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Ariadne's Threads

I've been waiting five years and more for Dr. Bernice Jones, Minoan/Mycenaean textile and clothing expert, to come out with her book on her subject, mostly for the painstaking recreations of Minoan dress.

Sad to say, because Ariadne's Threads is a university press publication, it's beyond the means of most people, so I can't say I've bought and read it. I wish the book were more accessible to the general public, because the interest is out there.

However, I have read Dr. Jones' articles as they've appeared in various publications, and since that information is included in the book, I can say with confidence that any question you might have about weaving and dyeing cloth, and fashioning garments and trims in the late Aegean Bronze Age would be answered here.

A few of the recreation garments have made it onto the Internet. I've seen some of these before, but never posted the images out of respect for Dr. Jones, who stated that she did not want these images circulating before the publication of her book. I'm only going to share two, to demonstrate two facets of Minoan/Mycenaean clothing that modern afficionados of the period get wrong.


1. People looking at the Minoan/Mycenaean frescoes assume that the clothing was tailored and form fitting. You can see in the recreations of the Snake Priestess and the Saffron Gatherer that the clothes are actually quite loose. Minoan/Mycenaean clothing was not cut from patterns, but wrapped and draped in a simple fashion.

2. People also assume, because of fresco reconstructions, that the clothing of this period was brightly colored. You'll see in the recreations how dull the colors actually are. Dr. Jones was meticulous in using period-correct textiles (linen and wool. I wouldn't be surprised if she wove and dyed the stuff herself) and dyes obtainable at that time. In our modern world, we're used to bright synthetic colors. People in the ancient world used vegetable and mineral dyes. You can get some lovely colors from the natural world, but to our jaded eyes they may seem muddy and faded.

On a side note, a while back I saw a rare image of Dr. Jones' recreation of a nobleman/scribe's draped robes, but for the life of me I can't locate it. If anyone has access to this image, please share.


Danae was published this morning on Amazon and Smashwords.
danaeart3 copy copy
Born a princess of Argos, young Danaë’s life is turned upside down when a prophecy reveals that her father, Acrisius, is destined to perish at the hands of her future son. Exiled from court, she begins a new life among the Women of the Mountain, the self-sufficient, virgin priestesses of the Great Goddess. But when Zeus interferes, upsetting the balance of Danaë’s life, she will need everything she has learned to protect herself and her son, Perseus.

Go buy and enjoy!

Working Women of Pylos

My exploration of Barbara Olsen's Women in Mycenaean Greece has been exhaustive but informative.

Men listed in the Linear B tablets at Pylos are listed in three tiers: elite men like the wanax and lawagetas, middle-ranking men like palace officials and supervisors, and independent contractors like artisans who might do work for the palace but aren't palace dependents. For women, they have only a two-tiered system: as low-ranking dependents/slaves and as supervisors of work groups. And if you thought equal work/equal pay is strictly a modern day issue, male supervisors at Pylos received more rations than their female counterparts.

Women in Mycenaean Greece

I've rented Barbara Olsen's fascinating new academic publication for 60 days for my birthday next week because I can't afford the $102 + tax +shipping price tag.  Am looking forward to delving into the world of the Linear B texts and sharing my findings with everybody.

Books of 2014

A post I should have done last week when [blank] Of 2014 posts were timely and relevant, but you know me.  Hip? Timely? Relevant?  Does not apply.  Think more along the lines of: cat, crazy, lazy crazy cat lady, doofus. You get the idea.

Having thoroughly debunked any notion that I am hip and cool, let me share with you the Bronze Age-related books I read in 2014.

The list features some gems as well as some duds.  I should state outright that in the two cases where the author retaliated by down-rating my books (without having read them, I might add), my rating was influenced only the book itself, and is not and never was a personal attack.

