Trojan War

All posts tagged Trojan War

The Trojan Horse

Published June 9, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

So, you may have noticed it’s been quite some time since my last Book Report.  That’s because I’m working on the challenge to read a book set more than 5000 miles from your location, and it’s been slow going for various reasons.  The book is The Story of Egypt, by Joann Fletcher, and I’ll talk about the book at length when I finish it.  (Obviously.)  But right now I want to quote you a passage I read about a week ago:

Having learned that the prince of Joppa wished to see ‘the great mace of King Tuthmosis’, Djehuti [Overseer of the Northern Foreign Lands] had invited him to his camp outside the town [which Djehuti had been besieging for some time], where he suddenly pulled out the mace, shouting ‘Look at me, Prince of Joppa!  This is the mace of King Tuthmosis the fierce lion, son of Sekhmet, and Amen his father has given him strength to wield it’.  Then he used it himself, to ‘smite the forehead of the Prince of Joppa, and he fell stretched out before him’.  Djehuti then put the rest of his plan into action.  He hid 200 of his soldiers, Ali-Baba-style, inside baskets, which he sent into Joppa on donkey-back with the claim that they contained tribute. The folk of Joppa, clearly as gullible as their prince, took in the baskets, from which the Egyptian troops emerged to capture their town, anticipating the Greek tale of the Trojan Horse by several centuries. [187-7]

Tuthmosis III reigned from 1479 BC to 1425 BC, so that didn’t just pre-date the story of the Trojan Horse:  it pre-dated any historical conflict that might have given rise to the myth of the Trojan War in the first place!  Now, I am, personally, disposed to think that the myth was, in fact, loosely inspired by a Mycenaean invasion of Troy that was in some way particularly noteworthy (if only for being the last major military undertaking before the end of the palatial era), which has always made me wonder where such a fanciful finale came from.

Despite the occasional divine intervention, most of the events of the Trojan War are very down-to-earth and realistic.  There are no monsters, and even most of the divine interventions took on the form of things we would now call “acts of God” like plagues and floods.  Well, that and wrapping people in a mist to spirit them away from danger, but…point is, the gods are much more subtle during the Trojan War than they are in the other myths.  But that just makes the giant wooden horse story all the weirder.

I’ve often (well, maybe not often, but certainly many times) sat around pondering the idea of just where the myth of the Trojan Horse comes from.  I came up with all sorts of possible explanations, from Odysseus-like clinging to the underside of horses to outright lying by returning warriors.  I think a gate marked with a horse has been a common device to explain away the myth, too.  (That one I’m pretty sure isn’t one of mine, though.  I don’t usually think that way.)

But so now let’s look at this Egyptian story from about two hundred years before the Trojan War’s likely date.  (Possibly three hundred years, depending on when you think it took place.  The traditional date of 1154 seems a bit late to me, personally.)  Unfortunately, the book doesn’t tell us where modern scholars learned the story from; the notes direct one to a 1925 article in a journal my university library doesn’t have access to, so I can’t find out the source, but the title of the article does specifically refer to it as a “legend,” so it probably is something that was passed down through oral culture for centuries, rather than something painted on the walls of Djehuti’s tomb.  (Okay, just looked around online, and it seems to come from a papyrus.  So it’s unclear just how well the story had spread in antiquity, but it sounds like the papyrus was a literary text so probably it had spread pretty well.)

First things first, is it possible this could have happened?  Well, actually, yes, I think it is.  It doesn’t seem improbable to me that a prince going to the enemy camp after a long siege could result in a peace treaty, and in the case of such treaties, the trading of goods wouldn’t be uncommon, particularly if the siege had been cutting off the flow of food into the city.  Take out the word “tribute” and replace it with “trade” or “provisions” and it becomes quite believable.  This would have been in the days of guest-friendship all throughout the Mediterranean region, so a peace treaty would surely have included quite an exchange of goods, so it’s not inconceivable that the people of Joppa would have let those baskets into the town.  200 warriors taking a fortified city by themselves doesn’t seem terribly probable, but they could have opened the gates to let in the rest of the army.

So, let’s just suppose that it did happen as told in the quote above.  It probably would have become quite the famous maneuver, at least for a while.  And the book has mentioned repeatedly that the Egyptians not only traded with the Mycenaeans (and one pharaoh had claimed Mycenaean Greece as tributary to him), but also that they hired Mycenaean mercenaries to serve in their armies.  That being the case, it would be very likely that the story of the siege of Joppa would spread to Mycenaean Greece.

Of course, that doesn’t tell us much.  The real question is how and when that affected the Trojan War.  Did it have an impact on the real conflict between Mycenaean Greeks and the people of Troy; did they attempt to emulate the tactic?  Or was it just brought in when the war was being mythologized, to give it a spectacular climax, perhaps because the actual war ended in a lackluster treaty in which the city never fell?  And either way, where did the giant wooden horse idea come from?

That last part is the one I can’t provide a decent answer for, of course.

It does seem like Troy was strongly associated with horses:  many of the epithets applied to Hector and the other Trojan warriors involved horse-taming and related skills, and of course there were the fabulous horses given to the King of Troy by Zeus in apology for carrying off his son Ganymede.  I don’t recall reading anything about any particularly significant horse-related objects being found in the excavations at Troy, though, so it’s unclear how much of that actually dated back to the Bronze Age, and how much of it was after the fact.

I feel like there’s a logical answer that’s dancing around just outside my reach.  Very frustrating.

There’s one other thing about this Egyptian tale that I feel like could be significant, though I’m not sure exactly how.  And that’d the fact that the city which fell was Joppa.  Joppa, as you may recall, was a Phoenician city, and the homeland of Andromeda, wife of Perseus.  And Perseus was the mythical founder of Mycenae.

I don’t know.  Maybe that’s totally irrelevant/coincidental.

But what if it isn’t, and I’m just too dumb to see what the connection is?

(This particular fall of Joppa would have been about two hundred years after Perseus and Andromeda’s time, btw.  In case anyone was wondering.)

Missing Letter Monday No “P” Repost – “The Best of the Achaians”

Published March 13, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“The Best of the Achaians”

What quality makes a man great?

Strength of arms?
No, not that alone.
Any demi-god has that…
…and look how they turn out!
(Only Mycenae’s founder remained
A good man and true.
The rest died horrible deaths,
And Theseus abducted a child for his new bride!
And he died a horrible death to boot!)

Wisdom beyond measure?
If that was the case,
There would be few great men.
Maybe none at all.

Kindness, and a gentle heart,
Dedication to his friends?
Yes, yes, indeed!
A great man has devotion
And love in his heart,
Ready to lay down his life
To save those he cares for.

In truth, there is but one
Who sailed to Troy
With the strength and heart
To call himself the best.
Though he would never so call himself:
He would award the title
To the one he loves the most,
Friend, comrade, and so much more.

But his kind heart outshines
His selfish, fair-faced friend.
While Achilles sulked,
He shed tears of grief
For the deaths of the Danaan warriors.

His might in battle
Was ne’er so lauded
As that of his fickle friend,
But he killed so many Trojans
In his final stand
That they were maddened for revenge.

