Tag Archives: ancient history

Review: A Song of War is Excellent Epic Collaboration of Troy

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Review –

One of my favorite historical and mythical places to read, watch, and learn about is Troy. Of course, I was quite pleased when the H Team collection of stellar historical authors, several of whom are already some of my favorite authors, decided to make it their focus for their next continuity anthology called A Song of War: A Novel of Troy! It’s quite a large book so I was happy I had the time to read and savor each section over a few months. Different than many anthologies, except the other great ones by the H Team, it takes a time period and place with each author identifying with a person and featuring them with similar supporting characters. The book as a whole then intertwines all the stories, even with the authors showcasing snippets of a previous author’s character in the interactions with their character, and creates a whole over arching view, which in this collection spans over a decade. To me, it’s clever and such an interesting way to read a story.

We generally know about the Trojan War and don’t always realize the entire story of the Iliad’s cast of characters. This book allowed them to be expanded on and shone in various ways that me, and maybe other readers, might not have ever thought of before.

I really enjoyed how when Kate Quinn started off the series, she was able to set it up to show us that many different types of cultures and people lived in Troy and interacted together. She showed us that there was some prejudices toward people based on skin color and I felt it was a good mirror for the current issues that lie today in the U.S., in which some don’t want to accept our melting pot.She also was able to write Helen of Troy as the strong willed, if not a little jilted, woman I had come to love myself, gaining some momentum in her section as far as character development by juxtaposing Helen’s personality and relationship situation against that of  Andromache, who is clever and witty. I did see Helen as somewhat more settled or resigned in her situation with her husband, King Menelaus, than I normally thought her to be, but it worked with Kate’s story. I loved her characterization of Andromache especially – I found her inquisitive, funny, and smart. The various discussions and thoughts between the other characters in each section of her portion were intriguing and made me very interested to read the rest of the stories. She has, as always, a knack for dialogue and humor.

Stephanie Thornton’s second song, or story, featured Cassandra, the biracial twin of Hellenus. Her careful display of Hellenus, and her frustrations, are touching and poignant. Exploring the dark regions of her character’s mind invoked me into the inner realm of Troy; the part that lies within these characters who are experiencing such turmoil and confusion. Her steady pace and intuitive prose was like a drum beat of war, pacing the tension as the book started to deeply unfold. As Kate introduced the concept that people in Troy where of all mingling races, Stephanie extends that as well into her story, allowing these two stories to complement each other so very well and get the book off to an outstanding start in its first 100 pages. Of course Stephanie is a beautiful writer, amazingly descriptive and she really sets the scenes before our eyes.

Each of the authors brought a specific need and voice to the body of work. Russell Whitfield is an author I didn’t really know previously, but he’s certainly caught my eye. His writing style is somewhat different, maybe it’s the sentence structure, but it created a flow for me while I read and a desire to know, to understand, and to empathize with his characters. It’s not easy being the author who has to write about a character like Agamemnon, that generally most people don’t like and that history has showcased as being a harsh commander of war (AKA King of Argos). But Russell writes with compassion, with feeling, and with a depth and talent. He gives to us the story of a man who really hasn’t been able to tell his story yet, and he accomplished it very well.

Christian Cameron is another author I had heard of, but never read. He writes in a more old-fashioned style, which is quite fine, it’s just that he gets to his point with precision and doesn’t embellish. I tend to like a little more breathing room within my sentences. He wrote the story of a female character, Briseis, which is actually one of my personal favorite characters. She was a slave to Agamenmon. I am not sure, since I haven’t read him previously, if he would normally write a woman with a more matter-of-fact personality, or this is just what he planned for Briseis, but either way, he gave her a different persona than what I had in my head previously. It took a minute to get used to it, but I can value his style and perceptions. He is excellent in terms of action writing and has a great style for war and military action. He presented Achilles rather well I’d say. I would have preferred he’d softened Briseis and his dialogue to a degree, but his story fit in nicely with all the rest and helped to complete the package and fit more pieces of the puzzle together.