The Horus Road by Pauline Gedge: the final book in the Lord of the Two Lands trilogy.  It was finally nice to get away from Kamose's existential whining and focus on Ahmose.  Some mentions of the Minoans, which is always welcome. 4/5 stars

Antigone and Creon: Guardians of Thebes by Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood: Being more of an Atreidophile, I don't usually find the House of Cadmus that interesting, but I loved this book.  It's not what readers of the Oedipus plays might expect, but a marvelous look at the internecine conflicts of Thebes through various viewpoints.  Plus, the origin of Herakles. 5/5 stars.

Ariadne by June Rachuy Brindel: I reviewed this book in a previous post.  I enjoyed it, but would have enjoyed it more if not for the men are evil rapists/women are good/exploited trope. 4/5 stars

The Book of Helen by Sherri Antonetti: An interesting premise, the last days of Helen of Troy, but weakly delivered, scantily researched, and the author's mean-spirited response to my honest review did not help my opinion of her. 2/5 stars

Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona: Another book with an interesting premise, that Penelope was pregnant with a daughter when Odysseus left Ithaca, but with a dull narrator it fell flat.  3/5 stars

Uppity Women of Ancient Times by Vicki Leon: I was disappointed, finding many factual errors in Ms. Leon's thumbnail accounts of famous and infamous ancient women. 2/5 stars

The Curse of the Minotaur: A Tale of Ancient Greece by Tom Stone: A perfectly enjoyable romp through the Theseus legend for younger readers. 4/5 stars

Electra: Delphic Women #3 by Kerry Greenwood: I'm a very picky, harsh critic when it comes to anything about the House of Atreus, so I didn't quite enjoy this one as much as others might.  Elektra is so complex and dysfunctional, she deserves deeper exploration.  3/5 stars

In The Moon of Asterion by Rebecca Lochlann: I'm sorry, Rebecca, but I just didn't like this wrap-up of the Child of the Erinyes trilogy.  There was no real closure, and the abrupt ending... Without giving it away, all I can say is that it didn't work for me.  I think it was the reincarnation aspect that did it for me, that prevented the resolution and closure the characters needed.  2/5 stars

Shiri by D.S. Taylor: Such a dreadful novel that I don't see what all the fuss is about.  I read enough to give a rating, but I did not finish.  Plus, the author's retaliatory one-star rating of one of my novels did not help my impression of him as a professional.  1/5 stars

The Elementals by Morgan Llewellyn: The "Fire" chapter is set in Minoan Knossos, during the eruption of Thera, and is wonderfully done, as is the rest of the novel. 5/5 stars

The Curse of Mycenae by Ella Stradling: Ms. Stradling contacted me some time ago about her idea for this book.  I wish she had continued the correspondence, but a good story idea, about the relationship between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, is bogged down by factual errors and weak writing.  If she reads this, she can still contact me.  I don't bite.  2/5 stars

1177 B.C., The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline: A marvelous study about the end of the Aegean and Near Eastern Bronze Age.  Also features an extensive bibliography for those interested in further exploration.  My only complaint is that this book was too short; half the Kindle file was the bibliography. 4/5 stars

I have started Judith Starkson's Hand of Fire and am still working on David Gemmell's Troy: Fall of Kings, so I can't rate them yet, but I am loving both.

Interview With Judith Starkson

I recently interviewed author Judith Starkson, whose new release, Hand of Fire, is the story of Briseis, Achilles' famous captive from the Iliad.

  1. I see you and I share an enthusiasm for writing about marginal characters in the late Bronze Age. What in particular drew you to Briseis rather than, say Chryseis or one of Priam’s lesser-known daughters?

