Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am pleased to be bringing to you all a guest post courtesy of Cath Mayo who along with David Hair is the co-author of the soon to be released (it’s out on Nov 8th) Athena’s Champion (The Olympus Trilogy #1).
It is an absolutely fascinating guest post so I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did. 🙂
Athena’s Champion (The Olympus Trilogy #1).
- Paperback: 364 pages
- Publisher: Canelo Digital Publishing Limited (8 Nov. 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1788634217
- ISBN-13: 978-1788634212
- Amazon UK / Amazon US
The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful gods who would control or destroy him…
Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.
Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.
When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…
Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus Trilogy, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell
Guest Post: A 3000-year Odyssey: a hero’s reputation under siege by Cath Mayo.
Homer’s favourite hero Odysseus is a complex, sometimes flawed but likeable character. While admitting his faults, we can recognise and applaud his quick wit and cunning, his resourcefulness and courage, his creativity and audacity, his eloquence and intelligence, his curiosity, his empathy with other people, his loyalty to his companions, his steadfast nature and powers of endurance, his belief in equality in marriage, and his love for his wife and son, and for his island home.
Countless readers have longed for his homecoming, even when they roll their eyes at some of his mistakes. When, at the end, he defeats the suitors and finally embraces his courageous wife Penelope, we are left hoping that their troubles are behind them.
Maybe he did live out the rest of his life as the prophet Tiresias foretold, happy, and surrounded by his own people. But Fate, after his death, has not always been so kind.
He is described, at the start of The Odyssey, as “polytropon”, a word which translates literally as “of many turns”. The Greek word is multi-layered – it can mean “turned” as well as “turning” and needs a paragraph, if not an essay, to translate. In Homer’s poem, Odysseus meets with a series of catastrophes and adapts to overcome them. He is someone who can think on his feet, confronting change and changing to meet it. So far, so good.
Adaptability, in our fast-changing modern world, is often praised as a virtue, but can still be viewed as a vice. We believe, for example, that another person is intelligent and trustworthy if, having disagreed with us, they later concur. But if a politician changes their mind, even about something they said many years before, we think they’re flaky at best or at worst, utterly untrustworthy.
It is this dark shadow cast by Odysseus’s flexibility, his ability to change and to master change, which has often dogged his reputation among later writers and philosphers.
While Sophocles, the Athenian tragedian, portrayed Odysseus in his early play Ajax as a magnanimous, compassionate and modest hero, he presented him in his later plays as a villain, as did Euripides. Perhaps they were reacting to the behaviour of contemporary politicians – the flamboyant , charismatic but ultimately treacherous Alcibiades, for instance – and hoping to make some current political statement under the guise of mythology?
The answer may run deeper. This was a time of huge turmoil in Ancient Greece. The Persian invasions were followed by the Peloponnesian War and by repeated attacks of plague. Statesmanship had descended into demagogy and oratory into sophism. Plato, who never spoke well of Odysseus, was trying to find stability amidst chaos through his theory of unchanging Ideals; to such a person, the concept of someone who embodied and indeed almost seemed to thrive on change, was challenging. To Plate, flexibility was evil, constancy was good.
Odysseus did have supporters. Aristotle, Plutarch and the Alexandrian scholars stood by him. In particular, the Stoics praised him for his courage, resourcefulness, moderation, endurance and piety – though they would have preferred him to have wept a little less often.
As the Roman Republic grew in power and self-confidence, the Romans looked to the past to find a fitting ancestry. For a while, because the Trojans had lost the Great War of antiquity, the Romans searched for their roots amongst the Greek victors, and picked out Odysseus – with his links to Circe’s island off the coast of Italy – and his friend Diomedes, as the most likely candidates. Influential Romans such as Horace, Ovid and Cicero praised him for his Stoic qualities.
But major historical events thrust Odysseus back into the dog box. The Greek kingdoms which had dominated the Eastern Mediterranean, thanks to Alexander the Great, were overwhelmed by Rome’s expansion. The killer blow came at Actium, where Mark Anthony’s and Cleopatra’s Greek-Egyptian fleet was crushed by their great rival, Octavian.
Octavian became the emperor Augustus and Greece went from being the time-honoured conquerors of Troy to the Biggest Losers. In addition, praising the Greeks, Augustus’s foes at Actium, might well be seen as disloyal.