Libbie Hawker is one of those authors that I know of her work but have not had the time yet to read so I didn’t know what  to expect. Her story focused mainly on Philoctetes, who comes to Troy without the war baggage of the rest of the stories. He pines for Achilles and feels this loss, just as he also carried the weight of the word “hero” on his shoulders. He possesses Heracles bow, and with it, to many, power. It was wonderful to see Libbie write this tale of a gay man with such emotion and delicacy, letting us see his inner strength of mind and purpose. I love the interaction between Achilles and Philoctetes once they meet up again – their friendship and understanding was touching. Achilles has war fatigue which was evident and the hope that Philoctetes reverberated, his intent to save him after receiving an omen, is striking. She seemed to hone home about them being ordinary men, which I suppose we could think historically they were, but as a person who really loves the mythology of it all, it did set me back a bit. However, I suppose that is what makes you think. The final battles between characters at the end of her story – I don’t want to give any spoilers – were tragic and swift and left me somewhat in tears. I enjoyed her story overall and we still get wonderful glimpses and nuggets of the other characters from throughout the book.

Vicky Alvear Shecter writes the second to the last story of Odysseus. It’s a short piece but one that’s needed as she shows a war torn Troy- a place in need of this war to end. Her ingenuity in her interpretation and re-telling of the legend of the Trojan Horse was astoundingly good and I would have never seen it coming. I’m already a huge fan of Vicky and as always her characterization is excellent and her writing good, but it’s her idea and take on this old myth that left me speechless. She’s stellar in the way that she can tell a story in less pages than most and have as much or more impact as the others. I loved how she tied up quickly lots of scenes within the other stories, as well as tightened the overall arc, before setting it up in priceless fashion and letting the reader head into the final story by SJA Turney.

SJA is another writer again that I’ve not read (even though I should as he writes Roman novels), but to be given the task of writing the last story in the book, I knew he had to be trusted enough to be able to pull it all together in a way that would give the book a lasting legacy. Now, after reading his story of Aeneas, I can see why he had to write this last song or story. To allow us a glimpse into this finale of Troy. In a quick lesson, Aeneas was a character of Homer (related to some of the other characters in  A Song of War) that migrates from there to Italy and ties in as an ancestor of Rome by the time Virgil takes over for Homer. It’s in this way that Aeneas is so important to the everything. SJA writes this last story so phenomenally well; with grace and emotion, with fortitude to write something so dire and sad, and with eloquence and emotion. I am a new fan of SJA and will be seeking out his other works. I really loved his writing style. In wrapping up A Song of War, he really did an amazing job of pulling all the strings together and leaving us with closure and hope.

Overall, this epic story of Troy was a huge undertaking by this group of authors that surpassed my expectations. I could tell not only did they each write a story, but they worked with each other on all the stories to make sure characters lined up as far as plot and personality, calling on each other’s strengths, and really made it all look rather seamless so that it appeared almost if they wrote a novel together instead of separate stories.

A Song of War is one of the best books you’ll ever find to read surrounding Troy, and if you love Homer’s Iliad, you’ll certainly want to take a closer look at all the characters you love and hate by reading this collection. Love, greed, war, myth, humanity, passion, sacrifice, jealously, intrigue – A Song of War has it all. College English and history classes won’t be teaching only the Iliad anymore, they’ll be reaching for A Song a War to accompany it. It was a pleasure to read and is the perfect book for any history or myth lover and well worth investing in this bookshelf keepsake. It’s one to be read more than once to really appreciate its depth.

02_a-song-of-warA Song of War: A Novel of Troy

by Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton, SJA Turney, and Russell Whitfield
Foreward by Glyn Iliffe

Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Knight Media, LLC
eBook & Paperback; 483 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Ancient History/Anthology

Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy’s gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.

A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.

A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.

A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.

A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.

A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.

A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.

A goddess’ son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood.

Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age?

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About the Authors

CHRISTIAN CAMERON was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962. He grew up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Iowa City, Iowa,Christian Cameron and Rochester, New York, where he attended McQuaid Jesuit High School and later graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in history.