I had a very specific question that drove me to Briseis, but before I get to that, I’m intrigued with these two possibilities and why they would or would not have worked in a similar way as Briseis did for a novel I could write. Chryseis, I think I’d have eliminated because she has a clear rescue plan set by the Homeric tradition. Her father comes and complains. He gets metaphorically kicked in the gut by King Agamemnon who says he prefers sleeping with Chryseis over sleeping with his wife—which would have provided a good inside joke since everyone knew that said wife later murders Agamemnon. Then the god Apollo takes the father’s part and forces, with a plague, the return of Chryseis to her father. The other reason Chryseis doesn’t work as well, I think, is that Agamemnon is such a total jerk. He makes too one-dimensional a villain and he certainly can’t be presented as offering anything positive to Chryseis. Achilles, in contrast, offers a lot of ambiguity—he has captured Briseis but he also speaks of her as his legal wife. He is willing to offer emotional and societal compensation for the harm he’s done. And while he’s a psychological disaster area, he’s pretty sensitive and deeply capable of love. That starts to make for an interestingly complex relationship rather than one where you’re just waiting impatiently for a knife to do the creep in as we are with Agamemnon. As to a lesser-known Priam daughter. First, due to the movie Troy’s misrepresentation of Briseis as a daughter of Priam rather than the princess of Lyrnessos that she is (Lyrnessos is a city allied to Troy), I’m kind of philosophically opposed to giving unknown Priam daughters any more airtime. Troilus and Cressida had their moment in the romance limelight even in the Middle Ages, but the ones we barely know about don’t offer much of a hook—we know they are all doomed. Their fates are pretty set. Briseis, bless her, disappears from the mythic/Homeric record without explaining what she does in the end, so I had the privilege of letting her decide and announce it via my novel. I know this sounds like she’s a living character somewhere, but yes, that’s pretty much the case with my characters. I’ve heard other writers talk this way, so I’m claiming sanity despite having gotten to know a host of imaginary characters who are living independent existences that they tell me about in order to get the story down on paper.

Now, why did I choose Briseis to begin with?

While teaching the Iliad for a couple decades, I kept wondering with my students how Briseis, the young captive woman who sparked the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, could possibly have loved Achilles—which is what Homer shows us. The half-immortal Greek killed her husband and brothers, destroyed her city and turned her from princess to slave—hardly a heartwarming courtship. She’s central to the plot of the Iliad and yet she gets only a handful of lines. In those few words, the one clear notion expressed is her sorrow at being parted from Achilles.

I should say I always liked Achilles, the existential hero who calls the whole war into question—which shows he’s no brainwasher—so the answer wasn’t some ancient version of Stockholm Syndrome—which was the early suggestion of several friends. I started exploring who Briseis could be that would solve this psychological puzzle and that led me to writing a novel about her. The question preceded the concept of writing a novel and, unfortunately, when I started I didn’t know how to write a novel, so I took some time to learn that process with the help of an extended crew of remarkable teachers and critique partners.

  1. What makes your Briseis different from other portrayals of the character? How is your Achilles different?

When I first sent out my manuscript to agents—not the current version in the published novel, but a longer, less skillful version that still needed editing although I did not realize it yet—a legendary agent wrote back to me that he would dearly love to read this manuscript because no one had ever written a novel about Briseis and clearly this needed to be done. He thought the idea was brilliant. But, unfortunately for me, he said not to send it because he was definitely too old to take on any more clients and if I sent it, I’d harbor some hope that he’d take me on and he didn’t think that was fair. I’ve liked this encounter for many reasons, not the least because it affirmed what I thought I’d researched. There really isn’t any other modern portrayal of Briseis except the movie Troy and, I learned recently, an Italian film that is actually kind of similar to Troy. That is, a feisty girl who nonetheless falls for the handsome hunk and has sex with him and then disappears from our attention. My Briseis is the point of my novel. She’s not the sexual interlude, although great sex is included in the novel. For me sex wasn’t the point of including a woman in my tale of Troy. One of my more astute reviewers/interviewers asked me if I had intentionally spent almost half the novel without bringing Achilles on the scene. I can’t claim to have had a precise design from the beginning, but I definitely chose to develop Briseis fully first before I brought Achilles on stage. I created her as a strong but flawed and full-of-doubts young woman with a pretty impressive array of skills for surviving the crap that life dishes out. She enters the stage alone and she departs at the end in a manner that is quite different from the “happy ever after, arm-in-arm-with-her-man” romance arc style. So Achilles is part of her development, but it’s her growth as a human being not her romance that matters to the themes of my book. Fortunately, the historical record about women in the Trojan/Hittite Late Bronze Age milieu supports my portrayal of Briseis as a powerful, literate leader of a woman. This record has been rather recently revealed via huge cuneiform clay tablet libraries that were excavated and translated in the last decade or two. My Briseis formed up as I read translations of some of the tablets.