His death, too, was greater
Than the humiliation of Achilles.
(An arrow in the ankle?  Laughable!)
For the son of the Nereid,
Leto’s son needed but one mortal’s aid,
A tool to unleash the arrow.
But for he who was truly
The best of the Achaians,
The far-darter required the aid of two mortals,
A coward to stab from behind,
And lamentable Hector
To stab from the front.
Dishonorable though the kill was
— what honor could there be
In killing a naked, unarmed man? —
Hector was filled with hubris
To have brought down such a mighty foe.

The son of Menoitios
By his blameless life
Brought honor to his obscure father,
As his name suggests.
By his death he brought down
Hector, and all dreams of Troy’s survival.

In a golden urn
His bones were sheltered
While the son of Thetis cried and groaned
In an anguish more overwrought
Than any widow on the stage,
Though he knew his own bones
Would soon join with his lost comrade’s,
And they would be united in death,
Forever together.

Where is that urn now?
Is it hidden from view in the ground
Near Hisarlik?
Or was it stolen away,
In the ancient days of antiquity?
Which “tomb” covered those bones
When Alexander and his lover
Made their offerings at two tomb-shrines,
And ran their naked race on the sands?

Where now is the best of the Achaians?
The White Island is deserted,
The shrines of antiquity lost to time.
Who now wails for the hero that was lost?

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(I shall ever remain his fan-girl!)

(But I still suck at endings.  *sigh*)

Originally went up 9/14/15

Missing Letter Monday No “I” Repost – “The Party”

Published January 23, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“The Party”

The megaron* at Mycenae sets the scene.
Agamemnon offers couches to the guests,
So many couches; no need to share.
But the red-headed son of Peleus objects:
“There’s one place too few!”
Patroclos mutters that he should go,
Of too small note for such great company.
“No way! You can’t leave!”
Patroclos’ dearest comrade demands.
“Normally, the couches are shared,”
Odysseus tells them,
A wry form upon the mouth.
“Then you’ll share my couch,”
Peleus’ son asserts, as he takes Patroclos’ hands.
Reluctant, the young man takes a seat,
Upon the couch of the pretty boy.
The son of Telamon laughs, and takes up a cup.
“Not yet!” Agamemnon remonstrances.
“We must pour for the gods.”
Drops are poured out neat,
And the gods assuaged.
Then the party can truly start.
“Many thanks to you all,”
Menelaos tells them, at a frown,
“For your help to restore my Helen.”
“Thank the oath,” the son of Telamon grumbles.
“But any honest man who fears Zeus,
And would see decency overcome rude cruelty,
Would gladly come to your help,
Even unbound by such an oath,”
Odysseus oozed, smarmy.
“Just as young Ach–”
“Hadda restore my name, after you shamed me,
Back on Scyros,” the boy growls.
“How much have you already had?”
Patroclos asks, and pulls the empty cup away.
“Your father would rebuke me
For such a drunken state!”
“Let the boy have all he wants,”
Laughed the son of Tydeus.
“All too soon we cross the sea for Troy,
And leave all joy at our backs.
For now, let the boy enjoy what we have.”
“Such enjoyment forms the core of the event,”
Agreed old Nestor, and nodded that gray head.
“Let us all enjoy each other’s good company,
As long as lovely Selene travels the sky.”
Toasts were drunk to Nestor’s plan,
And all cheered as the party got underway.

*Megaron = throne room/great hall.

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Made one small change from 1st post on 1/25/16.  (Whoa, almost exactly a year!)

Subtitle Oopsy

Published September 6, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

I think I just won the “stupidest title for a blog post ever” award.

If there is such an award.

(I’m not sure if I’d actually want there to be one or not.)

Anyway, I just wanted to post about something stupid that actually tied in to my somewhat estranged “Greek mythology” theme.

So, I’m sorry to say that my birthday was last month, and as usual I couldn’t convince my family to pretend it wasn’t happening.  But at least they had the decency to only give me one present.  In this case, it was the Blu-Ray of the movie Iphigenia, based on the Euripides play Iphigenia at Aulis.  (But without the dea ex machina ending that scholars have been arguing about for centuries.)

I saw the movie years ago in a class, and I’d been trying to get my hands on it for a couple of years to see it again, but the DVD was long out of print, and apparently someone stole the Netflix lending copy.  (Seriously, it’s been on my brother’s queue for years.)  But it was finally released on Blu-ray recently by Olive Films (at least, I think that’s what the logo said) so I was finally able to see it again.

I hadn’t read the play yet when I first saw the movie, so I was surprised at just how much material there was before the start of the play.  (Must have been at least ten to fifteen minutes.)

The point of this post, though, is to tell you about a little goof they made in the subtitles.  (And yes, I only just got around to watching it yesterday.  On account of I have a slight problem with my television, and currently have to take Blu-rays to my brother’s place to watch them.)  For those who don’t know the story of the play, the only pertinent detail you need for my anecdote is that Agamemnon sent a letter back to Mycenae, asking that his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, be sent alone to Aulis, in order to marry Achilles.  Of course, his wife, Clytemnestra, wasn’t about to let her daughter go off alone, so she’s come to Aulis with her.  And when she’s talking to Agamemnon about the proposed marriage, she’s asking about what kind of man Achilles is.

And Agamemnon tells her that he’s “descended from Aesop.”

And I’m sitting here going “Um, what?”

Because I know that’s not what it said in Euripides.  Because while Aesop is one of those writers that — like Homer — has a partially (or entirely) mythologized life story, he’s still a real person.  (Probably.)  And lived in historical times.  And was a slave.

But the movie was going on, and I forgot about the line until after the movie was over.

Then I was suddenly like “Oh, duh!”

What the line actually said was that Achilles was descended from Asopos, not Aesop.  Asopos, of course, being a river god and the father of Aegina, who was kidnapped/ravished/impregnated by Zeus, giving birth to Aiakos, who was the father of Peleus, father of Achilles.

Now, it still strikes me as weird to pick Asopos rather than Zeus in order to talk about Achilles’ divine lineage (not to mention what about his mother, Thetis, the most powerful of the Nereids?) but presumably that was either because pretty much everyone in the mythic nobility is descended from Zeus, or — more likely — for metrical reasons.

But writing Aesop instead of Asopos…

…it’s hard to find rhyme or reason for that one.

Missing Letter Mondays – No “V”

Published April 25, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

The Author’s Oracle Tag

I saw this at Sara Letourneau’s blog, and thought it looked fun.  Also like something where I could omit this week’s letter with less effort than another chapter of “Peril-Led Princess“.  (It is coming back!  I promise!)  Despite that they’re my own rules, I’m not sure how the Missing Letter Monday rules feel about using the forbidden letter inside a quote…so rather than change the questions or use the letter, I’m just gonna put a * in the place of the letter-of-the-week where it occurs in the questions.

