A Friend Reviewed SHADOW OF ATHENA on her Webside

My childhood friend, Ann Metlay of Cottonwood, Arizona, has forged a new career as an artist in a unique medium. Ann creates sculptures from wood she finds in the desert and woodlands near her home. Here is how she describes her work: “I see myself as an assemblage artist, not a sculptor. Nature shapes every piece of wood I find. Using a dremel, a sander, dental picks, wire brushes, and sandpaper, I clean off the mud and dried bits of plant life from each piece I collect. I use primarily papier mache to join these elements into sculptures, where the lines of a palo verde branch gossip with the nubs of cedar bark to form couplings of organic beauty.”

She has created some interesting and truly beautiful works of art. She has also posted a review of my novel SHADOW OF ATHENA in her blog. Check out her website here: Adrift: Desert Wood Assemblages

 

Camping As Research?

 

Ah, summer! We are on our annual camping trip. As twilight falls, I crouch on the shore of a beautiful lake in the Sierras. Before me is the cooking pot in which I made mac and cheese, and it’s very messy, with pasta and congealed cheddar sticking to the bottom and sides. How to clean it? I find myself thinking of the characters of my novels, all of which take place in antiquity, without—of course—any modern conveniences. In most of my stories, my characters have had to survive under very primitive circumstances. How did they cope with a dirty cooking pot? To be sure, they didn’t make mac and cheese, but a greasy stew, where some of the meat stuck to the bottom, would present much the same problem. Perhaps they too crouched on the shore of a lake or stream and used what tools nature provided. I dip my fingers into damp, coarse sand and begin scouring. I can easily imagine the heroines of my stories and their real-life counterparts doing this same chore in the same way. The thought transports me to another world—their world.

The cleanup is surprisingly quick. The sand as an abrasive is not only very efficient but good for the environment as well—no detergent needed. (Note: Do not try this with a non-stick pan!)

Night has fallen. With my clean pot I walk back to my campsite, not using a flashlight. The darkness hones my night vision. I treasure occasions like this where my mind can leap across millennia to commune with the people of ancient times who walked through forests and mountains guided by the sun, and made their way at night without artificial light, aided only by the moon and stars.

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“The Mighty Dead” by Adam Nicolson—A Book Review

homerTHE MIGHTY DEAD, by Adam Nicholson—A Book Review

 

Who was Homer? Was he (or she) one person or many? Did a person named Homer even exist? Are the Homeric epics, so rich in detail, a record of a great conflict that took place at ancient Troy? And if so, why have archaeologists never reached a consensus about when it took place or indeed if it happened at all? Those of us who are interested in ancient history in general and Homer in particular cannot help but wonder about these questions.

Being passionate about Homer, I was thrilled to discover The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters, by Adam Nicolson. It is a riveting, unexpectedly beautiful book, an extraordinary redefinition of Homer that takes us back through the mists of time for a look at what just might have been the origin of the Homeric epics.

The Trojan War, Nicolson believes, took place far earlier than we have previously conjectured. He imagines a conflict, or clash of cultures, “a fusion of two very different worlds,” that happened around 2,000 BC between “the semi-nomadic, hero-based culture of the Eurasian steppes,” the peoples who migrated south to inhabit the land we know as Greece, and “the sophisticated, authoritarian, and literate cities and palaces of the eastern Mediterranean.” He defends his thesis with convincing evidence from ancient history, archaeological sites and relics, the oral traditions of Bronze Age cultures, and many other sources. “Greekness,” he writes, “and eventually Europeanness, emerged from the meeting and melding of those two worlds.” His quest takes us on a journey of discovery, and in the process we learn who—or what—Homer is, and why he is relevant to our modern civilization.

To Nicolson the question is not “Who was Homer?” but “What is Homer?” Although Nicolson personifies Homer as “he,” he defines him not a single person or even a group but as “the inherited tradition and memory” of a culture, passed down over millennia, and its essence, he says, is “a form of concentrated wisdom about the condition of life on this earth.”

But Homer is real and may be encountered in one’s life, as Nicolson did, and Keats before him, and many others whose stories Nicolson relates, and as I too have felt in coming face to face with the truth of the Homeric poems. Reading Nicolson’s marvelous book, I found myself saying, Yes, this makes sense, or Yes, this is why I find Homer so compelling, and highlighting some of the most beautifully written and cogent passages so that I could return to them again and again. I recommend this book to all who care about history and the deepest truths of our journey on this earth.