Now for Achilles. How is my portrayal different? In this case, I’m going to argue that I’m truly Homeric and most modern views aren’t, although mostly those views aren’t expressed in novels or movies but in literary criticism. A lot of people read the Iliad, the Homeric poem where all these characters are first introduced to Western Civilization, and conclude that Achilles is a violent, self-centered man of limited imagination. From my remarks already, you can tell I clearly don’t agree. I honestly don’t know how they read the same poem and get that idea. It isn’t what the Greek words say, but I’m telling you, people get pissed at my “read” of Achilles. One twenty-something young man was furious because he thought my sensitive, thoughtful Achilles was a wimp. I’d ruined his hero. He wanted blood and gore, and I brought him a poetry singing healer who is full of remorse for the harm his fighting prowess does daily, even while he refuses to stop fighting because that’s the only way he can protect his men, whom he views as his brothers. Remember what I said about psychological mess? Achilles is so full of contradictions that it’s amazing he doesn’t explode, and, frankly, he pretty much does, as I show in my novel. So I’m sticking by my complicated, sensitive guy. I’ll include one quote (Lombardo translation) from the bard himself in defense of my position. Here is how Achilles describes himself in the ninth book of the Iliad, as a mother bird taking care of her chicks, which in this case are the other Greek warriors:

“And what do I have for all my suffering,

Constantly putting my life on the line?

Like a bird who feeds her chicks

Whatever she finds, and goes without herself,

That’s what I’ve been like, lying awake

Through sleepless nights, in battle for days

Soaked in blood, fighting men for their wives.

  1. From the novel excerpt I’ve read, I see that Briseis keeps her traditional Homeric Greek name. Were you tempted to give her a Hittite name?

No. Confession: when I first started thinking about Briseis, I didn’t know about Hittites. That was more than ten years ago and a huge amount of the translation and analysis has happened in that decade plus. The Hittites are the lost empire. We totally forgot they existed, except for a misleading trace in the Biblical record. When I started researching, I figured I needed to sort out the Mycenaean Greeks in greater detail than I gained in many years of teaching and that would give me Briseis’s world. I gradually discovered I had a much bigger job to do—teach myself about a whole lost empire. No one back in my graduate program at Cornell was talking about Hittites in regards to understanding the Homeric world. That was back in the Jurassic Age, it’s true, but nonetheless, the idea of renaming Briseis wouldn’t have crossed my mind when I first got to know her. Indeed many of the key characters I worked on early in the process of writing the novel have Greek names because I hadn’t started thinking like a Hittite. Later, when the expansive world of the Hittites had begun to unfold before me, I started finding names by using the online “Repertiore Onomastique” on the Hethitologie portal which lists all extant names known from the cuneiform tablets of the Hittites. My somewhat irregular smash up of Greek and Hittite names seems reasonable in this geographical area where the two cultures intermixed and had close trade ties, so I kept the earlier names. The only time I changed a Homeric name, was to give Briseis’s father a distinctly different name than hers, which, since hers is a patronymic based on her father’s name, would otherwise have proved confusing. Having two important characters with names only a letter different than each other seemed to be pushing my readers’ tolerance too far.

  1. The Hittites wrote about the Mycenaean Greeks on clay tablets that became part of their diplomatic archive at Hattusas. Was the Hittite archive part of your research?

Yes, I used the archives because they are the “other half” of the story. The Mycenaeans tell us the story of the Greek invading army, but to know what Briseis’s world is like to we have to study the Hittites who are culturally, religiously, and politically similar/related to the Trojans and their allies such as the Lyrnessans. I wanted to build a historically accurate Briseis, even if she herself may have been a figment of Homer’s imagination. The woman I portray could have lived in that time and place to the best of our knowledge at this time.

