All posts tagged Hector

Storyteller Questions

Published May 15, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

In playing catch-up on reading the non-WordPress blogs I discovered during April A-to-Z, I came across this really interesting entry from last week.  (Yes, I’m that far behind on non-WordPress blogs.  But I did have a 15 page paper due on Wednesday, so I have at least some small excuse for falling behind in reading the other blogs.)  The blog it’s on is The Multicolored Diary, which is all about folklore and storytelling and epics.  So, obviously, it’s the first one I went to to catch up.  (Now that I think about it, I forgot to get to the rest of them.  I’ll have to do that when I’m done posting this…)

Anyway, that particular post is about diversity in storytelling, and asks questions about the diversity represented by the tales a teller knows.  And while the questions are actually about individual tales for live telling, they can adapt easily enough to other settings.  So I’m going to answer the questions, both looking at the Greek myths I’ve been working through re-telling and my YAish novels taking place 16-20 years after the Trojan War.  (Obviously for this I’m looking at the myths I haven’t re-told yet as well as the ones I have.)

The questions are:

Do you have a story in your repertoire where…

… Multiple heroes team up for a quest?

Lots of these, definitely.  The voyage of the Argo, the Calydonian Boar Hunt, the Seven against the Thebes, the Epigoni, and the Trojan War, just for starters.  And my YAish novels feature a trio of heroes…who sometimes have even more help than that.

… A hero resolves a conflict between two enemies with peace (instead of defeating one)?

Ooh…I’m not thinking of anything here, sadly, despite that the heroine of my YAish novels would prefer peace to war.  (Though I’m going to have a peaceful resolution to the attempted vengeance of the daughter of Hector against the daughter of Achilles…if that counts…and I’m terrified that I’m going to set up the daughter of Hector with the son of Patroclos romantically…)

… A hero saves a life without fighting?

Hmm…I can think of a few minor (Greek) myths where that happens, but not many.  I don’t think I put any such incidents in my novels…which is embarrassing….then again, I’m not through with the follow-up, so maybe I can put one there!  (For that matter, the first seven are still only on the first draft, so I could always add things in the re-writing…)

… A hero saves an animal, a plant, or a place instead of a person?

Hmm…depends if this means, you know, choosing an animal/plant/place over a person, or just saving them to be saving them.  Though, actually, I’m not coming up with much either way.  (Apart from my YAish heroine not wanting to shoot a captive dove for the archery contest.  Which doesn’t seem like it would count in the least, since she kills animals for food at a number of other places in the books, and her cousin shot the thing to win the contest anyway.)  That’s odd, that I can’t think of any at all.  The northern European folktales have a huge motif of saving/sparing animals, but I’m not coming up with anything for the Greek tales.  (Maybe my brain is just failing me?)

… A hero overcomes fear (instead of being fearless to begin with)?

There’s not a lot of this going around, either.  My YAish heroine currently has this, but she’s going to have to lose the current version in the re-writes.  I had her afraid of Thracians because she had heard she and her cousin were going to be sold to Thrace and sacrificed to northern gods, but Thrace is too close to Lesbos; it’s not believable.  She does tend to panic a bit, but that’s not exactly fear.  I should give her a proper fear to replace the Thracian thing.  Well, she is genuinely afraid of her cousin being hurt, but that’s not something she ever really overcomes.

… The hero makes a mistake and then makes up for it?

Wow, the Greek myths are failing a lot of these diversity questions!  So are my books…the closest I come to this one is my secondary heroine, the daughter of Odysseus, nearly kills her father due to a curse, and then the whole trio undertakes a quest to break the curse.  That’s not quite the same as making a mistake, though.  (Apart from the mistake of going to the wrong place at the wrong time and meeting Odysseus in the first place.)  Though I feel like there is some time when my heroine did something terribly wrong and went to great lengths to fix it, but I can’t put my finger on what it was.  Maybe I’m just confusing her assumption that it was her own fault that her half-sister turned on me?

… A hero disguises his/her identity?

This happens from time to time in the original myths.  Achilles spending six years as Pyrrha leaps to mind (but that tends to leap to my mind anyway, ’cause it’s hilarious) but there are occasional other instances.  Most of them being brief, though.  My heroines spent most of the first book and a half pretending to be boys, and not admitting who their fathers were.  (But who’d go to Troy in the process of rebuilding and admit to being the daughters of Achilles and Odysseus?)  And after that, they keep getting mistaken for Amazons, and many of the veterans of the war are convinced that my heroine’s mother was (somehow) Queen Penthesileia herself…but that’s not exactly a disguise…

…. A male and a female hero fight shoulder to shoulder?

This is exceedingly rare in the ancient myths; Antiope fighting beside Theseus to stop her Amazon kinswomen from invading Athens and possibly some incidents with Atalanta being the only examples I can think of.  My YAish novels have a two girl, one guy trio, though, and the daughter of Achilles and the son of Aias frequently fight side by side.  Or more accurately, back-to-back.  (The daughter of Odysseus, of course, is an archer, and tends to fight from the sidelines.)

… An LGBT+ hero is featured?

In the original myths, you have a number of same-sex couples:  the most famous examples being Heracles/Hylas, Apollo/Hyacinthos, and (of course!) Patroclos/Achilles.  (Or Achilles/Patroclos if you prefer Aischylos’ version.  Or Achilles/Antilochos.  Or Achilles/Troilos…though that’s more attempted rape than romance, but…)  My novels, being YAish, were supposed to be largely sex-free…but the intensity of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclos keeps coming up, and at some point between finishing Book 7 and starting on the new Book 8 I realized that the daughter of Odysseus is in love with the daughter of Achilles (despite that their mothers were sisters) but so far she hasn’t been willing to understand it about herself.  (Though the son of Aias has picked up on it.)  Also there’s an older male character who had been a ten year old apprentice of Calchas during the war and who had a mad crush on Achilles for the middle years of the war…but he’s not actually a hero, just a supporting character.

