very much this story will whet your appetite for my serialized podcast, A BROKEN HORSE, coming later in June--to Patreon Patrons first, of course!

Saturday, March 4, 2023

On Writing Women in the Bronze Age

I am not going to try to tell you that the Bronze Age Aegean was some kind of egalitarian utopia. Far from it! We can see that men had significant authority in the names that were recorded, noting who was transacting with the king in those Linear B tablets that provide us with the bulk of contextual archeological knowledge of the period in which I've grounded my stories. And we see it too, reflected again in the myths.

But what I am going to tell you is that even in a society where men have significant authority, that doesn't mean that women have no rights at all over their own lives, no room to exist in public, no role of importance within their own culture. What I am going to tell you is that just because men had documented authority, economically, it does not mean that women did not have authority of their own inside their palaces, their homes, and their communities, still.

What I am going to tell you is that we are not constrained by the historical record to imagine, for those women of the Aegean Bronze Age, a life constrained by the most absolute and extreme interpretation of patriarchy.

Even in later Greece (and the Aegean on the whole), where the lives of women are considerably better documented (though still, we know much more about the lives of men), we see a wide variety of ways of living inside that Patriarchal framework. Is it not possible, even PROBABLE, that there was a wide variety of ways that women lived in the Aegean Bronze Age, too? That not all palace-centers, not all kingdoms, had the same rules? 

For me, what makes the Aegean Bronze Age so fascinating and so attractive as a background to retelling these myths (besides the fact that it makes the most sense to set them in that period, using the Trojan War as a fixed point in history), is that there is so much ROOM to imagine a world where women took part in their own lives and stories.

When you read the Lion of Troezen or Tamer of Horses, Ariadne and the Beast or Helen of Sparta, and encounter the mythic figures of Aethra and Hippodamia and Antiope, Helen and Ariadne, women whose names have endured for literal millennia, does it not make more sense that the reason they were remembered (by so many, many, many men in order to reach us now in the present) might have been, in part, because they were exceptional?

For myself, I would rather err on the side of giving them too much power rather than too little or none. I would rather believe that exceptional women found ways to exercise their power, rather than be stifled and hidden away in a dark, interior room, only allowed out in answer to their father or their husband's summons, meant neither to be seen OR heard. 

There are such tantalizing glimpses of bigger lives inside their own myths! Aethra advising her son, King Theseus of Athens, who listens to and acknowledges her wisdom. Helen standing openly upon the walls of Troy, accepted by Priam as an authority on the Achaean Kings, battling below, and then later welcoming guests into her Spartan palace, presiding over them as the consummate hostess, having clearly taken charge of her husband and her home. Hippodamia, who was said to be kin to the Centaurs, an entirely different and decidedly UN-Greek society; Antiope, an Amazon queen--an even more foreign bride. And Ariadne. Ariadne who was so exceptional, so rare a woman, she was brought to Olympus and made a consort-wife to a god!

These were not meek women, eyes kept downcast, unable to exert any power or authority over their peoples or their lives. These mythic figures are opportunities to see how the women inside a patriarchal society might have MADE space for themselves, through sheer force of personality and will, through the power granted to them by birth or marriage, by the blessings of the very gods. Just like Medea or Circe, like the murderous Clytemnestra, just as women in history, like Hatshepsut and Cleopatra, Zenobia of Palmyra and Empress Aelia Pulcheria of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Queens Victoria and Elizabeth of England did much, much, much later too.

When opportunities present themselves, even inside a strict patriarchy, people without power can and do find ways to claim it, particularly when they're born on its periphery or adjacent to the structure which grants it. And people have always been people, we know that. So there is no reason at all to think that these women, these mythic figures whose stories we love to tell and retell, couldn't have done so, too.

Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
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Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Lion of Troezen

I am EXTREMELY excited/terrified/hyped/anxious to announce my next Bronze Age Greece Mythic Retelling--a novelette about Aethra and Poseidon and the conception of Theseus, titled THE LION OF TROEZEN, and beginning on January 19th, Patreon Patrons will get to start reading it in all its juicy, spicy, highest heat glory! 