  1. Have you been to any of the places you’ve written about, or are you a starving artists/armchair historian like me?

I’ve been lucky enough to go on two major research trips to Turkey, Greece and Cyprus (the sequel to Hand of Fire will move to Cyprus, I think). The first trip I went with both my husband and kids who were in high school and college at that point. We loved the trip, but my kids did label some of the ruins, “ruined ruins.” They tended to find the Roman ruins more exciting than the random-seeming piles of stones that make up most of the Bronze Age sites. This spring, my husband and I went alone, and I have to say, he’s now an expert at recognizing ashlar stone, fortifications, shards, signs of copper smelting and various other details that make a Bronze Age ruin come alive. We also explored Cypriot wine production, which is my husband’s area of interest, so he wasn’t complaining. I’ve enjoyed visiting the archaeological sites and meeting with the directors of the various digs so that I can understand what lies within those piles of rubble as best as we can. I also love being able to see the physical settings of the places in my novel first hand. So much of what I describe like the cities and buildings has to be reconstructed from scholarship. It’s great to be able to write the landscapes directly from experience. Our travels are a luxury that I definitely appreciate.

6. I’m very excited to hear about your forthcoming Queen Puduhepa mystery series. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else write about Puduhepa, and she’s such a remarkable woman. What inspired you to make her a sleuth?

She definitely stands out amidst the Hittite rulers. First because she’s a woman and a powerful one (not unprecedented among Hittites) and second because she’s clearly so smart and diplomatically skillful. We have her judicial decisions, her letters and treaties. They all point to a clever woman who could definitely solve crimes if she put her mind to it. Making her a sleuth seemed like a fun way to introduce her to the world. I’ve been saying lately that she’d be as famous as Cleopatra if she hadn’t been buried by the sands of time. Now that she’s been dug out, it’s time to make her a household name. For that, she needs to be fun to read about—and who doesn’t love a mystery?

Purchase Hand of Fire for Kindle and hardcover on Amazon.

Making Connections Knossos Blog Tour

This week over at the Goodreads Making Connections forum, I'll be making stops on my blog tour to promote Knossos.  Certified 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes--if RT reviewed books, that is.

So all week you'll be seeing links to interviews and promos.  No one felt brave enough to tackle the book to do a review--sad horns--but my historical fiction compatriot in crime Judith Starkson is currently reading it (and LOVING IT, I might add), and will be posting a review as soon as she comes up for oxygen.


A teaser painting for my next novel:


Knossos: Smashwords

For those of you who like to access my ebooks through Smashwords and its outlets, my contract with Amazon KDP for Knossos expired today and I am finally able to offer the book through Smashwords. Even more exciting, Smashwords was able to accommodate the huge file, which comes as a huge relief!

Here is the link to Knossos on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/466585

This Week Only

For this week only, Knossos is on sale for $6.99. That's a great deal for a doorstopper of a novel that comes in at over 700 pages.

Yes, I'd probably sell more books if I offered the title at $.99, but it's a fair price for the amount of work involved and for the deal you get with 10 separate tales about ancient Crete.  And after all, I do have to eat.  Seriously, I do.  Finances are very tight here, and a lot of bills are due this time of year.

Head on over to Amazon.com to check it out.

A Shame

It's a shame Hercules isn't doing better at the box office, though I have no doubt that it will recoup its $100 million budget overseas.

I mention this because I had hoped a Greek mythology summer blockbuster would encourage Hollywood to make more, smarter movies about Greek myths and legends.

Meanwhile, there are still smart graphic novels and other novels that deal with the subject.  While I haven't encountered any new, noteworthy fiction out there, and am still waiting for Eric Shanower to release the next issue of Age of Bronze, I'm always looking.

Oh, and Knossos has it's first review, and it's a good one.

Helen's Daughter Paperback

For those of you who wanted real, tangible copies of Helen's Daughter over the digital version, this one's for you.

The paperback version is the 2nd edition, all typos and errors cleaned up.  It also includes a map of Mycenaean Greece AND a family tree.  Believe me when I say that Hermione's family tree is way more convoluted than I've depicted.  There are also some nice graphics at the head of each chapter, and it looks very professional.