… A standalone female hero is featured?

Does Atalanta count?  No, probably not, not in the surviving myths.  (I suspect there were more tales about her than were ever written down.)  Either of my heroines could go on their own…no, maybe not.  The daughter of Achilles is pretty co-dependent on her cousin.  (But she grew up admiring the father she never met, and since he went crazy when his “best friend” died, she figures the same thing would happen to her, so some of her dependency is artificially induced as part of her hero-worship of her dead father.)

… The hero is a person of color? (Bonus: The hero is a person of color in a Western cultural setting?)

Sadly, no.  The only person of color in the Greek myths is Memnon, and he’s not really a hero per se, despite being heroic.  I’ve got some non-Greek characters in my YAish books–primarily the Egyptian princess the son of Aias is in love with, but she only actually shows up once–but they’re nowhere near “hero” status.

… The hero has a disability (physical or mental) that doesn’t go away at the end of the story?

Oooh…another good one.  I need to work more of these into my novels!  But the Greek myths don’t really have much in the way of disabilities, apart from blindness, and even then rarely in heroes.  (Of course, back then it would have been harder to survive with a disability.)  Oh, and, of course, Hephaistos being lame in one or both legs.  But he’s a god, rather than a hero, so that’s sort of different.  I suppose Oedipus might be considered disabled, depending on how badly injured his foot was as an infant.  (Doesn’t his name mean “club foot” or something?)

… The hero’s main ability is wisdom and knowledge instead of strength?

This one doesn’t show up too often in the Greek myths, but Oedipus comes to mind, since he defeats the Sphinx by outwitting her rather than slaying her.  Odysseus sometimes falls into this category as well.  (But he falls into a lot of categories, not all of them good.)  The daughter of Odysseus in my YAish novels is very smart, and does all the planning, and although she’s very good with her bow, she isn’t very physically strong.  (And she uses her smarts to single-handedly defeat a revived Apsu when they go to Babylon…)

… Heroes of different religious (or spiritual) backgrounds are featured together?

Hmm, not really one that’s possible in the Greek myths, given their nature.  Doesn’t really come up in my books, either, apart from the son of Aias having a (forbidden) romance with an Egyptian princess, who necessarily is of a different religious background.  But, again, she’s not a hero…

… The hero is not a young person?

The Odyssey leaps to mind here.  Individual myths, though…well, some of the tales late in Heracles’ life, or the late tales of Theseus (though then he’s no longer a hero anymore, more like a lecherous old man), and by the time of the discovery of his unwitting incest, Oedipus is no longer young.  But these are definitely rare!

… Two or more of the above criteria are combined?

I need to combine more of these in my writing, clearly.  Particularly if I get to writing the second series of YAish novels, which would have more opportunity for this sort of thing due to their different setting and plot.  (Though in planning the cast, I was consciously trying to add some much needed ethnic diversity.  Though I wasn’t thinking about disabilities.  I should definitely add at least one of those.  Maybe a child of Hephaistos…)

Phew….that turned out to take a long time!  (But it distracted me from worrying about why the doctor’s office was already calling back about my MRIs so soon.  Hopefully it was just to set up an open MRI appointment for the neck one since I couldn’t handle getting back into that noisy little tube again.  I don’t want to think about what it might have been if they were actually calling because they saw something on the brain scan!  But now I’m thinking about it again…and playing Persona Q might make everything worse…)

Words Crush Wednesday; A is for Aias

Published April 1, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Words Crush Wednesday collides with the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge!  Which means, I’m afraid, my biggest quote ever.  Because “A” can only stand for Aias of Salamis, bulwark of the Achaians, and my second favorite among the Greek forces at Troy.  (Poor Aias is used to being second, but I wonder if he’d take it as better or worse that in this case he’s second to Patroclos instead of being second to Achilles, like he is in everything else?)

Anyway, here we go!  An enormous chunk of glory for Aias, from Book VII of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation.  (Some day, I would love to be able to do my own translations for this, but…yeah, that day is a very long way away.  Unless this is actually the Matrix, and someone can download ancient Greek into my head….)  Oh, to set this quote up, Hector has already challenged the Greeks to single combat between himself and a Greek champion of their own choosing, with the assurance to both sides that while the loser’s armor will be forfeit, his body will be returned for proper burial.

Then each man put a mark on his lot, and all the lots were thrown into King Agamemnon’s helmet.  And all the host lifted up their hands to heaven, and prayed, “O Father Zeus!  let Aias win the lot, or Diomedes, or the great King of Mycene himself!”

Gerenian Nestor shook the helmet, and out jumped the lot which they had prayed for, the lot of Aias.  A herald carried it round from left to right, and displayed it to the champions.  Each took a look at it and shook his head; last of all it came to Aias, who held out his hand, and when the lot was dropt in his hand, he knew the mark he had scratched upon it.  Great was his joy! he threw the lot down by his foot, and called out loudly:

“My friends, this is my lot!  I am glad indeed, for I think I shall conquer Prince Hector!  Come along and let me put on my armour!  Then pray all of you to Lord Zeus Cronion, quietly by yourselves, that the enemy may not hear,–or indeed openly, why not?  We fear no man.  No one is strong enough to make me run unless I want to run, and no one is clever enough.  Greenhorns like that are not born and bred in Salamis!”

So they all made their prayer to Zeus Cronion:

“O Father Zeus, throned upon Ida, most glorious and most great!  Grant victory to Aias and high renown!  Or if thou lovest Hector and carest for him, grant equal power and equal glory to both!”