So the point of this blogging tag is that there are questions loosely inspired by the major arcana of the Tarot, which an author is to answer, focusing on their current work in progress.  Or, in my case, a major work that I keep putting off writing draft two of.  *shame*  But it’s been on my mind lately, so maybe this’ll get me working on that edit/re-write…once the semester ends, anyway.

Aaaanyway, let’s get on with it, ’cause I still need to do some reading this morning before I go to work.  (All text in bold in the following section is quoted.)

The Author’s Oracle Questions

I’ll be answering these questions based on my semi-YA series which currently has no series title.  Mostly I’ll be thinking about the first book (yes, I wrote the whole series in rough drafts before editing the first one) which needs a new title, as the one I had when I was working on it sucked quite atrociously.  I narrowed down a couple of good candidates, but they both imply things that aren’t quite true, so I’m not so sure about them.  Anyway, the first book takes place about 18 years after the end of the Trojan War, and my three leads are Atalanta, the (posthumously born) daughter of Achilles, Ariadne, the (illegitimate) daughter of Odysseus, and Eurysakes, the son of Aias and the only one who’s a genuine mythological character…though my Eurysakes and the real one differ wildly.  Atalanta and Ariadne’s mothers were sisters, and they were…ooh, I can’t use that word!  They were, um, household workers of a non-free sort in a particular city in Lesbos, and when Achilles and Odysseus had to go to Lesbos for complicated (but mythologically accurate) reasons, well, stuff happened, and nine months later…my heroines were born.  Anyway, part of my point here — apart from the fact that the heroines must escape from Lesbos at the start of book one — is that both her companions are Atalanta’s cousins, ’cause I’m going on the more well-known, later form of the myth, in which Peleus and Telamon were brothers.  (Originally, Achilles and Aias were not related, y’see…)

0. The Fool: Which of your characters is the most intuiti*e?  The worst decision-maker?

Ariadne would be the most…uh…wow, most of these words use that letter.  She’s the one capable of the best perception of a situation, usually.  But she’s not as good at reading people as she thinks, so sometimes Eurysakes can make the better call.  Atalanta is by far the worst decision-maker; she tends not to think much.  It’s not that she’s not smart; she just got into the habit of letting Ariadne think for her.

II . The High Priestess: Do any of your characters ha*e *ery strong beliefs?

Yes, definitely.  Atalanta has a lot of them:  she’s deeply religious (which is quite different in ancient Greece than in modern times, of course), she has a lot of beliefs about her father (see below), and she has a lot of super-strong beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong, and sometimes that gets her into trouble (usually the combat sort of trouble).  Ariadne’s strongest beliefs tend to focus on her father (see below), but she’s also got strong religious ties where Athene is concerned (the other gods are more of an afterthought for her).  For Eurysakes, the most normal of the three, again most of his strong beliefs focus on his father, but especially on how his father was wronged by the other Achaian kings (and especially Odysseus), and how it’s his duty to bring his father the respect and honor he merits.  Korythos, the new King of Troy in Book 1, also has strong beliefs, but most of them would be spoilers.  (Though the chances of anyone other than me seeing this book are pretty darned slim…)  The whole-series baddies also possess strong beliefs, but those would really be spoilers.

III. The Empress: Who is your biggest supporter?  Gi*e them a little lo*e here.

Er…my brother?  I guess?  I mean, he listens to me ramble about my characters and sometimes makes suggestions.  On some of my other books, he’s been willing to read them, but he didn’t get far in this one before being repelled…which is not a good sign…

I*. The Emperor: Do you outline or plan?  (You know… plotter or pantser?)

Like most people, a little of both.  I come up with an outline, but I rarely follow it too far before it needs to change ’cause I end up going in a different direction.  But a sparse outline helps me keep my characters at least a little reined in, and helps me to focus on where I’m going as I let the book follow its own flow.

*. The Hierophant:  What do you feel is your most *aluable piece of writing ad*ice?

Mmm…most of it I come across doesn’t quite seem to fit me.  If “keep writing but keep it to yourself” was out there as a bit of writing wisdom, that’d probably be the best fit for me.

*I. The Lo*ers: Which of your characters follow their heart? Is it for the right reasons?

Well, Atalanta does, because it’s all she knows how to do; I don’t know if that’s “the right reason” or not.  Ariadne would claim she’s following her heart, I’m sure, but she’s really only doing so when she’s doing something for Atalanta’s sake.  Or for Athene’s sake.

*II. The Chariot: Tell us about the first “darling” you e*er “killed.”

In this series, she’s…well, just in case, I can’t say who she is or how she relates to the others, but she takes a while to show up, and longer to establish herself as a character, rather than a bit part.  She was always antagonistic to Atalanta, because reasons, but…after a while I came to the realization that the bad guys would be out of character if they didn’t recruit her.  And they had the perfect hook to make her want to help them, so there was no way she would choose the side of the gods instead of the side of the baddies who want to destroy them.  It was heart-breaking for me, because she’s the offspring of two mythological figures, and I really wanted things to work out well for her, especially since her mother really got a raw deal in the original myth and in my continuation of it.  But once she turned on me — I mean on my heroes — I mean on the gods, I had no choice, and she had to be taken down.  Of course, she’s technically immortal, so she wasn’t actually killed…but she was thrown into Tartaros, so she may as well be dead.

*III. Strength: What do you feel your greatest creati*e strength is?

Coming up with story ideas; I think of lots of ideas that feel like they’re really great.  It’s just what I do with them afterwards that’s no good.

IX. The Hermit: Can you write in coffee shops or other busy places, or do you need quiet?

I used to be able to watch a film on the tube and write at the same time, but I can no longer do that, I’m sorry to say.  Writing in public places is still fine, so long as no one’s around me is talking in such a way that I can’t help but listen in.  (You know the kind of thing I’m talking about, right?)

X. The Wheel of Fortune: Do you ha*e a set routine or schedule?

Nah…but this summer I’m planning on making one.  I seem to spend extremely little time (if any at all) writing lately, so I plan on making a schedule for that and a few other things that need doing.  I’ll be posting about it sometime in early May, once I hammer out the details.

XI. Justice: What’s the biggest consequence that your main character will ha*e to face? (If it spoils the plot, feel free to be *ague.)

Well, she’s always risking life and limb in combat against an assortment of enemies, some human and most inhuman.  There’s one point in the series where the baddies try to coax her into joining their side, at which point she’s risking the consequence of a lightning bolt to the face, ’cause Zeus is watching her quite closely.  Other than that…well, there are a few minor run-ins with foreign kings that are of a less than pleasant type, but…mostly the only consequences would be if she fails in her goals of stopping the bad guys.

Wow, my books sound really shallow all of a sudden.

XII. The Hanged Man: What sacrifices do you make for writing time?  Or, what must your main character be willing to choose between?

Hmm…what does Atalanta need to choose between?  I can’t really think of anything, which is alarming.  But the thing is, I was kind of following the mold of some of the more grand myths, like Perseus’ quest to protect his mother from the lecher who wants to marry her, or Jason’s quest to get the Golden Fleece (minus the part where he starts being a horrible cad and all the wretchedness that follows) and there’s not a lot of…it’s just…the mode of the story is pretty simple:  go, do, fight, triumph.  I tried to add a little more to it than that, but…yeah, still ends up sounding really shallow, no matter how I try to shine it up.

