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Zorral
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Cross-posting this, based on Zorral's recommendation:

...Miles Cameron's Long War books, about Arimnestos of Plataea's life during the Greek and Persian Wars was very, very much to my taste.

Ranging from the Ionian Revolt to Marathon and the Battle of Artemisium and finishing on the Dance Floor of Mars at Plataea, it describes Arimnestos' life as he goes on trading missions, learns to become a smith, is enslaved, and explores the known Western world for a new source of tin.

Less Mary Sue-ish than Artifact Space, but with many similar themes, just set in the world of the Classical Greeks.  I recommend them to you...

  • Killer of Men (2010)
  • Marathon (2011)
  • Poseidon's Spear (2012)
  • The Great King (2014)
  • Salamis (2015)
  • The Rage of Ares (2016)

 

And if you are interested in some historical fiction set in the time of conflict after the death of Alexander, you might also consider Harry Turtledove's Hellenic Traders books.

 Over the Wine Dark Sea (2001)
The Gryphon's Skull (2002)
The Sacred Land (2003)
Owls to Athens (2004)
Salamis (2020)

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So thanks again @Zorral for the Pat Barker recommendation. I had The Silence of the Girls sitting on my ever growing pile of shame, but having been recently confronted with a story about sex slavery that started out surprisingly promising (I went in expecting the absolute worst), but quickly turned into the disgusting polar opposite of what I had hoped it would be, The Silence of the Girls was pretty much exactly what I needed to get that out of my system.

I must admit, I was astonished how easily the pages turned. It has quite a quick pace and there is a certain raw bluntness to the prose. I think what works for me is that it doesn't try to ape archaic speech patterns and be a historic novel as I had come to expect them, instead it sees itself purely as a study of characters with clear personalities bouncing off each other with ever present tension, even if they do this using notably modern idioms. Basically the writing rarely lingers on describing places, architecture, clothes, items or the like, instead it's all purely about people and their interactions. And the dialogue is very... snappy? Is that a word you can use? Briseis herself barely ever talks and whenever she does talk with other women, her narration quickly switches to indirect speech, so dialogue is mostly her watching men talk and the speech patterns give it a certain 'genuine after translation' vibe. I think I don't make sense and better drop the point.

In any case, the reason I came to this book is that I wanted to read her navigating her shitty position and surviving and Briseis' thoughts on her situation were very much exactly what I hoped for. Her powerlessness causing her to try not to be noticed as much as possible, her never ceasing resentment towards Achilles that permeate even her attempts to arrange herself with her situation as his slave and focusing instead on ever changing jobs, her confused frustration that she ended up actually liking Patroclos when he genuinely tried to befriend her, her bonding with the other enslaved women in the camp... and of course the irony that when Achilles gets his POV chapters in the later half, Briseis barely registers on his mind and even when he is thinking about their relationship, he only thinks of it as a connection through their shared memory of Patroclos, which is just... damn, what a one-track mind. XD He seems at times genuinely baffled when he's confronted with the idea that she might have her own mind about her situation.

In any case, I'm glad I had it here.

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On 8/1/2022 at 6:38 PM, Wilbur said:

Cross-posting this, based on Zorral's recommendation:

...Miles Cameron's Long War books, about Arimnestos of Plataea's life during the Greek and Persian Wars was very, very much to my taste.

Ranging from the Ionian Revolt to Marathon and the Battle of Artemisium and finishing on the Dance Floor of Mars at Plataea, it describes Arimnestos' life as he goes on trading missions, learns to become a smith, is enslaved, and explores the known Western world for a new source of tin.

Less Mary Sue-ish than Artifact Space, but with many similar themes, just set in the world of the Classical Greeks.  I recommend them to you...

  • Killer of Men (2010)
  • Marathon (2011)
  • Poseidon's Spear (2012)
  • The Great King (2014)
  • Salamis (2015)
  • The Rage of Ares (2016)

 

And if you are interested in some historical fiction set in the time of conflict after the death of Alexander, you might also consider Harry Turtledove's Hellenic Traders books.

 Over the Wine Dark Sea (2001)
The Gryphon's Skull (2002)
The Sacred Land (2003)
Owls to Athens (2004)
Salamis (2020)

If you’re interested, Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy (Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, Funeral Games) is one of the best reading experiences you’ll ever have. Each book has a different style, narrator, theme, etc. but together tell the story from Alexander’s birth through the early Diadocchi. She’s generally considered to be the standard when it comes to modern writing of Hellenic stories. Cameron’s good, as is Pressfield and others, but Renault is in O’Brian/Graves territory. 