So when Virgil set out to write an epic poem to rival Homer, and establish Rome’s ancestry once and for all, he needed more suitable forebears than the over-flexible Greeks, many of whom were now enslaved. By inversion, he elevated the Trojan losers, led by Aeneas, to be the new ancestors of Rome. Trojans were now the noble underdogs; Greeks were tricky, scheming foxes. Diomedes and especially Odysseus were relegated to the roles of arch-villains, a move echoed by Dante many centuries later.
By far the worst story that started circulating about Odysseus was that of the theft of the Palladium from Troy, in which Odysseus is supposed to have tried to kill Diomedes out of jealousy as they returned to the Greek camp. This particularly juicy morsel was concocted by a minor Augustan mythographer, Conon, as part of the propaganda movement to denigrate the Greek heroes at Troy. Poor Odysseus had gone from clever victor and master strategist to a man who would betray and murder his best friend.
When the western half of the Roman Empire crumbled, the new, medieval kingdoms of Western Europe still had access to Roman literature. But Homer disappeared from their view, studied only by a few scholars. Medieval chroniclers built up their images of the Ancient Greek heroes through a Roman lens, one that had become actively hostile towards even Homer himself, who was dismissed as a liar and a cheat. In this climate, Odysseus’s reputation had little chance.
The Eastern Roman empire, however, thrived for another thousand years, with its huge libraries crammed with Greek texts. When, in 1453, the Turks sacked Constantinople, some of this vast body of literature was saved, travelling west with Byzantine refugees. Finally Western Europe had ready access not only to Homer’s poems but to Homer’s staunchest ally, Plutarch, and slowly their picture of Odysseus became more balanced. The concept of the Renaissance man – versatile polymath and warrior – became fashionable and who personified this better than Odysseus?
In Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, he is far more statesman than schemer, a view of the hero which persevered right up until the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. Now, the spotlight turned on Odysseus the Wanderer, restless, questing after the unknown, as Tennyson’s Ulysses shows him, a theme that looks back to Dante’s Inferno and which was later expanded into a new epic by the Greek poet Kazantzakis. In contrast, other modern Greek poets, Cavafy and Seferis focus more on Odysseus’s homecoming.
Almost all these reinterpretations of Odysseus emphasise one or other of the many facets of Homer’s “man of many turns”. Arguably it is in James Joyce’s monumental Ulysses that we find an Odyssean hero, in Bloom, who is as complex and rounded as the original.
But Joyce’s sometimes grotesque reinterpretation of Odysseus’s sexual experiences is paralleled by Robert Graves’s poem Ulysses which portrays Odysseus as a rampant sex addict. In contrast, Homer’s Odysseus is ordered by the gods to sleep with Circe, and endures his seven year imprisonment and sexual subjection by Calypso in a state of almost suicidal misery.
Graves also paints a negative picture of Odysseus in The Greek Myths, a two-volume compilation widely read and studied, which has had a majorly adverse effect on Odysseus’s reputation since its publication in 1955. Graves gives a number of versions of each mythical event but he has favourites, signposted by phrases such as “some claim … while others tell the truth when they say…”. Unfortunately, Graves often pins his colours to the later, Roman versions, those by Virgil with his political biases, and by Dares and Dictys Cretensis, two notable Latin fraudsters who claimed to be eye witnesses of the Trojan War.
Why? One has to consider Graves’s strong emotional identification with the Roman emperor Claudius, grandson of Augustus. Two millennia on, and we’re back in the loop of the Roman anti-Greek propaganda machine?
More recently, Odysseus has found some influential friends again. Derek Walcott’s play The Odyssey shows Odysseus as an eloquent yet down-to-earth protagonist, puncturing the pretensions of his peers. The poet Simon Armitage’s 2004 adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey for the BBC keeps close to the original story but brings it to a modern audience with style and vivid characterisation.
The great achievement of Homer is that Odysseus is not a perfect hero. As a result, he is still being vilified as well as praised, while his complexity leaves him open to re-interpretations according to authors’ own needs and contexts.
Yet the most interesting portrayals are still of Odysseus as a three-dimensional character, one whose shortcomings we can groan at, and whose hopes, ambitions and dreams we can embrace.
About the authors.
David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels. He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods.
Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods.
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