For a very long time, I've wanted to write a story about Aethra. I've talked about it repeatedly across a number of platforms, by now, and you've seen on the blog my investment in treating her as a hero--giving her a CHOICE in her relationship with Poseidon and Theseus's conception. Well, soon, you'll be able to see how all of those thoughts have come together into this novelette, which is, I am certain, only the beginning of what might well become a larger biographical novel of Aethra's life. (I may or may not already have a rough outline and a few thousand words written that take place just after the events of HELEN OF SPARTA going into BY HELEN'S HAND.) 

But THIS story, THE LION OF TROEZEN, is much more tightly focused:

When Aethra's hopes for marriage to a hero-prince are dashed by his exile, Aethra's father, the king of Troezen, asks her to sacrifice her prospects altogether. King Aegeus of Athens, recently arrived, is desperately in need of a son and heir, and by the Oracle's own prophecy, Aethra's father is certain she can provide it. For her people's sake, Aethra agrees to welcome the king of Athens to her bed, but before King Aegeus can find his nerve, she's presented with another offer, from Poseidon Earth-Shaker, God of the Sea: give the god her maidenhead in Aegeus's place, and make the heir of Athens Poseidon's own son.

Neither option is what she's dreamed of, the true companionship of a worthy partner and power and authority in her own right as Queen of Troezen, but the choice Aethra makes will alter the course of her life--and though she cannot know it, influence the fate of not just Troezen and Athens, but all Achaea. 

You can start reading Aethra and Poseidon's ultra sexy encounter for as little as a dollar a month, or, in February, get early access to the downloadable epub (with an extensive author's note!) to read at your leisure on your preferred device for just $5!

I haven't decided yet if I'll be releasing this novelette wide with the FULL POSEIDON, or offering it as an abridged edition with half as much sex, but Patrons are getting EVERYTHING, and I really hope they (and you!) will love this retelling as much as I did, writing it.

Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Polypoetes and the Trojan War

“You ask me why, if she did not want this war, she has not given herself up to Menelaus since,” Polypoetes said, “but perhaps the question you should ask instead is why has Menelaus not given up Helen? Why, knowing where it might lead, did he insist upon marrying her to begin with? When she had made it clear she did not want him or the future that would follow. When she went so far as to arrange her own abduction, barely more than a child at the time, to escape his claim upon her body, her beauty, her life? This war was not caused by Helen, even if she escaped Sparta with Paris of her own free will—which Helen’s own brothers denied. It was caused by Menelaus, when he would not accept her refusal. Not as a girl, or as a woman, or as his wife. He could have ended this war long before it ever started and saved us all so much pain and suffering.” 
--A Broken Horse

You all know I swore I would never write the Trojan War. I was sure I had nothing new to say and didn't want to retread the same ground that had been overtrod already before me. But then, some time after I finished writing By Helen's Hand, I remembered Polypoetes.

Alexandre Jacovleff's Trojan Horse, via Wiki Commons
Who is Polypoetes?
I've talked about him before, I'm sure. A lesser king. Unremarkable by most accounts. There is no real mythology, no real fame attached to his name beyond being named as one of Helen's suitors. We know he earned a prize at Patroclus's funeral games. He is explicitly named as one of the men inside the Trojan Horse, though we don't know what he did inside it or after he slithered out of it. And he's the only named son of Pirithous, who together with Leonteus (a grandson of Caeneus, who we also talked about recently) led their region and the Lapith people in the fighting at Troy. (There were quite a few ships of them, if I recall correctly, too.)

He is a Background King who inexplicably takes a front row seat in the clutch moment of the Trojan War, where he continues to be treated as a Background Character still.

Fam, it's weird. And weird, to me, offers opportunity.