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29 minutes ago, James Arryn said:

If you’re interested, Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy (Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, Funeral Games) is one of the best reading experiences you’ll ever have. Each book has a different style, narrator, theme, etc. but together tell the story from Alexander’s birth through the early Diadocchi. She’s generally considered to be the standard when it comes to modern writing of Hellenic stories. Cameron’s good, as is Pressfield and others, but Renault is in O’Brian/Graves territory. 

Funeral Games is a gripping read, but desperately bleak.  It makes K J Parker look upbeat, by comparison.

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7 minutes ago, SeanF said:

Funeral Games is a gripping read, but desperately bleak.  It makes K J Parker look upbeat, by comparison.

Lol, possibly. My mother was going through a Russian period when I was 9-12, meaning so was I, and when Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy were your childhood reading, everything since comes across as bright sunlit plains.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Toth said:

In any case, the reason I came to this book is that I wanted to read her navigating her shitty position and surviving and Briseis' thoughts on her situation were very much exactly what I hoped for. Her powerlessness causing her to try not to be noticed as much as possible, her never ceasing resentment towards Achilles that permeate even her attempts to arrange herself with her situation as his slave and focusing instead on ever changing jobs, her confused frustration that she ended up actually liking Patroclos when he genuinely tried to befriend her, her bonding with the other enslaved women in the camp... and of course the irony that when Achilles gets his POV chapters in the later half, Briseis barely registers on his mind and even when he is thinking about their relationship, he only thinks of it as a connection through their shared memory of Patroclos, which is just... damn, what a one-track mind. XD He seems at times genuinely baffled when he's confronted with the idea that she might have her own mind about her situation.

I am so looking forward to Barker's next book with these characters -- at least one of whom will meet Klytemnestra.