XIII. Death: What do you do after you’*e finished a project?

After I finished the first book in this series, I went right on to the next one.  I wasn’t ready to stop writing yet.  Besides, I knew my pantsing would continue to affect where the story was going, and that later books would probably contradict earlier ones, but that the later tales would be better…and I was right about that:  something I had to say about the causes of the Trojan War in Book Six contradicted something from…Book Two, I think it was.  Either way, Book Six’s new wrinkle was much better, and might actually be truly original, so…yeah, I think I made the right call there.

XI*. Temperance: Please share your best-tested & pro*en tip for balancing writing and “the rest.”

I can’t balance anything; my life is chaos.

X*. The De*il: E*eryone has a nasty habit they can’t shake. What’s your main character’s?

For Atalanta, that’d be running off half-cocked.  She gets excited easily, and can’t stop herself from acting.  But she also has self-doubt that interferes at the worst times.  For Ariadne, it’s thinking too much and paralyzing herself by coming up with too many contradictory plans and/or possible pitfalls.  Eurysakes…honestly, I think it’s his way of talking.  He talks extremely slowly, just like his father did, which annoys those around him, and makes Ariadne cut him off a lot, because she’s pretty impatient about stuff like that.  (Though Atalanta is more or less the lead, it’s a team book, so I think it’s okay to list all three here.)

X*I. The Tower: Ha*e you e*er had to scrap an entire project and start o*er? How did it feel? Were you frustrated, sad, relie*ed, etc.?

Yeah.  This past NaNo’s project, “The Island of Dr. Tanaka.”  I was writing it specifically for these two characters I rescued from another book’s backstory, but then I didn’t finish it during NaNoWriMo, and as I kept working on it, it just got slower and slower and I couldn’t finish and I couldn’t finish…until I finally realized it was the two characters who had gotten the project going in the first place who were also killing it.  They just don’t fit the story.  But I like the story, so I don’t want to just abandon it.  So now I’m going to need to start again, with new characters in their places, and come up with something else for them.  (There are a number of my Insecure Writer’s Support Group posts on this subject…))  It is exceptionally frustrating.  To the point that I’m not ready to work on either of the projects yet.  When the semester ends and I get my summer break time, I’m either going to finally re-write Book One of the YA project I’m talking about here, or work on a superhero-themed short story I’m working on coming up with characters for.

Or possibly both, trading off one to the other on my whims.

X*II. The Star: What is your fa*orite part of starting a new project? New notebook smell? Getting to know the characters? Building the plot?

Probably the plot.  It’s usually what gets me interested.  But sometimes it’s the characters.  When it’s both, that’s when I feel the most compelled to write.  That happened with this semi-YA series; I was excited about both the characters and the whole-series plot.

X*III. The Moon: What’s the biggest lie that your main character is telling herself?

For Atalanta, it’s that her father was a great man.  Achilles was certainly great on the battlefield, but off it he was pretty reprehensible.  (Though my Achilles in the books (each book starts with a prologue during the war) isn’t nearly as reprehensible as he should be, ’cause I’m not good at writing that kind of character.)  At one point the heroines go to the the house of Hades to talk to a shade (because how could they not?) and Hermes and Hades both work pretty hard to make sure that she doesn’t meet her father’s shade, because they don’t want her to get disillusioned and fail in her quest, since that would be bad for the gods.  (Part of Atalanta’s main impetus to be heroic is to try to be worthy of who she thinks her father was.)

Ariadne is also telling herself lies about her father.  At first, she’s telling herself that the men who fathered her and Atalanta weren’t really Odysseus and Achilles, but a couple of con men (in modern parlance) claiming to be Odysseus and Achilles.  (This despite that Atalanta — at nine years old — was strong enough to throw a grown man onto a one-story roof.)  Once the oracle at Delphi had addressed Ariadne as the daughter of Odysseus, it was harder to claim her father wasn’t really Odysseus, so then Ariadne starts lying to herself that Odysseus is the scum of the earth, the worst man in the history of humanity.  While Odysseus can be pretty reprehensible, he’s nowhere near that bad.  And when Ariadne finally spends some time with Odysseus, she’s quite cold to him, despite that he wants to take up his responsibilities as her father and he genuinely cares about her.  (Of course, at her age, the only responsibility left to a father towards his daughter is to find her a good husband and pay a big dowry, but…he both offers to do both and also promises that he won’t force a husband on her.  Which is pretty astonishing for the time period.)  So one of Ariadne’s major growth points is coming to accept him, at least a little bit.

But I came to realize that Ariadne is also telling herself a much bigger lie about the way she feels for Atalanta.  I started writing a follow-up to the final book, which starts out with them going to all the places they gained help during the main series, and letting them know that the enemy has been defeated.  But when they get to Troy, they’re going to meet up with the daughter of Hector, and following some desire on her part to kill Atalanta because of what happened between their fathers, more stuff will happen and they’ll end up on their way to Hattusa to see the Hittite king, and other stuff will happen, and I didn’t really get too far.  (They hadn’t reached Troy yet.)  Anyway, as I was writing that, returning to the characters after about a year, I suddenly realized that Ariadne didn’t just possess the standard cousins/sisters feelings for Atalanta:  she wasn’t aware of it, but her feelings were more romantic in nature.  I had not intended that to be the case, so I was pretty surprised by it.  I had Eurysakes point it out (he didn’t think it was right, since Atalanta and Ariadne had been raised pretty much like sisters) but Ariadne of course denied it utterly, unable to understand that about herself.  I’m not sure if I’ll make her realize he’s right or if she’ll keep denying it.  And I’m not sure if I’ll try to make it apparent in the main series as I re-write or if I’ll let it remain as it already is.

XIX. The Sun: Do any themes, symbols, or objects come full circle in your story?

Hmm….I can’t think of any, off-hand.  Except the prologues:  the first one shows the, well, the introduction (and leading off to the bedchamber) of the heriones’ fathers to their mothers, and then shows their births nine months later, while the final prologue returns to Lesbos and shows the girls at about nine years old, and shows their mothers again, while intimating some new things about why they were born.  I’m not sure if that’s really “full circle” or not, though.

XX. Judgement: Do your characters get what they deser*e? Why or why not?

Well, in the books already written, two of them basically do…sort of.  At that point, they’re all three heroes, and they should get a happy ending, right?  So at the ending of the last book, they’re all setting out on a journey together, to share the news of their triumph, and generally to enjoy the trip, glad that they won’t be attacked so much anymore.  This is exactly what Atalanta and Ariadne want, though they do merit better still.  Eurysakes wants to marry the woman he adores, but at the end of the book he still can’t, because Helen has not yet coaxed Ramses into allowing his adopted daughter to marry a non-Egyptian.  (Yes, Helen, Queen of Sparta, is trying to play matchmaker between a Greek prince and an Egyptian princess.  It’s that kind of series.)  So he hasn’t gotten the happy ending he wants yet.