After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), he joined the United States Navy, where he served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, he became a full time writer in 2000. He lives in Toronto (that’s Ontario, in Canada) with his wife Sarah and their daughter Beatrice, currently age four. And a half.

LIBBIE HAWKER was born in Rexburg, Idaho and divided her childhood between Eastern Idaho’s rural environs and the greater Seattle area. She presently lives in Seattle, but has also been a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah; Bellingham, Washington; and Tacoma, Washington. She loves to write about character and place, and is inspired by the bleak natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain region and by the fascinating history of the Puget Sound.

After three years of trying to break into the publishing industry with her various books under two different pen names, Libbie finally turned her back on the mainstream publishing industry and embraced independent publishing. She now writes her self-published fiction full-time, and enjoys the fact that the writing career she always dreamed of having is fully under her own control.

KATE QUINN is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER is the author of the young adult novel, Cleopatra’s Moon (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra’s only daughter. She is also the author of two award-winning biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta. The LA Times calls Cleopatra’s Moon, “magical” and “impressive.” Publisher’s Weekly said it was “fascinating” and “highly memorable.” The Wall Street Journal called it “absorbing.”

STEPHANIE THORNTON is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

Her novels, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt, The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan, and The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great, tell the stories of history’s forgotten women.

SJA TURNEY lives with his wife, son and daughter, and two (close approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire.

Marius’ Mules was his first full length novel. Being a fan of Roman history, SJA decided to combine his love of writing and love of the classical world. Marius’ Mules was followed two years later by Interregnum – an attempt to create a new fantasy story still with a heavy flavour of Rome.

These have been followed by numerous sequels, with three books in the fantasy ‘Tales of the Empire’ series and five in the bestselling ‘Marius’ Mules’ one. 2013 has seen the first book in a 15th century trilogy – ‘The Thief’s Tale’ – and will also witness several side projects seeing the light of day.

RUSSELL WHITFIELD was born in Shepherds Bush in 1971. An only child, he was raised in Hounslow, West London, but has since escaped to Ham in Surrey.

Gladiatrix was Russ’s first novel, published in 2008 by Myrmidon Books. The sequel, Roma Victrix, continues the adventures Lysandra, the Spartan gladiatrix, and a third book, Imperatrix, sees Lysandra stepping out of the arena and onto the field of battle.

Giveaway

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Review: On the Edge of Sunrise by Cynthia Ripley Miller – Romance and Political Intrigue in 450 AD

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On the Edge of Sunrise (The Long-Hair Saga #1)

by Cynthia Ripley Miller

Publication Date: March 23, 2015
Knox Robinson Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 309 Pages

Genre: Historical Romance

When love commands, destiny must obey.

The year is AD 450. The Roman Empire wanes as the Medieval Age awakens. Attila the Hun and his horde conquer their way across Europe into Gaul. Caught between Rome’s tottering empire and Attila’s threat are the Frankish tribes and their ‘Long-Hair’ chiefs, northern pagans in a Roman Christian world, and a people history will call the Merovingians.

A young widow, Arria longs for a purpose and a challenge. She is as well versed in politics and diplomacy as any man … but with special skills of her own. The Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, sends a remarkable envoy, a woman, to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul. Arria will persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila.

When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic, rescues her. Alarmed by the instant and passionate attraction she feels, Arria is torn between duty and desire. Her arranged betrothal to the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp. Rebels in a falling empire, Arria and Garic must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.

Review

For always saying I don’t read romance, I certainly am reading a lot of historical romance lately. However, when I am asked to review these historical fiction books I pick them because of all the great history and plot involved. I think the romance is something swirled into it, but not at all like a harlequin-type read. On the Edge of Sunrise, Book One of the Long-Hair Saga, by Cynthia Ripley Miller, is one of those types of books that is filled full of historical detail and story based on a great deal of research of 450 AD and the conflict between Attila the Hun, Gaul, and the Frankish Long-Hair chiefs.