One of the things that strikes me about Trojan War retellings on the whole is how they focus themselves so entirely on the same handful of players. The great heroes who were all about fame and glory and embodied what we consider to be the prevailing cultural drives and sentiments of the time. Might makes right. Conquer and enslave! Get that Fame and Glory! 

Even the retellings that try to offer "a new perspective" are often just showing us these same characters and stale motivations through the eyes of the women around these heroes, sometimes romanticized, sometimes in order to reveal "the reality of abuse" they suffered inside a war camp, or the ugliness of war (which the Iliad itself doesn't shy from, either.) Often, the repeated stampedes of the rest of the men to their boats when Agamemnon tests them, in the Iliad, are entirely scrubbed out of the narrative. But those moments offer a key perspective: Agamemnon and Menelaus and the rest of the hero-kings and -princes we all know and love were leading a DEEPLY UNPOPULAR war.

And there were A LOT OF PEOPLE in that camp who were desperate to go home, with or without the sack of Troy.

There is no reason to think a Background King could not have been one of them.

And now we have a new story and untrod ground. We have something DIFFERENT.

"But Amalia," I hear you say, "What about glory and fame?! Those were driving forces!!"
WHY does EVERY HERO get a CHOICE, if a long life and a death of old age at home surrounded by your family is not some kind of temptation still? If they all, ALWAYS, choose glory and fame then the choice means nothing. We have to allow for the fact that there were some people in this society who chose OTHERWISE. It's right there in the construction of the myths. 

Part of what makes those particular heroes exceptional is that they chose glory--when other people MIGHT NOT.

It isn't even going against the grain. It's not modern to look at what is presented as options inside the myths themselves and connect the dots, to take the OTHER path presented. Odysseus never wanted to go to war, but we don't act like that's a break with history. If fame and glory were all that mattered, all that drove the people of this culture EVER, then Odysseus would not have playacted his own madness in order to get out from under the oath he designed.

Do you see what I mean, now, when I say: we are making choices TODAY to create in these myths something more monstrous, more violent, more cruel when we discard the variations that present something other? 

Dozens, maybe hundreds of people have retold this story. But if they keep leaving out the part where PEOPLE REALLY DID NOT WANT TO BE THERE, half of it, and all the nuance, is lost. To suggest that everyone in the past was driven by a bloodthirsty desire for fame and glory at any cost is a profound disservice to history and our ancestors. Perhaps even more so than by allowing people inside problematic power dynamics to fall in love (as attested inside the myths themselves.)

I think we all know why as a society we focus on a mythic hero falling in love as the bigger problem, though. Why that's the thing we need to expunge from the record, above all, by pushing to make sure those relationships are more "realistically" portrayed primarily as violence and assault, in our so modern and enlightened age. We are INVESTED in the idea that these heroes never looked at women as anything but objects, never saw value in them as people beyond the child they might provide. And we've been invested in that idea for a VERY long time.

Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
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Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Aethra, Poseidon, and the Myth of Caeneus.

I am absolutely fascinated beyond all reason by Aethra's relationship to Poseidon and how that relationship influences and alters the course of her life. (If you subscribe to the Amaliad, this probably isn't news to you.)

“My Lord, how might Troezen serve you?”

“If I had come for Troezen’s service, I would have called to your father, the king,” Poseidon said, a ripple of laughter beneath his words. “This night, I have something else in mind. A bargain I would make with you alone, if you desire it.”

If I had been standing, I might have stepped back, but upon my knees, my face still held in his hand, I could only narrow my eyes and bite my tongue on a response that would give offense to a god. Because though he framed it as a choice, an offer I might decline, I was not certain he would be so generous if I denied him.
 --The Lion of Troezen

CHOICE, right??? 
How much choice does anyone have when the offer comes from a god? I blogged about this topic previously and I think it's still (maybe even more) important and YES, this question of CONSENT is so much of why I am SO INTERESTED in Aethra's story, because of how I framed her relationship to Poseidon in HELEN OF SPARTA to begin with.