After the books, though (and I mean after the unfinished one here), Eurysakes will get to marry his Egyptian princess, and he’ll go to rule Salamis, at least until he and his brother gift it to Athens.  This is will break up the trio, though of course the girls are welcome in Salamis at all times.  But their happy endings get less and less happy, because I had in mind another series, set millennia later:  Atalanta will be forced to accept immortality and marry a god (and yes, “forced” is the word, because she doesn’t like him) and Ariadne will be left alone.  So after the books, the heroines don’t get the happy ending they should.  Which I recognize is really weird, and a little messed up, especially considering the male in the trio does get his happy ending.  (Though Ariadne will end up in an Amazon-like town the heroes help establish in one of the books, so she’ll be all right, except for the pain of being parted from Atalanta.)

It’s probably weird that I came up with this much of what happens to them long after the books end…

XXI. The World: At what point did you know that you had to write this project?

After seeing two back-to-back film trailers that utterly desecrated the entire idea of ancient Greece, in my seething fury at Hollywood, I was re-reading and re-writing my Trojan War book.  When I got to the part about Achilles killing Thersites and being sent to Lesbos, where Odysseus would perform the purification rite to cleanse him of the homicide, I started wondering what happened when they were there other than the purification rite.  I started imagining a dialog between them, as Odysseus kept getting Achilles more and more drunk, mostly for the laughs.  (This dialog ended up being a large part of the prologue of book one.)  When I knew I had to write the project was when I started wondering what the two girls would name their daughters (who in my initial imagination were just going to run off to be Amazons) and as soon as I decided the daughter of Achilles would be called Atalanta, I knew I had to write their story in full.  (Naming her Atalanta was actually an inside joke to my Trojan War book:  when Thetis took the nine-or-so-years-old Achilles to Scyros to disguise him as a girl, he suggested that his girl name should be Atalanta, which of course Thetis rejected.)


So, that’s the end of the questions.  Since I’m just borrowing the questions and wasn’t strictly speaking tagged (she just left an open “anyone reading this” kind of tag) I’m not gonna tag anyone else.  ‘Cause weird.

Anyway, for those unfamiliar with me talking about these books, I want to point out that this is the first time the heroines’ names appear on my blog.  (Well, in connection with these characters, anyway.  The names show up in talking about the original mythical characters for whom these characters are named.)  I’m not sure if using their names like this is proof that any hope of publishing has disappeared, or if this means I actually secretly still think it’ll someday be publishable and I’m subconsciously trying to raise interest.

Ugh, this turned out way too long.  (Took like two hours!)  Why do I always think long things are going to be short?

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About Alexander the Great

Published March 29, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

So, this week (or rather these two weeks, since this is Spring Break) I’m reading Nietzsche for class, and I came across this bit that I flagged with the intention of using it for Words Crush Wednesday:

“You shall always be the first and excel all others:  your jealous soul shall love no one, unless it be the friend” — that made the soul of the Greek quiver:  thus he walked the path of his greatness.  (Also Sprach Zarathustra, Walter Kaufmann translation)

Obviously, that one grabbed my attention ’cause it seemed to me that he was talking about one very specific, if mythical, Greek.

But this morning, a sudden thought struck me:  what if he was actually talking about Alexander the Great?  The histories of Alexander’s life as they’ve come down to us (which have not changed significantly from Nietzsche’s day) would certainly fit this, and given Alexander’s (alleged) obsession with Achilles, it would certainly be believable that he, like his hero/alleged ancestor, would want to “excel all others” even if he was never specifically given that paternal command the way Achilles was.

Then, of course, I kept thinking about this duo, mythic ancestor and historic descendant, and — as always — the oddity of Alexander’s name in one who would revere Achilles continued to haunt me.

But then I had what felt like a mini revelation.

Alexander’s claim to descent from Achilles primarily came from his mother, yes?  And it’s a famous historical myth that his parents really didn’t get along with each other.  (I don’t have enough background in Alexander studies to know if there’s any hope of discerning whether there’s truth to the myth, so I won’t try to claim any knowledge of its potential factuality.  (Is that a word?))

So, if Philip was already not getting on with his wife by the time their son was born, and he knew that her family more than anything else prized their descent from Achilles, might he not have purposefully named his son after the killer of Achilles, as a vengeance on his wife?

Now, yes, I know Alexander was a family name among the kings of Macedon.  (Philip was the second, but Alexander was the…fourth?  Sixth?  Well, he wasn’t the first.  I know that much for sure.)  But was it really necessary for him to bear that name, or could it have been either an attack on an unloved wife, or at least an attack on her claim to descent from Achilles?

Obviously, I’m posing these questions knowing there’s no way of answering them, but I do find the idea an appealing one.  It would be very believable in fiction, even if it can never feel like fact in reality.

There were certainly a plethora of other names to choose from (there always are), and if another branch of the Epiran royalty is anything to go by, there were many family names Alexander could have received from his mother’s side.  In the opening of his “Life of Pyrrhus,” Plutarch says

To Æacides were born of Phthia, Deidamia and Troas, daughters, and Pyrrhus a son.

The Molossians, afterwards falling into factions and expelling Æacides, brought in the sons of Neoptolemus, and such friends of Æacides as they could take were all cut off. (Dryden translation)

Æacides, while not usually spelled that way these days (I prefer Aiakides), means “(grand)son of Aiakos,” and is one of the epithets of Achilles in ancient literature.  (I’d say “in Homer” except that it continued in common use all that way up to late Roman times.)  Phthia is Achilles’ homeland (and yes, that was the name of Æacides’ wife, so she was obviously also of the apparently very large group of Epiran nobles who considered themselves descended from Achilles), Deidamia is the mother of Achilles’ son, Troas actually kind of doesn’t fit because it’s a Trojan name, and Pyrrhus was the other name of Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles.  (Of course, I prefer to spell those names with an “o” instead of a “u” but…different spelling, same name.  In the sentences that follow, names ending in an “os” are mythical characters, and ones in a “us” are historical people.)  Also, Pyrrhus named his son Helenus, after Helenos, the one son of Priam who survived the Trojan War, who was enslaved to Neoptolemos and used his prophetic powers to aid Neoptolemos in his return to Greece, and proved so useful that Neoptolemos freed him and gave him all sorts of gifts, including reign over Molossia, though Helenos left the kingdom not to his own son (fathered on Andromache, Hector’s widow) but to Molossos, Neoptolemos’ son (also fathered on Andromache), who Helenos had raised following Neoptolemos’ death.  Clearly, Molossos’ descendants (or rather those who considered themselves his descendants) were grateful for Helenos’ kindness.  (Though Plutarch says Pyrrhus is descended from a legitimate son of Neoptolemos fathered on a daughter of Hyllos.  This is chronologically impossible, especially since Neoptolemos — like his father — died very young.  I think Plutarch either condensed two generations, meaning that Molossos was actually the one married to the daughter of Hyllos, or the Epirans were a little confused about the chronology in the rest of Greece.  I’d say they just didn’t want to be descended from a Trojan, but if that was the case, why would they use names like Troas and Helenos?)

If you’re wondering about the timing of Pyrrhus’ life, his sister Deidamia had been engaged/married in infancy to Alexander the Great’s infant son by Roxana.  (Unlike Alexander’s son, however, Deidamia actually lived to adulthood.)  Pyrrhus himself married one of the daughters of Ptolemy I, Alexander’s general who ended up in control of Egypt.  (Pyrrhus, btw, is the source of our saying “a Pyrrhic victory,” because he lost so many of his own men in fighting the Romans.  He still won, though, so the Romans considered him one of their worst enemies of all time, right up there with Hannibal.  (In part, no doubt, because they never managed to beat Pyrrhus.))

Anyway, lengthy digression aside, point is that there were lots of names Philip could have given his son that would have embraced rather than conflicted with his wife’s alleged descent from Achilles.  The fact that he didn’t might not mean anything more than that he didn’t believe the stories that the Epiran royal families were all descended from Neoptolemos.  (And it’s hard to blame his skepticism if such skepticism was there.)  Or it might have meant something less friendly.  Impossible to say from here.

While I’m on the subject, you may have noticed a certain amount of skepticism on my part in the early paragraphs of this post, when discussing Alexander’s life.  There’s a good reason for that:  we know so little about it.  Sure, there’s all sorts of things we think we know, but all the histories that survived were written centuries after the fact.  Ptolemy famously wrote a history of Alexander’s life, but it — like all other contemporary accounts — has been lost.  Our earliest account is Plutarch, and our fullest is Arrian.  And, as Mary Beard pointed out, Arrian wrote in the time of Hadrian, who famously and scandalously (yes, it was a scandal even in his own time) went to extravagant lengths in mourning his beloved Antinoos.  Arrian couldn’t write about that without risking himself, but he could write about Alexander going to great lengths to mourn Hephaistion, making sure to draw plenty of parallels between Alexander and his hero Achilles and Hephaistion and Patroclos so it wouldn’t seem suspicious to the emperor whose favor he no longer had.  Plutarch doesn’t actually draw that much attention to any particular fondness Alexander may have had for his alleged ancestor Achilles:  his main mention is the famous bit about the visit to Achilles’ (alleged) tomb, but that was traditional, and most Greeks likely would have done the same (except, perhaps, for the naked footrace) if they found themselves in the region of Troy.  Certainly, anyone claiming descent from the hero would have felt obligated to thus anoint his tomb, as there was definitely an aspect of ancestor worship in the hero worship of the ancient Greeks.  (That wasn’t the only factor, by any means, but there were definite overtones.)  Thus my skepticism that Alexander did, in fact, revere Achilles the way Arrian tells us he did.  (He did go to great lengths in mourning Hephaistion, if we can trust Plutarch, but they weren’t quite as extravagant as Arrian claims.)

Obviously, I think it’s much more interesting if Arrian was right, but the historian in me says “nope, must reserve judgement.”  (The novelist in me, of course, insists that Alexander was, naturally, quite obsessed with Achilles, and that he and Hephaistion liked to roleplay as Achilles and Patroclos.  Because that’s more interesting.)

In retrospect, I probably should have named this post differently, as I didn’t really spend that much time talking about Alexander himself…

…but I’m too lazy to go back and change it.  Besides, I have to go get my laundry out of the washing machine and put it in the drier.

Words Crush Wednesday – An Unusual Method of Healing

Published February 10, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This week’s Words Crush Wednesday is from The Scientific Revolution by Steven Shapin, the book I had to read for this week.  (Next week’s is also going to be from this book…so the quotes may start really falling behind me!)

I wanted to quote this because it reminded me of a myth.  The quote is:

It was part of the mechanists’ credo that all genuine effects in nature were to prove explicable based on ordinary, comprehensible mechanical and material causes.  So [Sir Francis] Bacon was suspicious of the claimed matter of fact involved in the celebrated “weapon salve.”  It had been commonly avowed that a wound caused by a given weapon might be healed by anointing not the wound itself but the sword or knife that caused it, even when wound and weapon were up to thirty miles apart.

Obviously the idea of a “weapon salve” made me think not of putting medicine on the weapon (though that’s a pretty unexpected way to try to cure a wound!) but of making medicine from the weapon!

Because — as you might expect, coming from me — that happened at one point in the Trojan War.

The short version is this:  the Greeks, in their first sailing for Troy, missed it entirely, landing in Mysia, to the south.  Of course, they start laying waste to the place anyway, because that’s what they do.  They’re in the realm ruled by Telephos, a son of Heracles, and he of course goes out personally to fight off the attackers.  (That being the norm for kings at the time, even ones not fathered by demi-gods.)  In the battle, he’s wounded in the thigh by Achilles, but the battle eventually ends with the Greeks realizing their mistake and sailing away again.

However, Telephos’ wound doesn’t heal.

For years.

Eventually, he seeks an oracle (which one varies), and is told that he can only be healed by the one who wounded him.  That doesn’t seem like a good idea to Telephos (or, doubtless, to anyone else!) but he’s suffered long enough that he’s willing to try anything, and goes to Mycenae looking for Achilles.  Now, what happens next varies by the teller (and it doesn’t help that we mostly only have summaries and fragments left of the majority of versions) but eventually, his situation is explained, and it’s agreed that he’ll help them find Troy (you wouldn’t think it would be hard to find, being a big trading city located on a major waterway) in exchange for having his wound healed.  (It is to be pointed out, of course, that the Greeks had received a prophecy that they could only reach Troy with the guidance of a son of Priam.  And Telephos is married to one of Priam’s daughters.  Though said prophecy may be a late excuse for their needing help to find the place.)

Anyway, in some versions, Achilles objects that he knows nothing of healing, though in other versions he can’t very well claim that, having been taught healing by Cheiron as a boy.  (In the Iliad, for example, not only did he learn healing from Cheiron, but he had since taught it to Patroclos.)  Even in the versions where he doesn’t object, he’s still clueless as to how to heal a wound that’s been festering for years on end.

But wily Odysseus, of course, has a plan.  (Doesn’t he always?)

He scrapes the rust off the tip of Achilles’ spear and puts it in the wound.

And it works!

(Of course, there’s the slight problem that bronze, like Achilles’ spear, does not rust in the sense we think of, but…well, it does oxidize in some manner.  Though why someone who’s supposed to be their best warrior would let his spear literally grow rusty is another matter entirely…)

Part of me wants to post the “Telephos” chapter from my Trojan War novel to share the full story, but unfortunately, that was one of the “omg, this sucks!” chapters I was going to utterly redo…and it’s the very one I got stuck in the middle of.  *sigh*


Missing Letter Mondays – No “I”

Published January 25, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

“The Party”

The megaron* at Mycenae sets the scene.
Agamemnon offers couches to the guests,
So many couches; no need to share.
But the red-headed son of Peleus objects:
“There’s one place too few!”
Patroclos mutters that he should go,
Of too small note for such great company.
“No way! You can’t leave!”
Patroclos’ dearest comrade demands.
“Normally, the couches are shared,”
Odysseus tells them,
A wry form upon the mouth.
“Then you’ll share my couch,”
Peleus’ son asserts, as he takes Patroclos’ hands.
Reluctant, the young man takes a seat,
Upon the couch of the pretty boy.
The son of Telamon laughs, and takes up a cup.
“Not yet!” Agamemnon remonstrances.
“We must pour for the gods.”
Drops are poured out neat,
And the gods assuaged.
Then the party can truly start.
“Many thanks to you all,”
Menelaos tells them, at a frown,
“For your help to restore my Helen.”
“Thank the oath,” the son of Telamon grumbles.
“But any honest man who fears Zeus,
And would see decency overcome rude cruelty,
Would gladly come to your help,
Even unbound by such an oath,”
Odysseus oozed, smarmy.
“Just as young Ach–”
“Hadda restore my name, after you shamed me,
Back on Scyros,” the boy growls.
“How much have you already had?”
Patroclos asks, and pulls the empty cup away.
“Your father would rebuke me
For such a drunken state!”
“Let the boy have all the drops he wants,”
Laughed the son of Tydeus.
“All too soon we cross the sea for Troy,
And leave all joy at our backs.
For now, let the boy enjoy what we have.”
“Such enjoyment forms the core of the event,”
Agreed old Nestor, and nodded that gray head.
“Let us all enjoy each other’s good company,
As long as lovely Selene travels the sky.”
Toasts were drunk to Nestor’s plan,
And all cheered as the party got underway.

*Megaron = throne room/great hall.



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Oh.  My.  God.  So.  Much.  Harder.  Than.  Expected!


The Parallel Tale of Neaera

Published January 15, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

So, I’ve read the portion in which I was interested of the other library book from last semester now.  The book is Hellenistic Collection, edited and translated by J.L. Lightfoot, part of the Loeb Classical Library.  Most of the book is just fragments from the work of Hellenistic authors.  The one portion I wanted to read, however, was a complete work by Parthenius of Nicaea, called (in this translation) Sufferings in Love.

Parthenius barely qualifies as Hellenistic:  he was taken to late Republican Rome (as a prisoner?) following the Mithridatic Wars, and allegedly is the man who taught the Greek language to Vergil.  (I say “allegedly” because our source for that claim was writing several centuries later, and therefore not really in a position to be a good authority.)  The work, Sufferings in Love, is a prose collection of tales of unhappy romances, which — according to the preface he wrote — he sent to a Roman poet so that he might use some or all of the tales as the basis for some of his poems.  (If the poet did write any of these tales in verse, they didn’t survive.)  Having seen the source mentioned somewhere, I looked into it last semester to see if it mentioned Dido and thus established her as having a pre-Vergilian origin, but of course it didn’t.  (It did tell a tale somewhat similar to hers, though, with Odysseus as the man involved.)  It sounded interesting, though, so I thought I’d check it out and read it over the break, just in case it had any tales useful to me.  (And sure enough, it did turn out to be the source of some of the obscure side-stories of the Trojan War that I’d been wondering where they came from.)

But once of them particularly struck me, and immediately made me wonder how old the story was, and if it was purely mythological, or (allegedly) based on real people.  (Some of the stories were expressly written about historical people, while others were obviously mythological.  And then there’s stories like this one, that make up a gray area that could go either way.)  So I want to quote this whole story to you now.


This story is told in the first book of Theophrastus’ Responses to Political Crises

(1) Hypsicreon of Miletus and Promedon of Naxos were the greatest of friends.  When once Promedon came to Miletus it is said that the other man’s wife fell in love with him.  While Hypsicreon was around, she dared not speak to the guest; but after a time, when Hypsicreon happened to have gone abroad and the other was again staying with her, Neaera sallied forth against him by night when he was in bed. (2) First she tried to persuade him; but when he would not give in, through reverence for Zeus in his capacity as patron of friendship and hospitality, she had the maidservants bar the door.  And in this way, what with Neaera employing many forms of seduction, he was forced to have intercourse with her. (3) On the next day, however, thinking that he had done a dreadful thing, he went sailing back to Naxos.  Neaera sailed to Naxos too, in fear of Hypsicreon; and when Hypsicreon asked for her back, she stationed herself as suppliant on the hearth in the prytaneum. (4) Though Hypsicreon was insistent, the Naxians refused to surrender her, yet urged that he might take her if he could persuade her.  Hypsicreon thought this treatment outrageous, and persuaded the Milesians to declare war on the Naxians.

Sounds a bit familiar, eh?  And yet, the differences are also striking:  the adultery is purely the wife’s idea, she leaves of her own will (and possibly not even together with her “lover”), and the people of the other man’s home would return her if they could but religious duty to respect the sanctity of taking shelter with the gods prevents them.

I keep wondering if this is supposed to be true, to explain a real war, or if this is just a myth.  If it is pure myth, is there any chance it pre-dates the version of the Trojan War we know?  Could there have been a version without the adulterous wife angle?  (Admittedly, it’s hard to conceive of one, because the familiar version is stuck in our heads so well, but if the myth is in any way based on real warfare between Wilusa and the Mycenaean Greeks, it was just as likely to be financial and/or part of the larger struggle between the Mycenaeans and the Hittites as to be anything else.)

However, as cool as that would be, it’s probably the other way around:  this story was more likely to have been inspired by the Trojan War than vice-versa.  An earlier tale in Parthenius’ collection also comes from the same Theophrastus source, and tells of the end of this war, in which one of the besieged Naxian maidens falls in love with one of the Milesian warriors.  This happened a lot in the Trojan War…and it wasn’t always Achilles they fell in love with…though it usually was.  In a twist on the usual Trojan version (at least two towns were sacked by Achilles because the princess of the town fell in love with him and let him and his men into the city…resulting in him having her put to death for her treachery), the Naxian maiden convinces…wait, no, it was the Milesian who fell in love with her, not vice-versa.  But that also happens in the Trojan War, for example in late versions where Achilles falls in love with Polyxena.  Anyway, the Naxian maiden convinces her Milesian suitor to turn traitor and let the Naxian men into the Milesian fortress (though Parthenius’ version doesn’t previously mention a fortress, so his story may have been a bit garbled) so that they can defeat the enemy and lift the siege.  Naturally, both maiden and warrior end up dead, but they’re given the burial of heroes.

The similarity — in opposite — of the Naxian maiden’s behavior and that of the princesses of Methymna and Pedasos, as well as the similarity of what the Naxian maiden convinces her lover to do with the what the Trojans attempt to convince Achilles to do for Polyxena…both do seem to indicate that Theophrastus was purposefully subverting the Trojan War tale.  (As do the two warring cities.  Miletus was on the Anatolian coast, and the Mycenaean Greeks gained control of it at least once in the Late Bronze Age (not the Hellenistic writers likely knew that detail) and the Hittites were trying to keep control of it.  Naxos is a Greek island, unlike land-locked Sparta, but the significant part is that it’s purely Hellenic, while Miletus by dint of its location is more “barbaric,” no matter how many of its residents are Hellenes.)  And yet I don’t know how much of the Achilles/Polyxena story existed prior to the Roman Imperial period.  All the surviving versions I know of were written during the rule of the Roman Empire.  That doesn’t mean the story didn’t exist previously, of course, but without an earlier source, we can’t be sure if it did or didn’t.  Was the story first invented to explain why Polyxena was sacrificed at Achilles’ tomb, or was the story of her sacrifice invented because he was already said to have been infatuated with her?