This side of the world during this time period is something I’ve rarely read about or seen much written on and it was refreshingly new and different. I do generally really enjoy ancient history and so much of this was enticing. I can tell that Cynthia did an extensive amount of research of cultures/tribes, battles, weaponry, and landscape of the time to give readers a beautifully detailed account of the heated interactions and political machinations.

The romance between Arria, a Roman, and Garic, a Frank warrior, lends to soften to the over political story and bring some suspenseful tension. We are propelled by their dangerous love story through the pages quickly and treated to a foundation of history of the time period. She wrote two heroic and courageous people as her leads, even though they come from different experiences. The book doesn’t focus on their romance too much though, but more on those that surround them and interact with them (and conspire against them) which creates a dramatic story line filled with a well-developed cast.

Cynthia adeptly creates the time period for us in all its tenuous detail, with many vivid images. I enjoyed learning about the rise of Christianity in that area and the juxtaposition of all the cultures. She wrote battle scenes well without over doing the violence, but with fervent action that kept the book exciting. Her descriptions are bold and helped to carry the book along for me as a reader.

As an editor, some constructive things I might note for future development is to work on the dialogue to seem more natural, and not forced or stilted. Maybe she did that to represent it being so long ago  and not their actual language, but I think it could be softened. Also, I was also a little held up by sentence structure and felt that the book could improve by letting the sentences flow more freely. The cover is pretty, but makes it look like it’s all romance when it has so much else to offer!

Overall, it took me some focused concentration to read as it taught so much history between its pages, and her prose wasn’t light and airy, but more grounded, but that’s not a bad thing. It wasn’t a quick light romance at all, but I don’t like to read those anyway. I just tell you that in case that’s what you’re looking for in your historical fiction. It’s a deep look at a ancient time and place not often showcased, where so many rivaled for power, as well as the story of a very motivated and intelligent woman who used her abilities to change her own destiny.

I recommend for a long weekend by the fireplace somewhere it’s cold and your can cuddle up inside and get lost in time. Myself, I look forward to the next book in the series.

Purchase

AMAZON (KINDLE) | AMAZON (PAPERBACK) | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY

Praise

“From cover to cover a gripping read – in all senses of the word! Grips your interest and imagination, your held breath and your pounding heart! A thumping good novel!” –Helen Hollick, USA Today bestselling author & Managing Editor Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews

“AD 450. The Roman Empire is breaking apart, and Attila the Hun has his sights set on conquering Gaul. … The love story between Garic and Arria is set against a background of fierce battles, intrigue, jealousy and betrayal. … The story weaves, twists and turns at a tremendous pace, and the characters leap off the pages, which simply keep on turning. This is the author’s debut novel, the first in her ‘Long Hair’ series. I look forward to reading more in due course. Recommended. – Marilyn Sherlock, Historical Novel Society, HNR Issue 74 (November 2015)

“On the Edge of Sunrise is a compelling epic, sure to appeal to fans of historical fiction. Forbidden love, a turbulent time period, and world-changing events combine to produce a real page-turner.” – India Edghill, author of Queenmaker, Wisdom’s Daughter, and Delilah

“On the Edge of Sunrise is a passionate and intriguing take on the often overlooked clash of three brutal and powerful empires: the Romans, Franks, and Huns. A Compelling read!” – Stephanie Thornton, author of The Secret History and The Tiger Queens

03_Cynthia Ripley Miller.jpgAuthor Cynthia Ripley Miller, Biography

Cynthia Ripley Miller is the author of On the Edge of Sunrise, the first novel in the Long-Hair Saga, a series set in late ancient Rome and France, and a Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist. She has lived and traveled in Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean, taught history and currently teaches English. Her short stories have appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, The Scriptor, and at Orchard Press Mysteries.com.

Cynthia blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website, http://www.cynthiaripleymiller.com. She lives with her husband and their cat, Romulus, and German Shepherd, Jessie, in a suburb of Chicago. Book Two: The Quest for the Crown of Thorns will be published in October of 2016.

For more information visit http://www.cynthiaripleymiller.com. You can also connect with Cynthia on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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Celebrating Women Series: Judith Starkston on Powerful Hittite and Mycenaean Queens

Welcome to the 12th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Judith Starkston for offering the 12th article in this series. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.

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Trojan Women:
Women’s Roles in Ancient Anatolia and Mycenaean Greece

Part II: A Woman’s View from the Top:
Hittite and Mycenaean Queens
by historian and author Judith Starkston

One way to see how a society views women is to examine its leaders. Are women included and, if they are, to whatQueen-Helen-and-Paris-oil-painting-Guido-Reni-1631-©-Zenodot-Verlagsgesellschaft-mbH-Wikimedia-Commons extent? Both the Hittite and Mycenaean world had powerful queens. I’ll look in particular at Queen Puduhepa and Queen Helen of Sparta (both c. 1250 BC).

Hittite queens definitely wielded power in the court. When her husband, the king, died a Hittite queen continued as Tawananna, Great Queen and high priestess of the Hittite realm, which indicates an independent status. They were not, however, the primary ruler. Even while they continued as queen, their son or some other male relation took over as king. In an interesting sidelight, this meant that the new king’s wife did not take over as queen until her mother-in-law died. As you can imagine, this did make for some very strained relationships—the echoes of which we hear even through the ancient clay tablets of formal court business (Collins, 101).

Puduhepa is the Hittite queen we know the most about since she corresponded with Ramesses II, the Pharoah of Egypt, and she made religious declarations, treaties, and judicial decisions which were recorded by scribes. Puduhepa was the wife of Hattusili III. Before her marriage she was a priestess, “a handmaiden of Ishtar.” She was said to be very beautiful, and Hattusili tells us he married her following a vision he had in a dream. Many years into their marriage, Hattusili wrote that the goddess Ishtar blessed them with “the love of husband and wife” (Hughes, 188). Hattusili was frequently sick, and he depended on his strong-willed, highly intelligent wife to help him run the vast Hittite empire (Bryce, 13). He shows every sign of trusting her completely. We do not know if other queens, with less commanding personalities, had quite as much lee-way. Probably not, but they had great independence nonetheless.

stamp-seal-from-the-Louvre-probably-Egyptian-photo-©-Rama-Wikimedia-CommonsHittite queens regularly shared seals with their husbands, giving them the right to “sign” official documents and independently conduct the business of the realm. Puduhepa had her own seal. In fact, the stamp seal of Queen Puduhepa can be seen today in the Corum Museum, Turkey. Much as Puduhepa stands out as a distinctive woman, however, she could not have been treated with respect by the Egyptian pharoah and exercised broad political power unless queens generally could do many of the same things she did. Her reign is a window into what a woman at the top could do in the Hittite Empire.

Puduhepa carried on diplomatic correspondence with Egypt on equal terms with the Pharoah. She co-signed with her husband the copy of the Egyptian-Hittite treaty that was sent to Egypt (Collins, 100).

Treaty-of-Qadesh-between-Egypt-and-Hittites-©-Giovanni-DallOrto-WikiMedia-Commons

During negotiations with Ramesses II regarding her daughter’s marriage to the pharaoh, she received exact duplicates of the letters he sent to her husband. At one point when she had to delay sending her daughter to him because she found herself short on the needed dowry funds due to a fire in her treasury house, she sent a down-right cranky letter to Ramesses pointing out that he hardly needed the money and should not rushing her. Her willingness to call to account Ramesses, clearly one of the most powerful leaders of the world at that point, speaks of her confidence in her position. Here’s an excerpt from her letter:

“Does my brother [i.e. Ramesses] possess nothing at all? Only if the son of the Sun-God, the son of the Storm-God, and the sea have nothing do you have nothing! Yet, my brother, you seek to enrich yourself at my expense. That is worthy neither of your reputation, nor your status.” (Hughes, 189)

Puduhepa adjudicated many challenging legal cases in the place of her husband; one, for example, regarded the ownership of sunken treasure once a ship had been attacked (Hughes, 189). She also ordered a complete reorganization of the Hittite state religion. It’s true that the Hittite pantheon was a mess with thousands of gods, many borrowed from wherever the Hittites happened to have conquered, and lots of “duplicate” gods, but you can imagine how much authority and power a pope would have to have in order to bump a few saints, rename a few others, combine this version of Mary with that one and reject another all together—you get the idea. She was both deeply devout and immensely influential.