The heroes always get choices. ALWAYS. They always get a decision point. They can fade into obscurity or they can find GLORY AND FAME. 

So where are the decision moments for everyone else?!

I've talked about the choices and decision points heroes get, too, before--in regard to Theseus and how harshly he's judged in contrast to other heroes who make the same choice he does for arguably more selfish reasons, but I think it's important to engage with this from other perspectives, too.

Like: WHY IS IT that only the heroes are allowed explicit decision moments? 
That's kind of rhetorical, we know that there was a limit in society/culture for anyone who wasn't a man in the periods these myths were recorded and preserved, of course, but does that mean WE SHOULD CONTINUE to impose that limit on characters and mythic figures of other genders? That we should continue to assume they were never granted them in our own retellings, now?

Let's step back from the most famous heroes we all know, whose stories are told over and over and over again--Heracles, Achilles, Theseus--and look at a different myth for a moment: the myth of Caeneus.

(CW: Rape.)

Lattanzio Gambara, Neptune and Caenis, via Wiki Commons
One of the Lapiths and favored by Poseidon, they were either propositioned or raped by Poseidon, and asked to be transformed into a man so that they would not have to bear his child or anyone else's--or according to Ovid, later, so they might never have to suffer a rape again.
A hero who became known thereafter as Caeneus.

Whether this exchange of favors was entirely voluntary really isn't clear. Did Caeneus have a choice about sleeping with Poseidon? Were they simply raped? The power dynamics at play would have made consent a tricky business no matter what, as we've previously discussed, so even best case scenario it's always going to be a little dubious on that score.* 

For a little extra historical context though, the fact that Ovid of all writers seems to push the rape narrative so hard makes me inclined to think it might be a late Roman reading, or perhaps a bias against the idea of a woman being allowed to do anything with her life other than bear children without experiencing some kind of punishment—because Rome was, whew! Deeply invested in those traditional and strictly defined gender roles. PARTICULARLY during the reign of Augustus, who, if I recall correctly, pushed a family values agenda as he consolidated power and warped the Republic into an Imperium.

But setting aside that question, this myth still offers a tantalizing glimpse of something ELSE. Of Gods making BARGAINS with those they desire. Why should Poseidon have promised anything to Caeneus if there wasn't some kind of opportunity or right to refuse? And if that was the case, Caeneus may well have set the terms of the exchange, knowing Poseidon desired them.

So either Poseidon KNEW he had wronged them in an assault and offered the boon to make up for that, (which says something interesting in itself, about the inviolate right to bodily autonomy being recognized by the gods even if they didn’t always limit themselves by that recognition), 
More than just men had bodily autonomy and the power to choose the course their lives would take. TO TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR OWN FATE.

“I would have found you,” Poseidon promised, the slough of the sea coloring his voice. As if he’d read my thoughts, on my face or from my mind. “Readied and waiting, and you’d still have been mine. But I would have had you first, and bargained only after for what I’d taken, and the fates would have laughed in spite, for you would never have forgiven it, no matter what I offered.”

It was a splash of cold seawater dousing the flame of my desire, and I stepped back, my jaw tight with rage. “Should I have?” I demanded. “Should I now, when you say I deserve better, but in the next breath, admit you’d rape me?”

“You’d have enjoyed yourself, all the same, Princess,” Poseidon said, almost laughing at my response. As if it were all a game.

Nothing would have been the same,” I snapped. “Bad enough that I trade myself for my father’s sake, for Troezen’s, but at least that is my choice to make. If you had taken it from me, I would have had nothing left. Nothing but a child I hated for the reminder it gave that my body would never be my own again.” 

--The Lion of Troezen

The Myth of Caeneus is EXTREMELY important on any number of levels right now. On maybe every level right now.
Because CHOICE matters.
Because CHOICE has ALWAYS mattered.

The choice of HOW we live, and what we give of our bodies to others. 
The choice of what body we want to live IN. 

