Okay, so in my time off, I’ve been working on finishing up a number of books I started reading over the semester, one of them being about Amazons, and another being a general history of ancient Greece, so I don’t make an idiot of myself when I meet my professor for next semester, who is himself Greek. (Since if I’m planning on having my Master’s Thesis in History focus on ancient Greece, then I really ought to know more of its history than what I read in Herodotus.) The general history is a back-burner title, but it’s also a paperback, so I can read it in the bath. (The other is a brand new book, only just published in 2014, so it’s a hardback.)
So, I was reading the general history in the bath tonight, and it was the chapter discussing early Spartan history, and specifically the role of the Messenian helots in Spartan culture. (Alas, poor Nestor! Your descendants became slaves of their fellow Greeks!) So that made me wonder if I did the right thing in my quasi-young adult novels.
A little background on those novels before I continue. Pretty much exactly a year ago, I went to a movie, and was horrified by back-to-back trailers for the “300” sequel and “The Legend of Hercules” or whatever it was called. (Y’know, the generic angst-o-drama one, not the “what-if” one starring Ian McShane…uh, I mean…er, what’s-his-name the steroidal guy. (But let’s face it, Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell were the ones who ruled the screen in that movie. Which is impressive, considering John Hurt was also in it.)) So, as an antidote to those twin symbols of Hollywood’s seeming hatred of all things genuinely Greek, I plunged myself into re-writing my Trojan War novel. Admittedly, re-reading the Iliad or the works of Euripides or Sophocles would probably have been a better use of my time, but…my novel was, after all, born out of disgust at the way Troy mutilated the story, so I wanted to get the novel polished up in the hopes of maybe putting it out there for people to read. (A fruitless endeavor, considering I literally can’t give it away.)
Anyway, on my second go-round through the novel, I came to the chapter wherein Achilles fought and killed Penthesileia. I followed the version of the story in which Thersites, ugliest man in the Troad, mocked Achilles for his remorse, causing Achilles to slay him as well. (Admittedly, I also took the extra step of making Thersites abuse the Amazon’s corpse, but that was principally because I was telling it literally in Achilles’ own voice, and I couldn’t really find a way for him to justify cutting a man’s head off just for insulting him. But there are ancient versions where Thersites abuses her corpse–or even slashes her face while she’s still dying–so it wasn’t inaccurate to do so.) After that happens, I followed the older version–as opposed to Quintus Smyrnaeus’ version–wherein Achilles had to be purified of the homicide, and so he has to go to Lesbos to be purified, and Odysseus has to go with him to perform the ceremony, because they killed the king of Lesbos when they attacked the island earlier. (Gotta love the logic there (or the lack thereof), don’t you?)
So when I got to the part where Achilles and Odysseus set out to Lesbos for the purificiation, I kept thinking “then what?” And I ended up coming up with an idea for what I originally intended as a short story, involving the two of them and a couple of servant girls in the kingless palace where they end up staying the night, and within a day or two of thinking of that initial idea, I was literally up all night starting work on a novel that I was so gung-ho about that I finished the first draft in a week. The main body of the novel is about seventeen years after the war’s end, so the daughters that Achilles and Odysseus fathered that night are about sixteen.
Anyway, I spent the entire spring semester working on the rest of the series, because I wanted to get the entire set of first drafts prepared before I started any re-writes, as I know my writing style well enough to realize that if I did it any other way, then I’d want to change things in the earlier books to suit something I came up with later, and if I already (self-)published the earlier books, then I’d have a problem on my hands when something super awesome came up later that was only going to work if I changed those earlier books. (And, in justifying that statement, I can honestly say that something came up for book six that required small but very significant changes to book two, but the stuff in book six is way better than the stuff in book two I needed to change.)
So, getting back to what I was talking about at the start of the entry, in book six, the girls visit Sparta. (Or rather, Laconia. Looking into exactly where Mycenaean Lacedaemon was located, it won’t do for the story I wrote. So I think Menelaos is going to have to have been holding court in Amyclae at the time they go to see him.) Even though I knew the helots were Greeks, not pre-Greeks, I went ahead and gave the Spartans of Menelaos’ day villages full of helot slaves, just like the historic Spartans had. This was partially for superficial story reasons (in order to have Helen take the girls to see the helot village while their fellow traveler (and cousin of Achilles’ daughter) was conducting business with Menelaos and Orestes) and partially for larger plot reasons (can’t say why, but it was important to have someone around who still practiced the pre-Greek religion) and partially as a wake-up call to modern readers that Sparta was not a beacon of freedom and all that rot.
Anyway, in reading about the exact circumstances that led to the Messenians being made into helot slaves, I’m wondering if I did wrongly in giving the Bronze Age Spartans their own set of pre-Greek helots. I think my story reasons are good, but I’m sure I could find other ways to have the pre-Greek religion preserved if I really wanted to. (And the trip that Helen takes the girls on doesn’t have to be to an enslaved village; a village full of non-Greek peasants living out free lives would work almost as well.) The question is–and this is a question I’m asking to anyone who’s suffered through this tortuously convoluted post–will I be making light of the suffering of the Messenian helots if I make the false claim that the Bronze Age Spartans had non-Greek helot slaves?
Obviously, since it’s book six, I have a very long time before I need to worry about that. My first priority is to finish writing the trilogy that this year’s (er, last year’s) NaNo novel became, then I want to give my Trojan War novel another re-write, because all the most important Iliad-related chapters are nowhere near what they should be. Then, and only then, will I be ready to dive into tackling the re-writes of my quasi-young adult series. It’s just that once I think of these things, they start plaguing me until I come up with some answers…