It’s kind of a chicken-and-the-egg debate, you know?  Even if an ancient text is discovered that’s much older than our existing texts, and it tells one of those stories, unless the author expressly states that they’re the first ever to tell the tale (as Stesichoros did with his tale of Helen never even going to Troy) we can’t know if the author invented the story, or if it was circulating for hundreds of years first.  (Usually, anyway.  We can be pretty sure that Euripides invented the tale of Medea murdering her children because of the scholiast who said that rumor had it the Corinthians bribed Euripides to shift the blame from their ancestors to Medea.  That sort of rumor wouldn’t have spread if versions in which Medea killed her children already existed.)

Sometime, I should try and learn whatever I can about Theophrastus and his Responses to Political Crises, and see what we know about it.  From the way the footnotes in this book talked, I get the feeling that Theophrastus’ work is no longer extant, so I can’t just consult it directly, but there may be references to it that make it clear if it’s a history with that theme, or more of a philosophical/ethical discussion of how people might respond to such crises.

No idea when I’ll get around to doing that kind of research, but at least this post will be here to remind me I wanted to look into it.

Back on Track…ish.

Published December 22, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, I haven’t talked about my thesis for a while, so I’m gonna do that now, as I feel like I’ve been getting away from what I intended to be the primary subject matter of my post daily-posting blog.

So, the last time I talked about my thesis at any length, I was still struggling to turn the concept behind it from a literature review of the changes to the myth of the Trojan War over 2000+ years into a proper thesis.  And while that’s still, to a certain extent, true, I have a bit more of a grasp on it now.

I’m focusing on gender roles and the depictions of Achilles, right?  Part of my thesis is that — although modern people might expect otherwise, since he’s the “hero” of the war — Achilles was never truly a paragon of masculinity, having always a certain feminine aspect that left him unlike the other Achaians, and that in all progressive eras, he has continued to fail to reach the status of “truly masculine.”  Obviously, one part of my research will have to be discovering exactly what was “proper masculinity” in all the relevant eras.  (I have some good starting research on that subject from about a year ago, though.)  Anyway, that’s still just a literature review, and that’s about as far as I’d gotten last time.

Now I’ve added another step towards a proper thesis.  I’m going to have to postulate that there’s a reason — not a conscious one, I’m sure — that he fails to achieve “full masculinity” in all these different eras, and that said failure tells us something about those eras, and/or about the human condition, gender roles, gender interactions, whatever fits the evidence.  Obviously, right now this is the “then a miracle occurs” step in the old cartoon:

(c) Sidney Harris (Click for image source.)

But for the moment, I think it’s okay to have a “miracle” step in my planned thesis, ’cause it’s still just a planned thesis.  I can’t actually graduate for some time yet, and since I’ll need to prove competence in a (modern) foreign language, I have a long time yet that I’ll need to be studying.  (In fact, I’m thinking I might want to grit my teeth and take the painfully early, five days a week German courses on campus, and save the summer work at the more expensive university to re-learn Latin and Greek, since trying to re-learn them on my own isn’t working.  Well, okay, Latin would probably work if I could just remember to actually, you know, do it, because I was actually pretty good at Latin back in the day.  Greek…I was never very good at to begin with, so a classroom setting would probably be better/necessary.)

It still bothers me a little that I can’t quite figure out what would be the reason — maybe the cause would be a better way of phrasing it — that one of the “heroes” of Greek myth would be perpetually liminal, not quite fully masculine, but not truly effeminate, either.  Probably it changes from era to era:  the effeminate angle in ancient Rome, for example, would be that the Romans liked to say that everyone who lived to their east was effeminate, including the Greeks.  (Maybe they were compensating for how dress-like their togas were. 😛 )  Of course, if the reason is different in every era, I’m not sure what that’ll do to my thesis.  I’d have to find a common thread, something that tied all the different reasons together.  That or I’d have to find the reason that this is the case for Achilles, but not for the other major human figures of Greek myth.

That’s probably the route to take, focus on what makes his presentation different from that of, say, Odysseus or Heracles, or…probably best to keep it to just a few, actually.  Odysseus is a good choice, being from the same war, and the hero of his own Homeric epic, and Heracles is also a good choice, being a fellow demi-god, who was also bisexual (as we would now call it), and also associated with Troy.  (In fact, there are tons of points of comparison with Heracles:  Heracles and Peleus were both Argonauts, Heracles was closely associated with Aias Telamoniades, Heracles had either a doomed romance or a battle (or both) with an Amazon queen, Heracles and Achilles were both deified after death (much later in Achilles’ case than in Heracles’, of course), et cetera.)

So I guess if I take that route, I’ll also need to compare how Heracles and Odysseus are presented in the various eras.  That shouldn’t be difficult, though; Odysseus, after all, will be present in almost all the same texts as Achilles, and Heracles has never been short of representations in art and literature.  (And although I’m going to be including Hollywood movies, I absolutely draw the line at watching that Disney travesty of the Heracles myth.  Bad enough that I won’t be able to get out of watching Troy; I’m not subjecting myself to anything else on that level of destruction-of-myth.  If I must have a Hollywood interpretation relatively contemporaneous with Troy, then I’ll use the Hercules TV show with the hunky actor instead; I’ve been repeatedly assured that it’s not as ignorant of the myth.  Besides, I’m told its Hades is an overworked bureaucrat, and that’s a pretty fun interpretation of the character.  Also, it’s got Bruce Campbell.)

The cool thing about this thesis topic is this:  although I’ll still have to read a lot of analytical texts to determine the definitions of gender roles in each successive era, the bulk of the argument will actually be based on original works of myth-based fiction and art.  So while other people doing graduate theses on ancient Greece might have to be struggling to translate Thucydides, I’d just be struggling to translate Homer.  And even that would only be for the passages I needed, rather than the whole thing.  (Admittedly, at my university, no one would need to be reading in the original language anyway, but…I think they do urge you away from classical antiquity if you don’t have the languages.)

A down side, though, is that I have absolutely no clue what subcategory of history I’m working in here.  Cultural?  Gender?  Intellectual?  It’s probably a hybrid of Cultural History and Gender Studies, but I’m not even sure.  I don’t think it’s Intellectual History, but…well, I’m taking a course in that next semester, so I guess I’ll find out then.  (Not gonna be a fun course, btw.  But I feel like it’s important to take it.  And I like the professor.)

Okay, so…I guess that’s enough rambling about what my eventual thesis will be about.  Sorry if it’s been boring to read, but sometimes writing it all out like this really helps me think.  (Not sure why.  Talking about it is rarely useful, but typing it…that’s useful.  I guess I just think better with my fingers than with my mouth.)

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