There's also an excerpt from Knossos at the back.

So go and buy for your keeper shelf.  The price is reasonable at $16.99.


Now that I'm finished with Knossos, I'm reading June Rachuy Brindel's 1980 novel Ariadne.  The writing is gorgeous and evocative, but God, I'm tired of the Mother Goddess/nurturing priestess-women = good versus sky gods/rapey, murdering men = bad trope.  Ariadne certainly isn't the first or last novel about the Minoan/Mycenaean world to take cues from Robert Graves's The White Goddess and The Golden Bough, and Jacquetta Hawkes's Dawn of the Gods.  I suppose the whole matriarchal goddess-rule/death of the year-consort/brutal suppression by patriarchal Mycenaeans trope was the thing back in 1980; I've seen it used in novels as late as a few years ago.

However, the archaeological evidence doesn't support this view.  The Aegean world of the Bronze Age seems to have been much more complex than early theories make it out to be.  We know the Minoans produced weapons and could defend themselves, although they probably relied more on a navy than on vast armies for home defense.  We know the Mycenaeans had their gentler side; they worshipped both powerful gods and goddesses, and aped Minoan culture even as they took over Crete.  Yet whether the takeover was a brutal invasion or something more subtle is a matter of conjecture.  In Knossos, I depict the Mycenaeans as already living in Crete, serving the weak native rulers as mercenaries and traders--becoming Cretans themselves--before eventually displacing them.  My model was the Germanic tribes in the late Roman world.  As one power collapsed, another stepped into its place.

As rulers go, the Minoans probably had a secular male ruler rather than a priestess-queen; we still don't know very much about Minoan administration, but the title mi-no ro-ja (royal Minos) has been deciphered on Linear A tablets.  Whoever the Minos was, no doubt he had priestly duties in the temple, as kings did in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece itself.

Well, you might say, but women ruled in the temples.  Maybe.  Priestesses and priests are depicted together on the famous Agia Triadha sarcophagus, so there might have been powerful priests as well as priestesses running the temples.  For physical evidence, the bodies of both a priest and priestess were found at Anemospilia, and the priest with his iron ring (a prized possession in those days) and amethyst seal stone was no slouch, though who held the knife that dispatched the young victim--the priest or the priestess--is up for debate.

Beauty's Daughter by Carolyn Meyer

Beauty's Daughter: The Story of Hermione and Helen of Troy
Beauty's Daughter by Carolyn Meyer
YA readers
2/5 stars

I confess, I was really torn about writing about a review for this book. Since Ms. Meyer announced back in Spring 2012 that she was writing about Hermione and Helen, I have been looking forward to reading it.

I was very disappointed.  Now I am unsure about how to approach the review. Do I write as a fellow author who has written about Hermione and Helen, and risk alienating Ms. Meyer or her many fans? Do I write as an enthusiast of the Late Bronze Age Aegean, which is the setting of the book? Do I write as a former English teacher? I chose to read the book as a lover of the Mycenaean period.  My writing Helen's Daughter had nothing to do with my opinions.

Any novel set in the 13th century B.C. and dealing with the Greek myths is going to pose a problem. There is so much backstory that modern readers probably won't be familiar with, that any author is going to have to break from the action to explain certain things. A bit of an infodump is okay as long as the action and character development don't suffer in the process. Yet I had trouble connecting with Hermione in the first chapters because of the opening infodumps. She did not leap from the page (or Kindle screen, in my case) for me. Nor did any of the other characters. Hermione does too much telling, and not enough showing. This problem persists through the first two parts of the book. Only in the third, covering the post-Trojan War period, where Ms. Meyer had greater freedom to use her imagination in describing Heremione's escape from Phthia, does the narration come alive.

Helen made me shake my head. I suppose the natural inclination of most authors and readers (and filmmakers, too, I guess) is to portray Helen as a vain, selfish, empty-headed sexpot. I admit to being rather tired of that interpretation, though I understand that this might just be how Hermione perceives her mother.