Now Aias armed himself and made ready.  Then he marched out prodigious, like the God of war, when he goes forth to battle among men whom Cronion has pitted against each other in mortal combat.  So terrible was that prodigious man, the safeguard of the nation, as he marched with long strides and a smile on his grim face, shaking his long spear.  This was a joyful sight for his countrymen, but the Trojans felt their limbs tremble, and Hector’s own heart beat fast:  but he could not now retreat or disappear among the crowd, since he was the challenger.  Aias came near, holding that great shield like a tower, seven oxhides with a coating of bronze, which had been made for him by Tychios of Hyle the master armourer:  seven layers of oxhide, I say, the hide of prime bulls, with an eighth of bronze.  That shield Telamonian Aias held before his breast as he stood within reach of Hector, and said in threatening tones:

“Now, Hector, you shall know man to man, you alone and I alone what champions remain among the Danaans even without Achilles lion-heart, manbreaker!  He stays away nursing his grudge against Agamemnon; but we are left to meet you, and not a few.  You begin, sir, and strike first!”

Hector answered:

“Telamonian Aias, my very good lord!  Do not tease me as if I were a feeble boy, or a woman, who knows nothing of the works of war.  I tell you that I know well how to fight and how to kill.  Round to the right of me, round to the left of me, I know well to handle the buckler, trusty shield of seasoned hide!  I know how to charge my chariot into the mellay of galloping mares!  I know well to tread the war-dance when it comes to a stand-up fight!–But I don’t care to use a sly furtive shot at a man such as you are.  Let the world see if I can hit you!”

With these words, he poised the spear and cast.  It struck the great shield full upon the outer bronze, the eighth coat; through six coats the point ran, but held at the seventh.  Then Aias cast his own long spear, and struck Hector’s round buckler; right through it went, and through corselet also.  The blade cut the tunic on Hector’s side, but he swerved and saved his life.  Then both pulled out their spears, and leapt at each other like a couple of lions or wild boars.  Hector struck the middle of the great shield, but he did not pierce the metal, and the point was bent.  Then Aias with a leap pierced the round buckler; the blade went through and cut the neck, so that the red blood bubbled up and Hector staggered back.  But Hector was not finished yet.  He moved back a pace or two and picked up a stone lying on the ground, black, big, and ragged; this he threw and struck the great shield on the boss till the metal rang again.  Aias followed up with a still larger stone, swung it round his head and cast it with all his might.  This great millstone smashed the round buckler inwards, and brought the man down:  he fell on his back huddled under the buckler, but Apollo set him on his feet again.

And now they would have been hard at it, cut and thrust with swords, but suddenly the two heralds came forward, Talthybios from the Trojan side, Idaios from the Argives, who knew well their duty as spokemen in the name of men and gods.  They held their staves between the fighters, and Idaios spoke in solemn words:

“Enough, dear sons, fight no more.  For Zeus Cloudgatherer loves you both, and you are warriors both  that indeed we all know.  Night is now upon us; it is good to give way to Madam Night.”

Telemonian Aias answered and said:

“Then bid Hector give the word; it was he who challenged all comers.  Let him speak first; I am ready to do whatever he may say.”

Hector said:

“Aias, indeed God has given you the stature and strength and skill, and you are the greatest spearman of your nation.  Then for this time let us break off, for this one day; later we will fight again, until fate shall decide between us and give the victory to one or the other.  Now night is upon us, and it is good to give way to Madam Night.  Then you shall comfort all your people, especially your friends and comrades; and I will return to my city to comfort the men and the women of Troy, who will enter the congregation of the gods with thanksgiving for my sake.  But let us each bestow a gift upon the other, that all the world may say–These two fought indeed in bitter combat for a match, but they parted again in friendship.”

Then Hector brought forward and gave his sword with silver knobs, and with it the sheath and well-cut shoulderstrap; Aias offered his girdle brilliant with crimson dye.

Thus they parted, and went each to his own friends.  Glad indeed the Trojans were to see their man returning whole in life and limb, safe from the invincible hands of fiery Aias; glad were the Achaians on their part, when they led Aias back to Agamemnon in the pride of victory.

Possibly the high water mark for Aias, really.  Though the two of them seem to have forgotten about their “parting in friendship” thing when they meet again during the battle by the ships.  (Not that I would have expected them to avoid fighting each other out of friendship, but they’re still doing the usual trash-talking thing.)  It’s worth noting, of course, that–as in this fight–Hector’s survival there, too, is because Apollo helped him recover from an injury that otherwise would have left him dazed long enough for Aias (or his other foes) to finish him off.  So Achilles’ victory over Hector didn’t really prove him to be any more skillful than Aias; it just proved that the gods had stopped interfering to protect Hector.

I love the stuff at the beginning about the lots, though.  As with the letter in the tale of Bellerophon, the poet had to use words like “scratched” because there was not yet a vocabulary to discuss writing.  (Or, at least, if there was, it wasn’t well known enough to be safely included in the poem, because the audience might not have understood it.)  And there’s a certain illiteracy to the proceeding, because even after the winning lot has been picked, they can’t just say “oh, look, it says Aias here” but instead have to show the mark to every one of the contenders (who also included Odysseus, Idomeneus and the lesser Aias) until one of them recognizes the mark he left.

I need to check some other translations, though; why does it say that Talthybios came from the Trojan side?  He’s Spartan!  He works for Menelaos!  He had a cult in Sparta, for cryin’ out loud!  (Seriously, according to Herodotus, at one point the Spartans felt that his spirit had cursed them for mistreating Persian heralds (ones in the employ of Darius, if I recall correctly) and so two Spartans went to Persia to surrender themselves for execution, in order to balance the scales, as it were, and earn Talthybios’ forgiveness.  Though, actually, maybe the curse was more generally felt to be on all Hellenes, because the Athenians had killed the Persian heralds?  Or had both the Athenians and Spartans killed the heralds sent to them?  It’s been just long enough that I’ve forgotten some of the details.  I should check that next time I have a chance…)  Maybe it’s just misleadingly worded, or the heralds were standing in front of the enemy hordes to keep them from advancing and interfering in the duel…?


Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published March 11, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Once more, it’s Words Crush Wednesday, and I’m still in the process of trying to quote one of my favorite parts of the Iliad, the duel between Menelaos and Paris.  (How long have I been building to this now?  Four or five weeks?  Maybe my quotes are too short.)  Last week, Paris, having been brow-beaten by Hector, finally agreed to fight Menelaos, but only if it was a one-on-one, formal duel, with Helen, her wealth (a very important point!) and the war itself at stake.  There are speeches about it as Hector proposes the duel to the Greeks, and as Menelaos gladly accepts, but (as promised) I’m skipping over those, as they don’t really add anything new to the proceedings, per se, apart from the need to have Priam come down and swear his oath that the duel will end the war.  I was going to skip straight to the duel now, but…I had to quote this part, because I really like it.  Still in Book III, still the W.H.D. Rouse translation.  As some set-up, Iris (messenger of the gods) has taken on the guise of one of Priam’s daughters.

Iris found Helen in her room.  She was weaving a great web of purple stuff, double size; and embroidering in it pictures of the battles of that war which two armies were waging for her sake.  Iris came up to Helen and said:

“Come along, my love, and see a wonderful sight!  They were all fighting in the plain like fury, and now all of a sudden they are sitting down, not a sound to be heard, no more battle, all leaning upon their shields, and their spears stuck in the ground!  But Alexandros and Menelaos are going to fight for you! and you are to be the wife of the winner!”

These words pierced Helen to the heart.  She longed for her husband of the old days, for home and family.  At once she threw a white veil over her, and left the house quickly with tears running down her cheeks.

This leads into the famous “Helen on the Wall” sequence, in which she identifies various of the Greek leaders for Priam and the Trojan elders.  I like some of that a lot, and may quote it later, but next week I really will move on to the duel itself, I promise.  I just had to quote this part in passing, because I love the fact that Helen regrets what’s happening, and at this point wants nothing more than to go home to her daughter and her true husband.  (Possibly also to her father; he may still be a live at this point.  Or rather, in some stories he definitely is, and in others it doesn’t come up.  I don’t think it comes up in the Iliad or the Odyssey, so I don’t know if Tyndareos was considered to be still alive in Homeric times.)

I’ve seen people talk about Helen weaving that tapestry and describe it as an act of vanity on her part, but that’s not how I see it.  I see it as her way of mourning all the good lives being cut short because of something she no longer has any power to stop.  In fact, she never really had any power to stop it, not in the Homeric version; the war was the will of the gods.  (In some of the Athenian tragedies, especially Euripides’ Trojan Women, that’s no longer the case.)


You know, I think when I finally finish with this duel, I’m going to move on to passages that highlight the greatness of my two favorite Achaian champions:  Patroclos and Aias.  Particularly Patroclos.  He doesn’t get enough love (except from Achilles) and that needs to change!

Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published March 4, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Yep, it’s Words Crush Wednesday, and we’re still in Book III of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation.  Last week, Hector had just finished chewing Paris out for turning tail and running at the first sight of Menelaos.

Alexandros replied:

“That is true enough, Hector, that is true enough.  Your heart is always hard as steel.  Like a shipwright’s axe, when he slices off a spar from a tree with all the strength of a man!  A hard heart indeed!  Don’t taunt me with Aphrodite’s adorable gifts.  You can’t throw away a god’s gifts, offered unasked, which none could win by wishing.

“Very well now, if you want me to fight, make both armies sit down on the ground, and put me between them with Menelaos to fight for Helen and all her wealth.  Whichever proves the better man, let him take both wealth and woman home with him.  Then let both sides swear friendship and peace:  you to stay in Troy, they to go back to Argos, where there are plenty of fine women!”

Normally, I’d Anglicize Alexandros into Alexander, but I wanted to stick to Rouse’s transliterations.  I need to check some other translations, and see what they say where this one says “hard as steel” on account of steel is just an eensy weensy anachronism.  (Unlike an eensy weensy arachnid.  No, wait, that should be “itsy bitsy,” shouldn’t it?)  Anyway, when Alexander says “Argos” he really means “Greece”:  the Homeric texts use “Achaians”, “Danaans” and “Argives” interchangeably to refer to the Greek forces at Troy.  (Technically, they’re not so much “interchangeable” as they are required to fit the insanely demanding metric form.)  So in this case, he used Argos rather than Achaia or…actually, there isn’t a place name to fit “Danaan” and I don’t think Hellas is ever used to refer to Greece as a whole in the Homeric texts.  (Certainly its ethnic descriptor, Hellene, is only applied to a few groups in the Catalog of Ships, so it seems unlikely that Hellas would be used any more widely.)

Anyway, next week I’ll skip over the formalities and the oaths, and Helen on the wall (though I might come back to that later), and finally get to the meat of the duel…if it can really be called that.  LOL!

Ugh.  It’s already Wednesday, but I’ve only barely written the first draft of the paper due tomorrow…and I’m not sure I can bring myself to care enough to revise it tonight.  Plus I haven’t even started on tomorrow’s myth.  (Admittedly, that’s not actually important.  But it’s something I actually want to do, unlike that paper.  Besides, I’ve kind of been looking forward to trying to tackle Ixion.)  For that matter, I haven’t even gone back to my books to check if I screwed up last week’s myth.



Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published February 25, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Last week on Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version, Hector was berating his handsome brother Paris for his cowardly ways.  Return with us now, to the wide plains before the gates of Troy, as we continue quoting from the Iliad, Book III, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

“Were you like this when you got your fine company and set sail over the sea, and travelled in foreign lands, and brought home a handsome woman?  She was to marry into a warlike nation, she was to be the ruin of your father and all his people, a joy to your enemies, a disgrace to yourself!  So you would not stand up to Menelaos?  You ought to find out what sort of fellow he is whose wife you are keeping.  There would be little use then for your harp and the gifts of Aphrodite, your fine hair and good looks, when you lie in the dust.  Well, the Trojans are all cowards, or you would have had a coat of stone long ago for the evil you have done!”

Hector doesn’t mince his words, eh?  (The translators usually add a footnote to point out that the “coat of stone” bit is Hector saying that if the Trojans had a little more courage, they would have stoned Paris (and possibly Helen?) to death.)

The bit about “She was to marry into a warlike nation” is intriguing to me:  when the poem was originally written, the Trojans were apparently considered more warlike than the Spartans, or so it would seem.

(No, I don’t know why I felt like prefacing the quote as if it was a TV show.)


Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published February 18, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Internet at large, be grateful:  Words Crush Wednesday has just saved you from listening to (reading about?) me griping about how the extra cold night burst a water main on my street, so I had no water when I woke up, and had to rush out of the house without doing anything water-related, not even going to the bathroom.  Instead, you get the continuation of my extended quotation of the duel between Menelaos and Alexander in Book III of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation.  Where I left off last week, Alexander had just slunk away in terror at the sight of Menelaos…

Then Hector rated him with scorn:

“Damn you, Paris, you handsome woman-hunter, you seducer!  I wish you had never been born, I wish you had died unwedded!  Yes, I wish that! and it would have been much better than to be a public pest, a thing of contempt.  What guffaws there must be over there!  They thought you a prime champion because you are good-looking.  But there’s no pluck in you, no fight!”

This from one of the two nicest men in the entire poem, and Hector’s not done yet, let me tell you!  The crowning jewel of his speech is in the next paragraph; I’ll post it next week. (Oh, and it wasn’t entirely silly for Hector to talk about the enemy thinking that Alexander’s good looks equaled skill in battle:  the word kalos has a great number of meanings, especially “beautiful” but also “good” and “noble.”  Apparently, in ancient Greece, beauty and quality in all things were considered always to go hand-in-hand; hence Helen’s descriptions of the Greek leaders later in Book III calls every single one of them (except Odysseus) handsome, and the only Greek pointedly described as being ugly is Thersites, a mean-spirited fellow who gets his jollies by mocking everyone around him, particularly Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus.)


Mythic origins

Published December 23, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the “which came first?” debate regarding Patroclos and Antilochos.  There is a repetitive pattern, you see, which goes something like this:  Achilles loses someone close to him, knows he will die if he avenges him, and then he goes ahead and avenges him anyway, with the fates of him and his rival being weighed as they fight.  The version in the Iliad is, of course, well known to all.  (Rather, it bloody well ought to be!)  But the lost epic the Aithiopis told the similar tale in which Memnon killed Antilochos, and then Achilles killed Memnon to avenge him, only to die himself as he charged the city gates.  All we have for the Aithiopis is a summary and a few fragments, so it’s only a matter of speculation regarding what the precise relationship between Achilles and Antilochos was.  We know from the Iliad that they were friends, and that Antilochos was the youngest of the Achaians (and yet, bizarrely, he was also a suitor of Helen, despite that Achilles was too young to have been a suitor of Helen) so there is speculation in the academic community that Antilochos might have been Achilles’ eromenos in that lost epic, or in earlier works of oral composition that were never written down at all.  However, the ancient commentators never talk about any bond between Achilles and Antilochos other than friendship, whereas they held up Achilles and Patroclos as the ideal of love between men.  (Though there was some argument and changing of generally held opinions regarding who was the erastes and who the eromenos.)  This may have been because the scholars who say that there was romantic/sexual love between Achilles and Antilochos are wrong, or it may just be because the Iliad is one of the greatest works of literature ever, and the Aithiopis was not.  (If it was, it would have survived.)  Anyway, I’ve seen it theorized that “Homer” borrowed the bereavement/soul-weighing/vengeance motif that had originally been regarding Antilochos and Memnon, and applied it to Patroclos and Hector, thus forcibly implying a romantic bond between Achilles and Patroclos.  However, I’ve also seen it theorized that in earlier versions of the myth, Achilles had died immediately after killing Hector, as is implied by some of Thetis’ dialog in the Iliad, and that Memnon had to be invented to repeat the pattern to kill Achilles in the post-Iliad version of the myth.

As a die-hard Patroclos fan, obviously I dislike a version that makes him secondary to anyone.  However, I try to keep a level head about these things, and not let fondness overturn reason.

Now, I’ve not read much of the actual scholarship on the subject.  Just a tiny sample of the arguments on both sides.  So I don’t know the full story, academically.  Much of my theorizing on the subject therefore will necessarily seem uneducated to anyone who knows the full argument.  (As no doubt it will seem to me six months to a year from now, when I’ll probably have read much more about it.)  But I was thinking about it, just going through the myth as it has survived to now, and trying to work out which way would make sense as the earlier verison.

