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Serifos

The island of Serifos, where according to myth the hero Perseus spent his childhood, is part of the Cyclades.  Judging strictly from photographs, it isn't much to look at.  No spectacular archaeological ruins like Crete or Santorini, nothing that special.  It's like many other Greek islands: brown, barren hills, windswept scrub, and brilliant blue water.  Not as iconic or evocative a place as, say, Mount Pelion, where Achilles, Patroclus, and Ajax the Great spent their boyhoods under the tutelage of Chiron the centaur.

Serifos today is the product of drought due to climate change, wildfires, and many years of overcultivation and overgrazing.  This same process, called desertification, can be seen throughout the Aegean.  There have been attempts at conservation, but unfortunately the current social and economic problems in Greece limit these efforts.

Was it always this way?  Archeoecological studies show that nearby Crete, also plagued by the effects of desertification, was much greener and more forested in ancient times; the same can probably be said for Serifos and other Cycladic islands.  We know there was a period of drought/climate change around 1200 B.C. that led to widespread unrest in the Aegean and the Near East, but Perseus would have lived 150-200 years before that; the Serifos I depict in Danae might had more vegetation.

Here are images of some of the places I mention in Danae:

Serifos-Town
Chora is the island's capital.  It overlooks the island's only harbor at Livadi.  A church and the ruins of a medieval castle occupy the highest ground. Archaeologists have found traces of older ruins on the summit as well, so if a Mycenaean Polydektes existed, his citadel would have been there, too.

There are other ancient ruins on the island, including the remains of four great watchtowers and a sanctuary near Ganema.


serifos-hora
A view fit for a Mycenaean king. A southern view from the Chora acropolis, encompassing Livadi and its great bay toward the island of Sifnos.

livadibeach
A beach around Livadi. Pelargos is a fictional fishing village, but it is located in this general area, and would have looked very similar.

ganemabeach
The beach at Ganema where Diktys lands his boat after a midnight escape from Pelargos.

Curious about ancient Serifos, or the Perseus myth?  Head on over to Amazon to read Danae on Kindle.  Also available through Smashwords.

Diktys

Diktys the fisherman is probably the most enigmatic character in the Perseus myth cycle. We're told that he's the brother of King Polydektes of Seriphos.  So why doesn't this royal kinsman live in the palace, or on his own estate?  What is he doing in the surf casting his net when Danae and her infant come floating by in their wooden chest?  Has he been banished from the palace?  Is there a hint of dynastic strife between the sons of King Magnes?

After Perseus turns Polydektes and his followers to stone, he makes his foster father king of Seriphos.  Then, according to some versions of the story, Perseus gives his mother Danae to Diktys in marriage.  The question is: why aren't Diktys and Danae already married?  Does Diktys already have a wife when Danae and baby Perseus come to live with him?  Is Danae not interested in marriage?  She certainly rebuffs Polydektes, but that's because, I assume, she perceives his inner asshole.  Does she only marry Diktys because Perseus as her nearest male kinsman has authority over her, even though he's younger and her son?

Hollywood doesn't do much of anything with the character of Diktys.  In the original, 1981 Clash of the Titans, I imagine he's somewhere just offstage in the brief but often censored scene where Danae breastfeeds Perseus.
VTaylor
Diktys: Somewhere just off camera.

In the 2010 remake, he's played by Pete Postletwaithe, renamed Spyros, and lives all of five minutes the moment baby Perseus turns into Sam Worthington.

pete-poswaithe-clash-of-the-titans
NOT Diktys

I imagine there must have a body of oral tales about Perseus's childhood involving Diktys and Danae (and Polydektes) that didn't make it down to us.  So when writing Danae, I had to look between the lines of what was there and make my best educated guess about Greek mythology's most enigmatic fisherman and his family.

Danae

As many of you following this blog--okay, three of you--know, my next novel follows Danae, the mother of Perseus.

If you're a fan of the 1981 Clash of the Titans film (don't get me started on the pathetic 2010 remake), Danae (played by Vida Taylor) is the unfortunate princess of Argos who, at the beginning of the film, is put into the chest with her baby and tossed out to sea by her paranoid dad, King Acrisius.

02+DANAE+&+PERSEO+CONDENADOS.BMP

Acrisius = this asshole:

Donald Houston  Clash of the Titans (1981)
The film never gets into it, but the reason Acrisius isn't exactly throwing a baby shower for young Perseus has to do with a rather dire prophecy that says Acrisius will never have sons, but will one day be killed by the son of his daughter Danae.  So he locks her in a tower (or an underground chamber of bronze, depending on the story), where no men can get at her, and she has only a woman to bring her food and water, and do her laundry, and scrub the toilet, etc.  No intercourse, no grandson, no gruesome death.  What could possibly go wrong here?

Zeus, that's what.

And not just any old Zeus, but Zeus played by the late Laurence Olivier.  THAT Zeus, who appears to the virginal young Danae as a shower of gold.  Make all the golden showers jokes you want, the Greeks took this shit seriously.  Since we don't have any other details--aside from one ancient writer who states that Danae at least got some sexual pleasure from her encounter with sunbeams and liquid gold--we can only assume that the conception of Perseus was a good old-fashioned precursor to the Immaculate Conception.

What I want to know, and what's crucial to Danae's narrative at this point, is how old she is at this point.  The question of Danae's age is actually very important, because years later when Perseus is grown enough to have his adventures, she's still beautiful enough to attract the unsolicited attentions of Polydektes, douchebag king of Seriphos.  Theoretically, Danae could have been as young as twelve when she became pregnant.