And when we're retelling these myths about women maybe we don't, ourselves, always have to choose to tell a story of rape. MAYBE there is more in the myths, even as they were preserved, than just the THEFT of that right to choose their own fate.

Or maybe this is just a very long-winded way of saying: 
My retelling of Aethra's story in The Lion of Troezen? It's going to be something different.

*I've personally only bumped up against this myth because the Lapiths are Pirithous's people: Caeneus was at the Centauromachy, died in that battle with the centaurs, and interestingly, Polypoetes’s companion, Leonteus, appears to be his grandson. I'm sure there are people who know a lot more about it because it's an extant attestation of a trans man in ancient literature, which makes it particularly relevant to a lot of scholars right now.

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Monday, June 13, 2022

Misogyny in the Myths (and Theseus)

Seven Years Ago on Facebook, I asked this question, and I feel like it summarizes my entire BRAND as Amalia Carosella:

"How much misogyny do we read back into the myths because we're expecting it to be there, or even assuming that it is the only possible interpretation? For Classical Athens, yes, there certainly was a good bit of it -- but these stories predate Classical Athens. Is it possible the Mycenaeans with their imagery of women seated upon thrones accepting offerings, their goddesses accepting gifts, their daughters through which kingdoms were inherited, might have lived differently?"

I think this is why so many mythic retellings fall short and disappoint me--because they're not interrogating this element of the retelling, usually. They're just telling the story inside the same assumed misogynistic framework from the perspective of a woman, instead. And sure, that has its place, too. But why trap yourself in that box when there is room to give these women true agency and real power, too? When there is a whole society in which people might have lived differently, during which, if they happened at all, most of the events of these myths would have taken place.

This is also part of why the current cultural fashion of reading Theseus as nothing more than a monster bothers me--because in the source material of his mythology there is a parallel thread of a hero who loved a woman and was forced to give her up at the command of the gods, who grieved that loss, and whose grief then caused him greater grief again. If he didn't coldly abandon Ariadne, and he didn't just "forget" to change the sails, but was emotionally compromised by the sacrifice the gods demanded of him as a result of a true and very real attachment to Ariadne, he is a different man, and the framing of his future relationships shifts, too. 

(And let's not forget that when this all goes down, Theseus can't be older than 18. He was still a youth, which was why he was able to go to Crete as one of the tributes at all. I don't know about you, but when I was 18, I was emotionally compromised more than I wasn't, and I hadn't just faced down a monster to save my people and only escaped with the help of a princess who should have been my enemy, only to receive a command from my gods to leave her behind--and Theseus himself is a son of Poseidon. The command of the gods, in his world, would not have been something he imagined or a sign he misunderstood.)

There is SO MUCH ROOM in that story for us to see a hero worthy of admiration, a hero who truly values women (he was raised by a single mother, fam! He brings her with him to Athens as his ADVISOR after he becomes king!), but instead we've gutted all that EXTANT nuance to make him a vainglorious self-centered, callous jerk, who uses women for his own ends and drops them. 

That is a choice WE have made in our supposedly "enlightened" and "feminist" modern age, to make him MORE misogynistic, rather than less. How many similar choices were made by people before us along those same lines, winnowing down the story to refocus it toward patriarchy and misogyny each time? 

The threads are still there though! SOMEHOW they survived thousands of years to reach us. Maybe we should think twice before we discard them, AGAIN, entirely. 

And not just when it comes to Theseus.

Ariadne on Amazon | Ariadne on Other Retailers || Tamer on Zon | Tamer on Other Retailers

If you're looking for a different read on my favorite hero, you'll find my alternate take on Theseus and his myths in my short story retelling the events of that fateful trip to Crete, Ariadne and the Beast, as well as in my novels TAMER OF HORSES (Theseus is a secondary character, married to the Amazon Antiope--who you will ALSO love) and HELEN OF SPARTA (in which he is unquestionably our hero in the truest sense of the word!) 

Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound