Thursday, August 11, 2016

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thursday, July 21, 2016

CITY OF DIRTY TRICKS

For all its reputation for noble philosophical minds, ancient Athens has to have been tops at political dirty tricks.

Dredging up past misdemeanours of opponents and getting the word round, or even making them up in rumours difficult to deny.

Charging opponents with embezzlement or defaming the gods or of taking bribes and then hauling them into court – again, it didn’t have to be true as long as it stuck.

Speeches in the Assembly were a good method, but ran the risk of being accused yourself of misleading the people (which was a crime), but graffiti was anonymous, so were dirty jokes and satirical songs.

Mind you, it had a long history with the Greeks. One of their great heroes, Odysseus, was noted for trickery and respected for it.

The Trojan Horse was his idea and here he is tricking the Cyclops by hiding under a sheep.

They even had a god of cunning. That was Hermes, who was also patron of thieves,oratory, poetry, sports, invention and trade, boundaries and travellers.

He was also messenger of the gods and played his own first trick when he was a baby.


All Athenian houses had a bust of him at the front door which featured in the dirty trick that destroyed General Alcibiades when he was accused of having vandalized scores of them when drunk – almost certainly organised by rival politicians.

Top political trickster has to be Themistokles, who features in my novel "Death Comes by Amphora".

His most successful trick was getting a false message to the invading Persian Great King Xerxes that fooled him into sending his fleet into the worst possible place for a naval battle where the Greek navy, led by Themistokles, slaughtered them.

Then, years later, when the Athenians chucked him out, Themistokles somehow persuaded the next Great King to give him a princedom, though we don’t know what false promises he may have made to get it.

Whatever they were (like offering to lead a new Persian invasion), it seems the only way he could get out of keeping them was to commit suicide.

That's the story anyway.

In my novel, there are more cunning stunts that smack of Themistokles’ way of operating.

It looks as though Perikles learnt a lot from his example.

My novel "Death Comes by Amphora" is available on Amazon Kindle.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?


You’d think they hated women. Well, they didn’t trust them anyway. Or more like those wealthy Athenian men who ran things didn’t trust themselves. They didn’t trust themselves not to fall in love, or lust, or infatuation.

The evidence? Look at all those plays with their powerful female characters organizing a sex strike like Lysistrata, killing their husband like Clytemnestra, taking revenge on their husband by killing their children like Medea (above), or just disobeying orders and screwing things up like Antigone. All powerful, passionate women.

The men must have been scared of that, so they shut the women away and kept them uneducated, so that the women accepted it. Men (wealthy men anyway) didn’t marry till they were 30. Away fighting in wars before that and lots of brothels to let off steam, no chance of meeting citizen girls of their own age and falling in love.

When they did marry, it was to inexperienced girls of 14 – that way virginity was guaranteed - that’s gotta be my son not some other guy’s. It also meant more wives died in childbirth, unfortunately.

And then the wives were kept locked up in the house, allowed out only for funerals and a few religious festivals. The husband or slaves did the shopping.

The wife was there just for procreation and to bring up the kids. No real relationship.

To keep that danger at bay the husband went to dinner parties with male friends where slave girls offered entertainment and more or he kept a slave girl himself to entertain friends and keep himself amused. And there were always the brothels.

Generally, husband and wife slept on different floors of the house not just different rooms. Who could blame a teenage wife who responded to the blandishments of a handsome young fella met at a funeral?

What were they really afraid of? I think it was fear of losing control. Fear of acting irrationally, of excessive emotion that might lead them to do something they would regret. Rationality, thinking things through and acting on the conclusions, that is what we prize about our inheritance from ancient Greece. But it can’t have been much of a life for the women. Like Philia in my novel Death Come by Amphora which is available on Amazon kindle with this handsome new design.

Friday, November 27, 2015

WHY ANCIENT ATHENS?

People ask me, “Why Ancient Athens?” and “Why 461BC?” 

Well, that’s easy. I studied Ancient History at secondary school and got fascinated at mention of an Athenian politician called Ephialtes. He, it seemed, had brought in the reforms that led to the direct democracy of one man one vote of all male citizens. And that made possible the Golden Age of Athens led by Pericles or, as they would have spelt it, Perikles. 

So an important guy. But this Ephialtes was then promptly assassinated ‘under cover of night’ and that’s all we were told.

What was going on here? Were the historians covering something up?, I wondered. It stuck in my head, so researching the novel was an opportunity to check it out for myself. 

The answer was simple. Very little is actually known about Ephialtes. Apart from a tombstone indicating a state funeral, no mention of him before Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens , written some 130 years after the man died, and Plutarch’s Life of Pericles another 320 years after that and neither telling us very much. All the more reason for exploring what happened and what better place than a novel. Especially as lots more exciting stuff happened at about the same time. 



Ephialites’ reforms took power from the wealthy aristocrats and handed it to the poorer classes of shopkeepers, craftsmen and farmers – that sounds like a revolution in anybody’s language and revolutions are usually pretty fraught times. Add that the top general and leader of the aristocrats General Kimon was voted into exile and that majority made possible by someone preventing four thousand aristocrats getting back from war in time for the vote. The danger of civil war must have been intense. 



 What would it be like to be in Athens then with your loyalties divided between both sides, aristocrats and workers, especially if you’re nosing around looking for the murderer of your rich uncle? 



So look for a hero who is in that position – enter Lysanias, heir to that murdered rich uncle but brought up as an artisan and just 18. A bit young so give him an elderly slave and advisor – that’s Sindron. A very segregated society, so how can these two investigate what the women are up to? If young Lysanias has to marry his uncle’s teenage widow, maybe she can look after that angle. So that’s my detective team. 

Where did ideas for the plot come from? More about that in a later blog.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

THREE CLUES TO A MYSTERY So why these three images on the new cover? I suppose the funeral procession at the bottom is obvious. It helped me a lot to envisage the scene of Klereides’ funeral in Chapter 6.

The image on the left? Well, I had registered that there must have been plenty of merchant ships carrying supplies to and from big cities like Athens of timber, grain, wine, pottery, olive oil and more and, of course, passengers like my heroes Lysanias and Sindron.

They and crews would need water on the journey and I worked out what the big vessels for holding this, supported in harnesses of rope or leather to prevent spillage, would have looked like, even before I came across this picture. The multiple handles would take the harness. Something like this became the murder weapon in my novel and the ‘amphora’ of the title.

And the blacksmiths at the top? It seemed to me that the taking of power from the aristocrats in 461BC must be seen as tantamount to a revolution. And I knew that similar times in later history had resulted in interest by artists in depicting ordinary people and work situations.

When I came across it, this bas relief scene of blacksmiths at work seemed just such a piece and it gave me the inspiration for a dramatic incident at the funeral party also in Chapter 6. Incidentally, the muscular arms and hammers suggested the working class violence that the aristocrats may have feared at the time.

Put them together and what have you got? A new cover but also an indication of the thinking behind at least some of the novel.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

RE-ACTIVATION

Time to re-activate my blog after a long break when other things got in the way. Why now? Because my novel Death Comes by Amphora is now under my own control and available from Amazon in a Kindle edition as well as in print, both with a brand new cover design. On top of that, next week (from 16th) will see it at a special low price, so why not check it out on Amazon. Watch out for more posts.