There are reasons indeed that Barker's been nominated for and won so many awards for her writing.

~~~~~~

Renault's novels as fiction still stand the test of time, though quite a lot of the detail has been disproven and changed via later decades' work in archaeology and forensic language scholarship.  The novels remain immersive and interesting. For a long time my favorite has been Last of the Wine. This is even more so within our household's current context of reading out loud before lights out, Herodotus, Xenophon and now Thucydides, and my own only recent surfacing out of Tom Holland's Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West (2005).  And before that, Nicholas Guild's The Asssyrian (1987), which has the same historical out-of-dateness as Renault, but still a terrific read -- and like Renault, still gets a lot right.  There's a sequel, The Blood Star, but I haven't been able to lay hands on it, alas.

I can't know this, of course, but I do have a sense that the reasons these early fictions, whatever is historically correct or isn't correct, are still such satisfying -- and yes, even useful novels to read -- is that the authors, like Barker too, have done everything they could in terms of research to get their details right. Their writerly skill then, as fiction creators, has so deftly woven all that together that their novels still stand, airtight as novels.  Colleen McCullough's Roman series is probably the same, as are Sharon Kay Penman's.  Both authors were obsessive about getting the history and details correct as far as possible.

It now occurs to me, that the above also applies to father of historical fiction, Walter Scott, and Dumas, the godfather, in his endless history of France series -- which we think of as the Three Musketeers series.  But Scott, is not still compulsively readable for our contemporary audience, I think.  I am happy with his prose, but most people now find it a slog, and understandably don't share my pleasure in the very fact that it is so much of another time.

 

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14 minutes ago, Zorral said:

I am so looking forward to Barker's next book with these characters -- at least one of whom will meet Klytemnestra.

Oooooh. Oooh. Oh no! Now I'm getting flashbacks again, because back in High School I wrote three scenes condensing Agamemnon's murder, Orestes' and Pylades murdering Klytemnestra and Aighistos to avenge him and then the court at Athens for our Iphigenia school play. I was mad as hell when my teacher threw out all of them except the murder of Agamemnon and then did insanely pointless changes to it (cutting Klytemnestra's motive rant and the entire existence of Aighistos so that the motivation is only reduced to the Iphigenia sacrifice... forgetting that she added a line that here Klytemnestra knows Iphigenia is still alive. And then have her kill him with poison because she thought a knife wouldn't be a womanly method - but still keeping my dialogue of Klytemnestra badgering him towards the bath in, which then made no sense at all).

So... okay, if the next one depicts that, I'm in.^^

I guess Barker also appropriately set up Agamemnon as enough of a scumbag. Briseis glumly noting that she keeps using the same colorful descriptors Achilles used when thinking of Agamemnon was very darkly ironic despite the grimness of the context of that thought.

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Posted (edited)
45 minutes ago, Toth said:

I guess Barker also appropriately set up Agamemnon as enough of a scumbag

So does Claire Heywood, in also recently read Daughters of Sparta (2020). Ultimately though, Heywood's novel is disappointing -- she's just not as good a fiction writer as these others we mention here.  She's stuck between trying to be 'literary' and ... not quite I don't know what.  The entire novel is getting us more and more anticipating what we know is the outcome of these marriages, but when we get to the end of the novel, it all just ... stops, right before the sack of Troy, before Menelaos takes back Helen, before Agamemnon goes home with Cassandra.  This is particularly disappointing since we had received an interesting take on Klytemnestra and Aighistos, so the reader is really looking forward to getting more about this regarding the execution / murder.  Readers are waiting for Electra and Orestes, but they are almost entirely off stage.  Well, Heywood did title her novel, Daughters of Sparta. But really it's only about Klytemnestra, one feels.  Heywood had no idea how to create Helen, who is nothing but a beach bunny airhead, which feels truly anachronistic among other failures with Helen. Which contributes to the sense that Heywood thought she would do for Spartan women what Barker's doing with Trojan women.  It didn't work well, in my opinion (others may disagree).

Heywood should have the tools --

Quote

...  is a scholar of the ancient world, with a BA in Classical Civilization and an MA in Ancient Visual and Material Culture from the University of Warwick. Daughters of Sparta is her first novel 

But as one sees, if only via the entire alphabet of appendices that come with the Landmark series, which are the editions we're reading of the Greek historians, each appendix written about an aspect of the authors' text and content, by a different scholar -- a lot of classic and antiquity scholars are fairly poor writers, period.

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, Zorral said:

So does Claire Heywood, in also recently read Daughters of Sparta (2020). Ultimately though, Heywood's novel is disappointing -- she's just not as good a fiction writer as these others we mention here.  She's stuck between trying to be 'literary' and ... not quite I don't know what.  The entire novel is getting us more and more anticipating what we know is the outcome of these marriages, but when we get to the end of the novel, it all just ... stops, right before the sack of Troy, before Menelaos takes back Helen, before Agamemnon goes home with Cassandra.  This is particularly disappointing since we had received an interesting take on Klytemnestra and Aighistos, so the reader is really looking forward to getting more about this regarding the execution / murder.  Readers are waiting for Electra and Orestes, but they are almost entirely off stage.  Well, Heywood did title her novel, Daughters of Sparta. But really it's only about Klytemnestra, one feels.  Heywood had no idea how to create Helen, who is nothing but a beach bunny airhead, which feels truly anachronistic among other failures with Helen. Which contributes to the sense that Heywood thought she would do for Spartan women what Barker's doing with Trojan women.  It didn't work well, in my opinion (others may disagree).

Heywood should have the tools --