Reviewed by Elena Douglas (AKA Barbara Brunetti)

Who Was Briseis?

 

Briseis may have looked like this.
Briseis may have looked like this.

When I first read the Iliad, Briseis captured my imagination and begged me to tell her story. Who was Briseis? Everyone’s heard of Achilles. Mention the name of Briseis, however, and you’ll likely be met with a blank stare. A very minor character in Homer’s Iliad, she only appears a few times in the epic and has just one short if poignant speech. Yet without her there would be no quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, no Iliad at all.

Wife of the prince of a small kingdom near Troy, she must have had great beauty and courage to instantly win the heart of Achilles, the mighty warrior who sacked her city, killing her husband and three brothers. What were her thoughts and feelings as she stood before him realizing that she was now his slave? After all the havoc he had wreaked in her life, how could she come to love him? Yet she clearly did.

As I began to write about her, I was interested to find out if others had done so before me. A few historical novels of the Trojan War touch on the love story of Achilles and Briseis, all with varying interpretations. I also discovered two novels entirely about Briseis. Naturally I was curious about the competition.

The first one was Daughter of Troy, by Sarah B. Franklin, originally published in 1998. I was not overly impressed. The historical details are accurate, and the author follows the general storyline but gets sidetracked by having Briseis jump into bed with all the men she meets. And did the author have to describe these men’s private parts in such minute detail? What woman writes like that? Well, it turns out that Sarah B. Franklin is a pseudonym. “She” is actually a man, author of many successful works of science fiction and fantasy.

The second book was Hand of Fire, by Judith Starkston, published by Fireship Press in 2014. Ms. Starkston’s book is well written and meticulously researched. Her Troy and its surrounds are peopled by the Hittites, and Briseis is a healing priestess to a Hittite goddess. Ms. Starkston closely follows the Iliad’s storyline—as I do in my novel of Briseis, Warrior’s Prize. Ms. Starkston too has created a strong heroine in charge of her own destiny. Beyond that, her book and mine have differences: the beginning and end, the way the love story unfolds, the role of the gods, and more. Hand of Fire is a most rewarding read. I highly recommend it.

If you enjoy ancient history and are interested in a passionate love story, check out Warrior’s Prize when it comes out with Knox Robinson Publishing in 2017. For more about it and my other books, including Shadow of Athena, due to be published in 2016 by Knox Robinson, visit my website at http://www.elenadouglas.com and my author page “Elena Douglas” on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter at “Barbara Brunetti.”

A Direct Link Between Myth and History?

legionxiiiiA direct link between myth and recorded history? You decide. An ancient legend, an ancient curse. A sacrilege is committed in Athena’s sanctuary during the sack of Troy. The goddess demands retribution. Two maidens, sworn to virginity, must serve as slaves for a year in her temple on an alien shore. Two new girls must be sent every year—for a thousand years.

Think it sounds far fetched? Think again. The Trojan War, if it happened at all, supposedly took place around 1200 B.C. So while this ritual may have originated in myth, historical evidence tells us that it was re-enacted annually until almost 300 B.C. That’s pretty close to a thousand years.

The Greek warrior Ajax’s rape of Cassandra in Athena’s Trojan temple was a sacrilege so outrageous that the wrathful goddess sank his homebound fleet, killing him and all his men, then wreaked famine and pestilence on his native realm, Locris. When the beleaguered citizens asked the Oracle of Delphi how to lift her curse, they learned that they must send the goddess two maiden slaves—you guessed it—every year for a thousand years.

What was it like, I wondered, to be one of those maidens chosen against her will and bound for an unforgiving shore? This is the premise for my novel Shadow of Athena.

Sixteen-year-old Marpessa’s name is drawn to be one of the unfortunate maidens. She and another girl must cross the Aegean to serve as slaves in Athena’s temple in Troy. As a part of the ritual, once they land they are hunted like prey and can be killed until they reach the sanctuary. If they survive their journey and their servitude, they return home at the end of a year but must remain virgins for life.

The day she is chosen is just the beginning of Marpessa’s troubles. Many unforeseen calamities befall her and the male slave sent to help her. Even if the two can find their way home at the end of their trials, Marpessa’s vengeful thwarted suitor awaits them there with murder in his heart.

To find out what happens, look for Shadow of Athena, by Elena Douglas, to be published by Knox Robinson Publishing in 2016.