Neither fully works for me as the “true” pre-Iliad version.  Because if the Antilochos/Memnon version is the earlier version, then what happened to Patroclos and Hector?  Or rather, from the minimal attention paid to Patroclos in the Iliad prior to the time when he’s actually needed to start acting, it’s clear that the original audience both knew who he was, and that he was Achilles’ closest companion.  Everyone else–like Automedon, his charioteer–is “introduced” several times by their rank, role or closeness level, but Patroclos is not, because “Homer” knew that his audience didn’t need to be told that.  So he has to pre-date the Iliad by a significant margin.  And while Memnon’s demi-god status makes him a more fitting rival to Achilles than Hector is (especially since Memnon’s immortal parent is his mother, as Achilles’ is), it cannot be that Troy’s original primary defender was not a Trojan, but the King of Ethiopia.  So Hector always had to be the major enemy who needed defeating, and Achilles had to be the man to do it.

But on the other hand, the Patroclos/Hector model doesn’t quite work as the primary earlier version, either.  Because–as I just said–Achilles is a demi-god and Hector is an ordinary mortal, so where is the surprise that Achilles can defeat him?  Why was there a need to weigh their souls?  And why is the greatest hero of the Achaian forces giving up his life for the love of a man whose father is a nobody?  (Well, other than the obvious reason that love doesn’t care about bloodlines.  (Unless you’re a vampire.))

So, since both versions feel logically flawed when taken individually, it occurred to me that maybe around the time the Iliad was composed there were two versions floating around.  Perhaps the Patroclos/Hector version was the one more common in Ionia, and the Antilochos/Memnon version was more common in Greece, but most bards were aware of both, and freely swapped elements and motifs back and forth between them.

That, of course, still leaves the question of where the myths truly came from, and which one actually came first, what the original myth actually looked like.  To look at that, we have to speculate about their ultimate origin.  And about whether or not they’re based on anything that really happened.

If there was a joint Achaian venture against Troy–or rather Wilusa–that inspired the myths, then it was probably around 1250 BC, according to some of the latest archaeological work.  But Troy didn’t fall in 1250 BC; there was a Troy that fell much earlier, and another that fell much later, but mid-thirteenth century Troy was not destroyed.  So right there you have a variance from the myth:  if there really was a war between the Ahhiyawa and the Wilusans during the reign of Alaksandu, it did not end with the city being destroyed.  The Hittites were busy with their own affairs, but not that busy.

So let’s imagine what might really have happened to have spawned the myth that eventually grew into the one we know today.  Many of the names of the Homeric characters have been found in Linear B tablets as the names of ordinary people, so there might well have been real people that inspired some of those characters, so let’s make the (possibly absurd) leap of faith to assume that the Ahhiyawa forces were dominated by a man named Achilleus who was just unstoppable on the battlefield.

Maybe he had some close companion who was killed, and who he avenged.  That seems likely enough; battle scenes in literature the world over are replete with men avenging their friends slain in battle.  But not necessarily such a close friend as to be inseparable, or that they might have seemed to be more than friends.

More than that, though, looking at the myths, and especially the way Neoptolemos is usually handled, if there was a real man named Achilleus fighting in that war and proving to be so much stronger than his fellows…he probably survived.  Neoptolemos is always described as being exactly like his father in appearance, and some of the explanations of his birth don’t actually allow him enough time to be an adult by the time he shows up at Troy (and/or don’t make Achilles old enough to have fathered him before reaching Troy).  And his behavior is much like Achilles’, overall.  (Depending on whose Achilles you’re talking about.  The one in the Iliad ran the full gamut from horrific to thoughtful and contemplative.  Other authors were more likely to focus on one side or the other.  Though the same can be said about Neoptolemos:  the one in Sophocles’ Philoctetes is entirely unlike the vicious killer he’s said to have been in the Ilioupersei.)  So one real person may have become two mythical characters.  And why?  Probably because after the war was over, he went home and continued to be a terrible person, and did things that the poets didn’t want their hero to be guilty of.  So that was his son, who happened to look just like him, of course!  Or the terrible things he did were during the conclusion of the war.  That explanation also works.

Though it brings me to my next point.  Because obviously if there was a real war, it didn’t end in the destruction of Troy, so the entire story of what happened in the sack cannot be based on anything real.  Or not anything real from that particular war.  The horrors of war are universal, and can readily be transposed from one to another, particularly when the technology of warfare doesn’t change between the wars in question.  They might also have been basic mythic/bardic tropes that were already centuries old by the time of the Trojan War.

So how did it really end?  Beats the smeg out of me.  Probably, the Hittites rode in with a huge army and put a stop to it.  Or whatever had been the cause was nullified in the appropriate manner.  Given back/paid for/killed/what-have-you.

That asks the question if they could really have been fighting over a woman.  Hard to say.  There are records from the Late Bronze Age where two minor kingdoms did actually come close to war over a woman–she was apparently either an unwilling bride or an adulterous one, and married to a king, no less–but the Hittites intervened and prevented open warfare.  So it’s not impossible that a stolen queen could lead to war, but it does seem improbable that a queen could be so easily stolen.  (Whether or not she wanted to go, it would still be somewhere between difficult and impossible to get her out.  Hence the reason in the myth that Menelaos is usually in Crete for his grandfather’s funeral when Helen is taken.)

Of course, Helen running off to Troy with Alexander/Paris has always been the weak spot of the myth.  Because no matter how you slice it, it makes no sense, unless you assume the purely external “the gods forced her to do it” explanation.  Okay, sure, maybe she doesn’t love Menelaos and wants to elope with the handsome, exotic visitor.  Fine.  But why would she run away from her father’s kingdom and go to the kingdom where her beau is only the second in line for the throne?  Menelaos only becomes King of Lacedaemon because he marries Helen:  if she doesn’t want him any longer, it would make much more sense for her Trojan lover to kill him and then marry her, becoming the new king.  If he made it look like an accident or bandits on the road, he would likely get away with it entirely.  (And that’s only assuming that there’s no method of divorce.  If she could simply end her marriage, then that would be the obvious course of action.  There were ways of ending marriages in the Late Bronze Age (at least in Anatolia) but I don’t know if it was possible for the woman to set them in motion.)  Why do something so stupid as to take her away to Troy, leaving her husband alive and well and howling for retribution?  Even in ancient times, this never sat well with people.  Herodotus went to great lengths trying to come up with an explanation that made sense, and it still didn’t.

