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Trojan War Playing Cards

Well, my Kickstarter donation to Greek Myth Comix finally paid dividends, and I received my pack of Trojan War Playing Cards today.

These are slick, professionally packaged cards, glossy and colorful, and as durable as any traditional casino pack you might buy.  Check out the spread:

The deck is laid out thus:
Spades: the Greek Army
Hearts: the women of the Trojan War
Clubs: the Trojan Army
Diamonds: the gods
Jokers: various Muses

Some of the cards are beautifully tinted, and all have the characters' names written in English and Greek.  I was happy to see that I can actually read the names in Greek.

I don't know when Greek Myth Comix will offer these packs again, but since we follow each other on Twitter I'll keep you updated.

Clytemnestra, by the way, demonstrated her relief that Agamemnon's finally come home.  There is a Clytemnestra card in the deck, too.


Homer and Astronomy

The big news this week is that a group of Greek archaeologists and astrometrologists compared meticulous astronomical observations with a careful reading of Homer to calculate Patroclus's death as occurring at noon on June 6, 1218 B.C.  You can read the full paper here.

Homer describes a solar eclipse taking place during the battle for Patroclus's corpse; this correlates nicely with another calculation: a second solar eclipse in the Ionian Islands eleven years later, on October 30, 1207 B.C.  As the events of the Iliad occur in the ninth year of the war, eleven years later in the autumn would correlate with Odysseus's homecoming to Ithaca and the slaughter of the suitors.

This isn't the first time archaeologists and astronomers have tried to match Homer's descriptions to actual solar events.  I find this sort of thing interesting food for thought, which raises some crucial questions:

These calculations only work if Homer got the other details right.

Was there a warrior called Patroclus who was killed during an eclipse, and for whose corpse there was a fierce battle afterward?

Did the Trojan War happen exactly as Homer described, or is the Iliad a collection of independent traditions/stories woven into a new narrative framework, as Caroline Lawrence's insightful work The War That Killed Achilles suggests?

Was there really a hero called Odysseus who took ten years to get home?

I have no doubt that a solar eclipse during a battle is the sort of thing that bards would remember and pass down through the generations, but the oral tradition is something like a game of Telephone: the end result differs significantly from the original message.  All of the above factors would have to fall into place for the astronomical data to have any overall significance; it's the nature of oral literature that has me pausing to shake my head.

What we're left with is the possibility that Homer is remembering real details from real events, but in order to for this theory to withstand scrutiny there has to be corroborating evidence.  So far, there's no Mycenaean Greek documentation of any of the heros who went to Troy; the Pylos archive never mentions a king Nestor.  There are no records of a king Agamemnon or king Odysseus.  Some Hittite records from this time survive, but the evidence for the troubles that struck Wilusa at the end of the thirteenth century B.C. raises more questions than it answers.

It's a fun theory, nevertheless.

Greek Myth Comix

Greek Myth Comix is a fine purveyor of Trojan War Playing Cards, which you can get through Kickstarter, and teachable yet entertaining copies of The Odyssey. Greek Myth Comix also has a nifty Deaths in the Iliad graphic which you can order as a poster.
I helped fund the Kickstarter campaign, so I should be getting my Trojan War Playing Cards sometime next month. I'll be sure to share them. Meanwhile, you can still head on over to Kickstarter to order your own set, or order the .pdf version. For a little extra, you can order some great add-ons, like the Trojan War Playset, Trojan War Paper Dolls, and more.

Trojan War: The Podcast

I am fourteen weeks into listening to this amazing weekly podcast, and I can't believe it hasn't occurred to me till now to share it with you.

Trojan War: The Podcast is a project by performer Jeff Wright, who makes a living telling the story of the Trojan War to high school students. His performances being limited to four hours, when his audiences only have the stamina to sit still for two, a lot of great material gets lost. Thus, the idea of a podcast was born.

Aside from relating the tales of the Trojan War cycle, which includes the Iliad and other sources, the podcast includes background information on the Bronze Age Aegean world, the backstories of the mortals and gods, and other material listeners will find fascinating. Jeff has a great voice and lively tone, and keeps the story going. I actually wouldn't mind sitting in on one of his performances. Each episode is a little over an hour long. These days, my Friday evenings consist of Real Time With Bill Maher, VICE, followed by an hour of miniature painting while listening to Trojan War: The Podcast.

On Twitter, Jeff and I have entered into bonds of xenia in which we Like and Retweet each other's posts, so he'll probably be thrilled to read this blog rec.

But don't sit around here listening to me! Head on over to Trojan War: The Podcast and get started!

Amalia Carosella: By Helen's Hand

03_Amalia Carosella Author
Amalia and I are acquainted through Twitter and other social media. Last summer when I was recovering from gallbladder surgery, I read her Greek mythology debut, Helen of Sparta, and really liked it. She's as much as apologist for Theseus, it seems, as I am for Orestes.