History is full of sluts, but this is the woman whose face is said to have launched a thousand ships. Maybe her abduction was just a pretext for a Mycenaean invasion of Troy, I don't know, but Ms. Meyer's Helen completely lacks the charisma that would make men fight over her. We are told that Aphrodite cast a spell over Helen and Paris (and the entire Spartan citadel, to boot). Does the interference of the gods mean Helen bears no responsibility for her actions? I recall Helen in the Iliad as being much more complicated, alternately seductive, tempestuous, and remorseful. I would have liked to see that Helen here.

Another thing about that mist: it's never explained how Hermione is immune to its effects.

The gods make regular appearances in the novel. In other books like this, I've seen various authors handle the gods in different ways, with varying degrees of success. For the most part, making the gods visible and active doesn't work here, except for Hermes's appearances toward the end. That, I felt, was well done, because he only appears at the periphery of the protagonist's vision. Artemis whisking Iphigenia from the altar was not so effective. In fact, it was poorly done. I can understand Ms. Meyer wanting to spare younger readers the horror of a young girl being sacrificed by her own father, but in doing so the author removed much of Clytemnestra's motivation to later kill Agamemnon.

Perhaps the main problem I had with the book was that I never bought the idea of Hermione being present at Troy. Why would she want to follow Menelaus to Troy after what she just witnessed at Aulis? There's absolutely no way Menelaus or Agamemnon would have risked Hermione's virtue or health by allowing her to stay in the Greek camp. She was, after all, Menelaus and Helen's only remaining child, and heiress to the kingdom of Sparta. She would have been shipped straight back to Mycenae (where, in fact, she actually spent the duration of the war with her aunt Clytemnestra). Yet Menelaus isn't even angry when he discovers her in the camp.

Hermione is very matter-of-fact about life in the camp. We don't see her being afraid of rape, disease, starvation (the Greeks were regularly short of rations, I imagine), or a Trojan raid, in which she herself might end up like Astynome (Chryseis) or Hippodameia (Briseis), and abused. I'm not sure whether Ms. Meyer's editor was hovering over the manuscript with a virtual red pen to censor any objectionable material, but since instances of prostitution and rape do occur, I'm guessing these details were simply neglected.

I've noticed in a few other books that it's become commonplace to make Hermione and Orestes closer in age than the Classical sources state, with Orestes being older. According to Classical playwrights, Hermione was seven years older than Orestes, and he was about two when the Trojan War started, and no older than 12 when Agamemnon was murdered. He never went to Troy. In fact, in the Iliad, Agamemnon tells Odysseus to tell Achilles that he will make Achilles his son-in-law, as dear to him as his young son Orestes, then growing up at Mycenae "in abundant prosperity." Orestes had to wait seven years (presumably until he reached manhood) to take his revenge on Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

The murder of that pair and Orestes's pollution felt somewhat whitewashed, at least in terms of the way Hermione reacts. The madness part the author conveys nicely, but the pollution part, not so much. Blood guilt was a very big deal in the ancient world. Hermione shouldn't even be looking at Orestes for fear of being tainted, much less talking to or touching him. I do understand, however, why Ms. Meyer chose not to mention the double curse on Orestes (and Hermione, too) by means of his descent from the House of Atreus. The Atreidai were the ultimate Greek dysfunctional family, and I think the more taboo aspects of the curse would frighten younger readers.

I did appreciate that Ms. Meyer read and incorporated bits and pieces of various Classical plays and the Homeric epics into the novel. I just wish there had been more character development and more detail. I don't know what kind of deadline the author was working under (and I know from her blog posts that she had one), but I feel the book would have benefited from more time and effort.

Readers who are intrigued by Hermione, the Trojan War, and other related topics should check out Adele Geras's novel "Troy," Margaret George's "Helen of Troy," and Eric Shanower's graphic novel series "Age of Bronze."