I think we can conclude that Hittite queens had significant power in their own right.

On the Mycenaean side, the picture comes to us from radically different sources. Instead of treaties and other official court documents, we have myth and legend, passed on orally through generations until finally written down in epics, plays, and other literature. About Queen Helen of Sparta, we can’t even assert with absolute certainty that she was a real historical character. But for what it’s worth, and I think that’s actually worth a great deal, myth and legend paint a picture of powerful Mycenaean queens also.

The person who has made the strongest case for a powerful Bronze Age Helen and her sister Mycenaean queens is Bettany Hughes in her book Helen of Troy and in her BBC documentary on the same topic. I’ll quote her argument from her book:

“Time and again in literature and myth-stories [of the Mycenaean period] we hear that women are the kingmakers, that the right to monarchy does not pass from husband to son, but from mother to daughter. Men have to win a crown by winning a wife [in athletic/military contests held by the king for his daughter’s hand]. Helen’s half-sister Clytemnestra makes her lover, Aigisthos, king while her husband Agamemnon is overseas, fighting the Trojan War; Pelops (who gave his name to the Peloponnese) becomes King of Elis through his marriage to Hippodamia; Oedipus is crowned the King of Thebes when he marries Queen Jocasta. Even faithful Penelope, left at home by Odysseus, seems to have the prerogative to choose who will be her next king. And, of course, Menelaus becomes King of Sparta when he marries Helen.

Tradition tells us that along with his daughters Helen and Clytemnestra, Tyndareus had two sons—Castor and Pollux. And yet there is no suggestion that either of them will inherit their father’s title when he dies. It is Helen who will become queen and it is only marriage to Helen that will bring regal status and sovereignty over the Spartan territory. We hear from Pausanias, amplifying Homer, that it is not one of Menelaus’ sons, not even his ‘favorite son’, who becomes king of Sparta. Instead it is the children of Helen’s daughter Hermione who succeed to the throne” (Hughes, 78-79).

Queen-Clytemnestra-oil-painting-John-Collier-1882-Wikimedia-CommonsTo sum up Bettany Hughes’s case, rule of Mycenaean kingdoms passed through the women, and the rule was held in their name and through their authority. No wonder Menelaus ran after Helen when Paris took her off to Troy. She was his meal-ticket to power. Without her, he had no formal justification for rule. Hughes shows that this pattern is reflected throughout the mythological record of Mycenaean courts. Another piece in Hughes’s argument for a powerful Helen rests in the treasure she and Paris are said to steal when they run off to Troy. On the eight occasions in Homer when this treasure is mentioned, it is ascribed to Helen not Menelaus. “We hear in Troy that Paris begins to ‘fight Menelaus for Helen’s treasure’. If wealth was the honey-pot which attracted suitors like Menelaus, women like Helen appear to have owned and enjoyed the honey” (Hughes, 80).

It would be more persuasive if the Linear B tablets included the kinds of court documents that we find in the Hittite capital of Hattusa, but they don’t. In the Iliad the kings who have led their warriors to Troy do not seem to need their queens to conduct business, but war until the twenty-first century AD was a decidedly male dominated activity, and perhaps the queens are back home ruling the home front with absolute power of their own. Penelope and Clytemnestra seem to indicate that is the case. It is also true that as the Bronze Age shifts into the Iron Age—that is the age during which Homer actually sang/composed the Iliad—with massive upheavals of peoples throughout the Mediterranean, women lose the power they had. We see this evidence in everything from drinking rituals that shift from centering on women to excluding them (Steel) to loss of property rights. Perhaps Homer is reflecting his Iron Age reality in this case, rather than the earlier period he professes to portray. That is always a sticky issue when trying to use Homer as history—just which historical period might Homer be depicting.