Not that her age matters in the Clash of the Titans universe, because by the time baby Perseus grows into Harry Hamlin, his mother is dead.  Even in the remake, she's dead.  As in, literally dead in the water:


010COT_Tine_Stapelfeldt_001
And what about her time in that chest?  Perseus would have been too young to process what was going on, but talk about the claustrophobic horrors of being buried alive for poor Danae!  I imagine the woman had nightmares for the rest of her life.

Another Danae

Another beautiful, cover-worthy image of Danae from an artist over at deviantART:

Danae_and_Perseus_by_nashi_dot_dot_dot

Hermione

41ff433595ef7e7a1769ae56fc71c695
A rare image of Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen, and protagonist of my novel Helen's Daughter.  In comparison with her infamous beauty of a mother, there are relatively few images of Hermione.  I suppose she isn't as interesting a subject as Helen, but more of a marginal character in Greek legend, which is why I like her.

The protagonist of my next novel is also a marginalized woman from Greek legend: Danae, the mother of Perseus.

Greek Heroes and Hollywood Fail

The current Hercules film featuring Dwayne Johnson is that rarity in Hollywood: a genuinely good movie about Greek mythology, even though it debunks the myth it's set around. January's Legend of Hercules was a dud, as was 2011's Immortals and the Clash of the Titans reboot.

Part of the problem is the difference between the ancient Greek hero and the modern idea of a hero.  Modern-day heroes are ideally selfless and self-effacing in the Judeo-Christian tradition; they're usually ordinary people who perform with class and distinction in extraordinary circumstances.  Athletes, too, are often considered heroes, though they should more properly be defined as role models.  By contrast, the ancient Greek hero was most often the fruit of the union between a mortal and god, or a man favored by a god/goddess who could perform feats beyond the capabilities of ordinary men.  Greek heroes were not modest.  Far from it, they boasted of their deeds as a form of ancient PR.  They killed monsters and took on enemies not out of altruism but to enrich themselves and amass kleos, or personal glory.

Greek heroes also killed and preyed upon those around them.  Herakles was temperamental and violent, and the world's first House Guest From Hell.  Odysseus got all his men killed first because he decided to pillage elsewhere after the Trojan War, and underestimated his would-be victims, and then because in a foolish, boastful mood he antagonized Poseidon.  Theseus deserted the lovely Ariadne after she saved him from a gruesome death in the Labyrinth (and presumably after he had his way with her).  Perseus turned to stone pretty much anyone who pissed him off, including Andromeda's fiance, his great-uncle Proitus, and practically everyone on Seriphos not named Danae or Dictys.  Jason dumped Medea for a younger woman.  Achilles withdrew from the Trojan War to sulk in his tent over a personal insult while thousands of Greeks and his own boyfriend paid the price.  Bellerophon's head grew so large with hubris that he tried to fly to Olympus.

Greek heroes, in short, were assholes who would find themselves on Death Row if they were alive today.

There were also local heroes with hero cults: Agamemnon, Menelaus, Pelops, Orestes, Oedipus (at Athens, not Thebes), Orpheus, Amphiaraus, Diomedes, Erechtheus, etc.

Aside from the fact that most of the Greek heroes were unrepentant assholes, most of them don't have happy endings.  Theseus forgot (or did he?) to switch the sails of his ship from black to white, thereby causing his father Aegeus to commit suicide by throwing himself off the Athenian Acropolis.  Odysseus might have rescued his wife and property from 108 unscrupulous suitors, but had to flee Ithaca shortly thereafter because the families of the suitors wanted revenge.  Agamemnon was a Class A asshole who killed his own daughter, pissed off his wife, and was murdered in his bathtub by said wife.  Orestes killed his mother and went crazy.  Bellerophon was thrown by Pegasus and ended up a blind, crippled hermit.  Herakles was shot by a poisoned arrow and immolated himself to escape the pain. Perseus was killed by a rival kinsman.  Diomedes was driven out by his unfaithful wife and her lover.  Jason's rejected wife Medea killed their kids, and he died when a bulkhead from the rotting Argo fell on him.

So you see what I mean in terms of translating the Greek myths into Hollywood blockbusters.  When it's done, as in the case of Hercules, the hero has to be whitewashed, the authentic part of his ancient Greek heritage retooled to suit modern audiences.  The various versions of the Clash of the Titans films center around the Perseus-Andromeda romance, leaving out the unpleasant business of Perseus impetuously killing anything or anyone other than Medusa and the Kraken, Cetus the sea monster.  Odysseus gets his happy ending with Penelope because the film versions of his legend end short of the last books of The Odyssey.  Theseus has never had a truly faithful version of his story told because neither Hollywood writers nor moviegoers can reconcile his actions after he kills the Minotaur.  Achilles comes across as a whiny, homicidal diva.  Bellerophon is irredeemable.  Jason deserves his fate because, frankly, you do NOT dump a woman like Medea.  Agamemnon is nowadays cast as a power-grabbing villain versus the OTP of Helen and Paris.  Even Menelaus gets the villain/abusive husband treatment, never mind that in Homer he's a perfectly nice guy, if a second-rate warrior.

So while the success of Hercules might encourage more Hollywood films featuring Greek heroes, don't expect them to hew very closely to the legends that spawned them.

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