The plot of Helen of Sparta is not the typical Helen story. Helen, of marriageable age, is put on display to attract various wealthy and powerful suitors. Her mother, Leda, has arranged with Agamemnon of Mycenae that Agamemnon's brother Menelaus will have Helen. But when Helen meets Theseus, king of Athens, she has eyes for no one else. Her nightmares predict that if she marries Menelaus, disaster will come in form of a terrible war. So she is a willing participant in her own abduction by Theseus.

02_By Helen's Hand
The sequel, By Helen's Hand, picks up right where the first book left off. Theseus has followed his best friend Pirithous on a fool's errand to Hades, leaving Helen vulnerable and uncertain if he will ever return to save her from the man she dreads and the future marriage to Menelaus will bring about.

Helen is a very, very, very difficult character to get right. I know from experience. The very best Helen aside from Homer is, I think, that written by the late Colleen McCullough in Song of Troy. Amalia's Helen is unique in that she experiences prophetic nightmares--what notes she and Cassandra could have compared!--and regards Theseus as her savior and ally rather than as traumatic episode in her early life that underscores how inextricably linked sex and violence are in the story of Helen. Amalia's Helen does try to avert disaster with the means at her disposal, but the story lacks somewhat because as readers we all know the Trojan War is inevitable.

It is refreshing to see other characters in the mix: Odysseus, Patroclus, and Polypoetes, a lesser-known suitor of Helen who also happens to be the son of the rakish Pirithous.

What troubled me most was the depiction of Menelaus. As I mentioned above, Menelaus in Homer is not a bad guy. I know, I've written him. Yet he, like Helen, reflects current attitudes. Why would Helen leave her home and daughter, and everything she knows, to run off with Paris unless she's escaping an abusive marriage? Modern-day audiences aren't comfortable with the Olympian gods; they tend to see ancient ideas and mores in a Judeo-Christian light. So they miss the point of Aphrodite's involvement. She's the goddess of love and everything south of the waist, yes, but remember that her lover is the god of war. Sex and violence again. Helen's suitors compete for the right to wed and bed her; the ancients referred to the sheer physical intensity--and occasional brutality--of the marriage contest as agon, from which we get the modern word agony. Not for a moment do I believe that Menelaus would not have been there showing off his prowess and fitness to rule Sparta, even if he was a second-rate warrior whose big brother Agamemnon operated behind the scenes to orchestrate a political alliance between Sparta and Mycenae.

Helen did not leave Menelaus because he wasn't a decent husband or father to their daughter Hermione, but because she was stricken by the love-dart of Eros. Aphrodite pulls the strings.

Homer tells us that Helen tires of pretty-boy Paris and longs to return to Menelaus and home; he never says whether Helen regrets the savagery and loss of the Trojan War as keenly as Menelaus does. In The Odyssey, she's busy dispensing Egyptian-smack-in-a-bottle whenever her husband gets broody.

Amalia's ending is inspired, taking a rather obscure legend about Helen's time in Egypt and making it flesh, yet in some ways it feels like a deus ex machina. I liked By Helen's Hand with some reservations, but then, I am a notoriously nitpicky reader. I will leave readers to decide how well Amalia handles the issues surrounding the Trojan War.

02_By Helen's Hand

By Helen's Hand (Helen of Sparta #2) by
Amalia Carosella

Publication Date: May 10,
Lake Union Publishing
eBook & Paperback;
Genre: Historical Fiction
Add to GR Button

With divine beauty comes dangerous power.

Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter
destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she
found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon.

But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and
uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In
order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen
assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like
vultures, Helen dreams again of war and of a strange prince, meant to steal her
away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring
destruction nearer. Without Theseus s strength to support her, can Helen thwart 
the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?

Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Paperback) | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

03_Amalia Carosella AuthorAbout the Author

Amalia Carosella graduated from the
University of North Dakota with a bachelors degree in Classical Studies and
English. An avid reader and former bookseller, she writes about old heroes and
older gods. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and dreams of the day
she will own goats (and maybe even a horse, too). For more information, visit
her blog at www.amaliacarosella.com. She also writes fantasy and
paranormal romance as Amalia Dillin.

You can also connect with Amalia on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter here and here.

04_By Helen's Hand_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL
By Helen's Hand

Wilusa and Ahhiyawa


Hypothetical reconstruction of Ahhiyawa army lead by Tawagalawa with his mercenary Piyamaradu under negotiation with Wilusa governor (Alaksandu?) and Hittite ambassador in the land of Wilusa. This plate reconstructed by A. Salimbeti and R. D'Amato and drawn by G. Rava is published by Osprey in the warrior serie n. 153 BRONZE AGE GREEK WARRIOR 1600-1100 BC

Now who was Tawagalawa?  Apparently the name translates to the Greek "Eteokles."

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."

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