However, I think it’s awfully tricky to explain away all those legends of heroes moving into town to compete for the king’s daughter and ending up king when they win. And then having to leave the kingdom to their daughters. Seems pretty fishy behavior for an entirely patrilineal society. But it isn’t the sort of academic history that scholars find so reassuring for good reasons. Fortunately this isn’t a graduate thesis and we don’t have to decide one way or the other. It’s a pleasure to ponder the possibilities from ancient pages.

Bibliography for this article:

Bryce, Trevor. Life and Society in the Hittite World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Collins, Billie Jean. The Hittites and Their World. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007

Hughes, Bettany. Helen of Troy. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Steel, Louise. “Wine, Women and Song: Drinking Ritual in Cyprus” in Engendering Aphrodite: Women and Society in Ancient Cyprus, edited by Diane Bolger and Nancy Serwint. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Reports, 2002.

Judith Starkston, Biography~

Author PhotoJudith writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire, as well as the occasional contemporary short story. She also reviews on her website, as well as Historical Novels Review, the New York Journal of Books and the Poisoned Fiction Review.

She trained as a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) and taught high school English, Latin and humanities.

As part of the research for her novels, she traveled extensively in Turkey. With her husband, she has two grown children and lives in Phoenix, AZ, along with our golden retriever Socrates.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JudithStarkston

Website:  www.judithstarkston.com

Hand of Fire, Fireship Press 2014, Synopsis~
(Cover not revealed yet)

Hand of Fire tells the tale of Briseis, the captive woman Achilles and Agamemnon fought over in the Iliad. When Achilles, the half-immortal Greek warrior, takes Briseis captive in the midst of the Trojan War, he gets more than he bargained for: a healing priestess, a strong-willed princess—and a warrior. She raises a sword against Achilles and ignites a passion that seals his fate and changes her destiny.

Achilles and a Nereid Attic red-figure vase photo by Marie Lan Nguyen

We’ve learned a lot through archaeology over the last twenty years about the people who lived in and around Troy and further east into the Hittite Empire. The civilization of the Hittites, sharing much the same culture as their allies the Trojans, was buried and nearly forgotten until the 20th century. Huge libraries of cuneiform clay tablets have been brought to light and translated.

The right moment to tell Briseis’s story has arrived—now that those clay tablets and digs have told us about her world. But the impetus for my novel came from a question that had bugged me each time I taught the Iliad. Briseis, being a woman in a patriarchal epic, gets only a handful of lines, but one thing Homer insists on is the mutual bond of love between Achilles and Briseis. Huh? Isn’t Achilles the guy who destroyed Briseis’s city, reduced her from princess to slave, and killed a lot of people she loved?

Yes, he is, but before anyone assumes “Stockholm Syndrome,” let me add some critical Homeric characterization. Achilles is conflicted and half-immortal. He’s the best warrior who nonetheless questions the value of war and wonders what the purpose of life is. Achilles is an existential hero who is way too fragmented and likeable to be a brainwasher. He’s the one in need of mental assistance.

So what, I wondered, drew Briseis to Achilles? That was my quest—to find the qualities in Briseis that could make her understand and need this odd if hunky hero, in spite of all the bad history between them. In that clay-stored history I discovered powerful women, queens and priestesses who served as healers and intermediaries with the gods. Mix in careful doses of imagination and Briseis emerged—strong and subtle enough to challenge the greatest of the Greeks. I hope I’ve created an historically believable Briseis in a fast-moving tale that finally gives this mysterious young woman a voice that epic tradition denied her.

Advance Praise for Hand of Fire

“Suspenseful, tragic, surprising and sexy” –Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice

“Absolutely loved the book. Couldn’t put it down. Wonderful writing. And, I see no errors whatsoever as regards the history.” –Professor Eric Cline, Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, George Washington University

“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad‘s most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell and 9 other Prioress Eleanor mysteries

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