Medea and the Daughters of Pelias

Sorry to be so remiss in posting. Around this time of year, my creative juices tend to lag, and when not working I tend to sit around doing nothing, waiting for spring's warm weather and high spirits to arrive.

I'm catching up on my Kindle reading, waiting for a new doll to come in order to dress her as the Blue Lady of Knossos, and watching TV. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, anybody?
America Unearthed? Minoans getting their copper from Michigan? Really? Because I'm pretty sure there were nearer sources of copper in, you know, Anatolia, the Aegean Islands, the Near East. That sort of thing. It was tin that was a real bitch to find.  Now, if Steve Wolter had bothered to get the Newberry stone deciphered, which he did not (Linear A or Linear B?) he would have discovered nothing more than King Minos's grocery list. "Get pemmican, pumpkins, corn..." (j/k)

In December, I found a slightly used copy of the late Peter Connolly's Greek Legends, from which I made some scans of the wonderful illustrations. This one depicts Medea tricking the daughters of Pelias into cutting up their father and boiling him in a cauldron--ostensibly to restore his youth.


Orestes: The Warrior

Surprise!  Read, enjoy, and review!

Orestes, son of Agamemnon, now rules as king of Mycenae. Claiming his beloved Hermione as his queen, he sets out to reclaim the vassal states once held by Agamemnon. However, his ambitions stir conflict with the neighboring Argives, whose cunning and unscrupulous king, Cylarabes, is determined to discredit and defeat his Mycenaean rival at all costs.

Purchase here on Amazon Kindle.  Also available through Smashwords.

Book Review: Warrior in Bronze

Although this novel was written in 1977 and is out of print, you can still find it used and for a reasonable price through Amazon and AbeBooks.  It's the sequel, King In Splendour, that's harder to find and more expensive.

Warrior In Bronze follows Agamemnon from a young boy to his becoming king of Mycenae.  Agamemnon is not a likeable person, as seen in the first chapter, when as a boy he lets his good-hearted brother Menelaus take the punishment meant for him.  Atreus later confesses that he knew Agamemnon was guilty all along, but applauds his despicable nature and ruthlessness, and makes him his heir.  This is just the first of many, many examples that the House of Atreus is all about dysfunctional family values.

Agamemnon is a lively narrator, though a typical Mycenaean blowhard in boasting about his various accomplishments, real or exaggerated.  He does, however, experience a peculiar sense of foreboding about a certain red marble tub in the palace of Mycenae.

The novel's plot centers around Atreus's blood feud with his brother Thyestes.  Both men are unlikeable, cutthroat, and ruthless, and as the outrages pile up, so do the casualties.  Men, women, and children alike all suffer the price for their hatred, and only the strongest survive.

The infamous Thyestean banquet is depicted in the novel.  Atreus's culinary faux pas is so chilling I almost felt sorry for Thyestes.  Almost.  Any way you cut it, he's still a skeevy, unscrupulous bastard.

Shipway was a British officer in the Indian Cavalry, so it's not surprising that his prose is best when he's describing battles and other adventures; there's no shortage of action scenes.  Where he does not fare so well is in writing compelling, fully realized female characters. Agamemnon's mother Aerope barely registers except as a foolish, oversexed woman, his first love Clymene exists to be gruesomely murdered and avenged, and his first cousin/stepmother Pelopia is there to be frightened, doomed, and tragic.  Clytemnestra, the one woman who makes her presence felt, and proves herself a match for Agamemnon, enters the story late in the novel, and her best scenes are actually in the sequel.

I do not agree with all of Shipway's ideas, especially the notion that all the Mycenaean scribes have an Israelite origin, thus explaining their literacy.  Nor do I think that Mycenaean noblewomen went around bare-breasted all the time (this is a popular convention in the Mycenaean novels of Henry Treece, also).  But Shipway does have some novel ideas about Mycenaean military tactics and politics.  If you like novels set in the Mycenaean period, Warrior In Bronze is a classic, and its action and adventure scenes hold up very well.

Orestes: The Young Lion

It's finally here.  The first book of the Orestes trilogy is available.  Go check it out at Amazon!

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