Net result?  No way the real war was over Helen.  Not if Helen was the same Spartan Queen we know.  Because it made no sense for her to leave.  So if it was fought over a runaway/abducted wife, then she was not the wife of a king, not his primary wife, anyway.  There are strong indications that it wasn’t just Sparta:  in the Late Bronze Age, inheritance via the female line was typical, so that it was the son-in-law who inherited, not the son.  (Not that it happened everywhere.  But it did happen among the Hittites, as far as we can tell, and the Greek myths provide enough examples of inheritance by the son-in-law that it seems a strong indication that in their distant past, when the myths were set, that was the norm for them, as well.)  However, there are also indications that the Mycenaean kings may have had two wives:  one to gain them their throne, and one from elsewhere.  (As Telamon, King of Salamis, had two sons, one by his wife, who had been his ticket onto the throne of Salamis, and one by his Trojan “concubine.”  In the Late Bronze Age, Aias and Teukros were probably both legitimate, but in different ways.)  So perhaps a secondary wife was brought to Troy by a king or prince?  Well, it’s not impossible.  But I don’t know how probable it is, either.  There are so many question marks, you know?

And by this point…if I had anywhere else I wanted to take this, I’ve forgotten it, so I’m just going to stop here.

I want to get back to my writing anyway.  I’m almost done with my (very) loose adaptation of “Achilles in Petticoats” into a modern, more mythically accurate, less ludicrously sexist play, and I’d like to finish it up before Christmas if I can.

My Dream TV Show

Published December 16, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

I keep wishing that I was a good enough writer to make this happen — or at least had the money, power and connections to make it happen as a producer or something.

I would love to see a deep, powerful, exciting television (well, premium cable anyway) show of the Trojan War.  One that was totally accurate to the myths, made the characters as deep and insightful as they are in the Iliad, and where the visual design was entirely accurate to archaeological knowledge of the Late Bronze Age.  All the names would, of course, be thoroughly accurate to the Greek ones, correctly pronounced and everything.  With one major exception –I think everyone, me included, would rather have Achilles than Achilleus — and some minor ones.  (So, you know, Ganymede instead of Ganymedes, Bellerophon instead of Bellerophontes, that kind of thing.  Names that are little changed, and don’t come up much.)  Most importantly (on the name front), it would feature Aias not “Ajax”.  And preferably the pretty yet cowardly prince of Troy would be called Alexandros (or Alexander, I’d allow that much) more often than Paris.  Oh, and one that allowed the gods their proper, Homeric role in the story.  Involved, but not so as the humans are usually aware of their presence.

I see it as starting around year five of the war, and then running for five seasons, one per remaining year of the war.  (Or possibly two seasons for the tenth year, as that’s where most of the pre-existing story is.)  There would only be two or three major pitched battles per year, with the rest of the year being taken up by funerary truces and minor raids by both sides.  The Achaian forces would resolutely be hounding all the supply lines into Troy, trying to keep the city from replenishing its food stores — and at the same time thus bolstering their own — and the Trojans would be going to extreme lengths to find new, safer routes for food to enter the city, not to mention more allies!  There could be exciting chase sequences where a Trojan messenger is trying to ride to Hattusa to request aid from the Hittites, and the Achaians are chasing him down to stop him…which would lead to considerable soul-searching and anguish if they end up killing him, because heralds are sacred to the gods, and it’s forbidden to harm them.

And, of course, there would also be lots of sex, because outside of raids, they wouldn’t have any other physical outlet during the periods of truce.  (Hence the reason it would need to be on a premium cable channel.)  In addition to having time to invent appropriate characters for the concubines of the other kings and princes (I bet the ones belonging to Diomedes and Odysseus didn’t complain of their masters’ attentions (‘specially not in Odysseus’ case, given the way Circe and Calypso didn’t want to let him go) but what about the lesser Aias?  I bet his concubine was miserable!) we would also have a long time to see the warm, tender relations between Aias and Tecmessa, giving his death even more sense of tragedy.  As to Achilles, well…that would be where it would get complicated.  Because, obviously, he would definitely have sex scenes with Briseis.  (And possibly other slave girls, like Diomede.)  And if I was involved in the making of such a program, it would never ignore the love between Achilles and Patroclos!  But there’s a lot of different levels that love could explore.  Were they actively lovers while Achilles was at the eromenos age, but dutifully stopped when society told them they should, even though they would have preferred to remain lovers?  Or maybe Patroclos lost interest after Achilles’s chin was first roughened by a beard, and now it’s only friendship on his end, even though Achilles is still in love?  Or are they still actively having sex, despite that it might no longer be acceptable to their comrades? (It’s unclear just how frowned upon that really was in ancient times (conflicting evidence and scholarship on the subject) and no one knows how it was viewed in the Bronze Age, not among the Mycenaeans.)  Or maybe they’re still in love, but restrict their affection to kisses and occasional fondling?  Obviously, a show that was going to depict hot-n-steamy sex between a man and a woman is unlikely to also show hot-n-steam sex between two men, so even if they were still actively lovers, the show wouldn’t go as far in showing it.  But there’d be a lot of potential for genuine, heartfelt drama (rather than canned angstodrama) no matter which route it took, if the writer was skilled.  (Also, I would want to show Patroclos’ tender relationship with his own not-quite-concubine Iphis.  Because Patroclos is my favorite of the Achaians, and I want him to get a lot of love.  In every possible sense.)  Hey, and I didn’t even mention the sex in the city, did I?  After all, you’ve got Hector and Andromache (Astyanax has to get fathered, after all!), and since Paris prefers Helen’s bed to the battlefield, there’s obviously a lot going on in that bedchamber as well.  And it could even go dark and grim late in the final season, with Deiphobos forcing Helen to accept her new role as “his” wife.

And, naturally, let us not forget the planning, plotting, scheming and power-struggles, both within the Achaian camp and within the city.  There are factions inside both groups whose desires would lead to all kinds of back-biting and other nastiness, and a writer would have a fairly free hand, since there’s so much left untold about what happened in the ten years of the war.

Of course, most of the cast would have to be gorgeous, and in excellent physical shape.  (They didn’t wear as much clothing back then, after all.  And Mycenaean men often went around in kilt-like breechcloths, rather than the tunics and chitons that one usually thinks of the classical Greeks as wearing.)  But the show wouldn’t ignore the dirty, grimy reality that would plague a camp like that one; there would be dirt, mud and offal from the flocks, and people and clothing would sometimes be splattered with blood from some unexplained source.

As to the gods, I imagine that the show would open with narration from Zeus, talking about the quarrel between the goddesses that has led to this conflict.  During this narration, a single shot of a golden apple arcing through the air would be interspersed with various scenes (most of them flashbacks) that would be shown throughout the course of the season.  And in the very first episode, at the end of the narration, the camera would pull back from the conflict on the fields of Troy to show Zeus and the other gods sitting on the slopes of Mt. Ida to watch the battle.  In my imagination, Zeus is being played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, because who else could it be?  (That’s the beauty of imagining a show:  I can cast whoever I want, regardless of the fact that if this was really being made, no way the show’s budget would allow it to spring for someone that big-league, even if the character was only going to show up one or two times a season.)

[EDIT:  despite how many plans I had for the character’s role on the show, when I wrote this, I left out Penthesileia, the Queen of the Amazons.  So I had to write a follow-up post to share that part.  Click here to read it.]

To ePub or not to ePub, that isn’t really the question…

Published September 20, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

Actually, the question is when to e-publish.  Do I wait until I can somehow find a beta reader?  Or do I just give it yet another going over and hope I find all the flaws?

More importantly, even after I make my decision, then what?  Last time I checked, the base text is about 165k words long, about two novels’ worth.  (Given that I’m trying to tell the story of the entire Trojan War, starting with its earliest origins, that means it covers a good 40 years, so that’s hardly too surprising.  Especially considering how many vital episodes there are to cover.)  On top of that, I have copious Author’s Notes to explain all the inaccuracies, and all the variant versions that most people are probably less familiar with.  Above and beyond that, there’s a glossary at the back listing all the people, places and patronymics, so the reader won’t get too lost.  (Especially important on the patronymics.  Once you’ve read the Iliad and Odyssey (but mostly the former) a few times, the patronymic just feels natural, and having to avoid it feels constraining, but for those not as familiar with the ancient texts, it can be a little confusing.)

So the question is, do I want to have a physical copy available?  Because if I do, then I can’t publish it all in one volume, or the thing would be way too huge.  The problem there is that if I split it into two volumes, due to story and chapter endings and such, I have to do the volume switch very late in the story of the Iliad, meaning that there’s a lot more story in volume 1 than in volume 2.  (With Author’s Notes and all, volume 1 comes out to about 115k and volume 2 to 96k, I believe.)

The other question is, do I actually want to include the Author’s Notes?  I mean, would anyone actually read them?  Or would they just be wasting space?


Worst of all is the feeling like there are all sorts of story elements I left out that I should have included.  Like the night raid of Diomedes and Odysseus.  And the encounter between Glaucos and Diomedes.  Or the sack of Tenedos.

The problem is that everything I can think of that I really should have included is among the early half, the stuff that would go in volume 1, but it’s volume 2 that’s lacking in comparative length!  (But I don’t know if I can come up with enough things to add back into the earlier parts of the war to find an earlier place to break off the volumes.  The current ending of volume 1 is really strong, a good place to stop, because it seems like it’s the one that would most make the reader want to return for the second part.)

Okay, so if anyone is reading this, I’m begging you to give me some advice!  Are there any rarely-told events in the Trojan War that you really like that you think an author should make sure to address?  More importantly, below is my list of the chapters in volume 2.  Can you think of anything I left out?

The Battle in the Scamander River

Death of Hector

Funeral of Patroclos

Ransom of Hector

Arrival of Penthesileia and Memnon (I know, he shouldn’t arrive yet, but…)

Death of Penthesileia

Death of Memnon

Death of Achilles

Funeral of Achilles/Hoplon Krisis/Death of Aias

Arrival of Eurypylos, son of Telephos

Fetching of Neoptolemos from Scyros/Death of Eurypylos

Retrieval of Philoctetes

Archery Duel between Philoctetes and Alexander

Death of Alexander

Theft of Palladion

Plotting of the Greeks

The Wooden Horse/Death of Laocoon

In the Wooden Horse/Opening of the Sack

Rescue of Helen/Death of Deiphobos

Death of Priam

The Sons of Theseus Rescue Aethra

Escape of Aeneas

After the Sack/Deaths of Astyanax and Polyxena

Cassandra’s Prophecies (Revealing the Nostoi)

Some of the chapters within the sack may be slightly out of order, but otherwise, that’s about right.  (Those aren’t the titles of the chapters, of course.  Just the explanation of what’s in the chapters.)  Actually, it looks sort of too short, but I can’t think of anything that’s missing.  (Don’t have it on this computer, unfortunately…)

Can anyone think of anything else that happens this late in the war?  (Apart from the rape of Cassandra, that is.  I am not writing a chapter about that.  I mention it, of course, but I’m not about to write a description of it.)

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