But as one sees, if only via the entire alphabet of appendices that come with the Landmark series, which are the editions we're reading of the Greek historians, each appendix written about an aspect of the authors' text and content, by a different scholar -- a lot of classic and antiquity scholars are fairly poor writers, period.

 

 

 

Has Agamemnon ever been depicted positively? I feel like he been depicted as a royal prick since classical times.

Loved your mention of the Last of the Wine by Mary Renault. One of my favourite books. I replaced my falling apart copy last year so it's definitely time for a re-read.

I think Pat Barker is just a better novelist than many writers getting into Greek myth/history retellings. She's also know for depicting war and the effects of war, which gives her Trojan books such immediacy. I have her Regeneration trilogy still to read, about the aftermath of WW1, which comes highly recommended to me.

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31 minutes ago, Wall Flower said:

She's also know for depicting war and the effects of war, which gives her Trojan books such immediacy.

That's a good, and a useful, insight as to how Barker did this so well. That Barker lived so long with such material for her Regeneration trilogy, and wrote it so well, speaks so much of her own unflinching moral courage in looking straight at the horrors.  Not every writer can do that -- I sure cannot.

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Regeneration by Barker was one of my A-level set texts. Many years on and I still haven't read the rest of the trilogy; not because the first book wasn't good, but because it was perhaps too good at depicting its subject unflinchingly. A great deal of research must have gone into the writing, but it was worn lightly. 

I have never read Mary Renault. However, fans and even the uninitiated like me might enjoy Daniel Mendelsohn's essay in the New Yorker The American Boy about growing up reading and corresponding with Renault. 

 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, dog-days said:

I have never read Mary Renault. However, fans and even the uninitiated like me might enjoy Daniel Mendelsohn's essay in the New Yorker The American Boy about growing up reading and corresponding with Renault. 

I will. Thank you for the link.

Added -- just finished reading "The American Boy" -- this paragraph, almost the closing paragraph, particularly struck me, as it describes the history of our reading experience for so many of us, which explains why books by writers such as Renault stand not only the test of time generally, but do for our personal senses, and while so many others, adored when we are children and adolescents and YAs, do not, when as adult people we try to return to them. Renault understood the adolescent, who she puts in her fiction, but she also understood the mature perspective that her adolescents will develop over the course of their well-lived-in lives, which, I guess is what classifies these writers as creating adult fiction, not YA. Of course, I don't really know, do I?

Quote

.... At that moment, sitting at a table eight thousand miles from home, I saw that I’d come to South Africa chasing a chimera. I had already found the Mary Renault I needed, years earlier. I thought again of the yellowing books on my shelf; I thought, too, of the relationships that had never quite worked out, edged aside by a phantom out of a novel. She had shown me a picture of what I was, when I needed to see it, and had given me a myth that justified my fears and limitations. The writers we absorb when we’re young bind us to them, sometimes lightly, sometimes with iron. In time, the bonds fall away, but if you look very closely you can sometimes make out the pale white groove of a faded scar, or the telltale chalky red of old rust. ....

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Mary Renault was the reason I first heard the term "middlebrow fiction" in college.  I had bought several of her books at the sale of a private library, and I was enjoying them very much, so I enthusiastically told my professor of 18th Century English literature that they were great at the beginning of class.

He seemed very startled that I was reading Renault (he always appeared surprised at me being in his classes).  He referred to them as "middlebrow", and we wasted the entire next 90 minutes of class discussing Renault and historical fiction and the definition of "middlebrow" literature.

Anyway, near the end of a very informative and interesting class, he mentioned that he had a Science Fiction Literature seminar the next semester.  About a third of that class signed up for it, and it was by far the largest enrollment that this SciFiLit class had ever enjoyed.  He held it at his house a short walk off campus, and it was held on Tuesdays and Thursday nights.  By that time I had stopped playing ball, so I was happy to stroll over and be one of the students packing out his living room and eating his wife's cookies while discussing Gibson and Lewis and so on.

So anyway, as a result of this association, in my mind Science Fiction isn't genre, it is "middlebrow literature".  Just like Mary Renault!

Never spoken in the original discussion was that a lot of Renault's characters are homosexual.  And I didn't gather this upon reading her books the first time, as it just wasn't a thing that I recognized.  So a lot of the elements of the story were a bit confusing to me on the first read.  Eventually I realized or someone pointed out this fact to me, and several of the plot lines made a lot more sense on a second or third reading.  I was kind of dense as a kid.  Anyway, it might also explain why the prof gave me a such an odd look when I energetically announced how much I was enjoying these books, as he had to know this about her writing.  Looking back, it makes me laugh to think about what he must have been wondering about me.

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1 hour ago, Wilbur said:

I didn't gather this upon reading her books the first time, as it just wasn't a thing that I recognized.

I'm not sure I did either ... but I was remarkably slow, or unobservant? of such matters, matters that in retrospect were already familiar as dirty jokes among the kids I knew.  Periodically, a group of boys, or  group of girls, would retreat at lunchtime to a private space, by invitation only.  I was never included, as I learned later, because "too stupid to even know what we're doing and might tell the teacher." :leaving:  That's what a person who "always has nose stuck in book" gets! :read:

Further though, on how what we read when young bind themselves to us, even the literal books as objects, here's this from today's New Yorker, "What We Get From A Good Bookstore" by Max Norman.

Quote

... Kociejowski writes how “the multifariousness of human nature is more on show” in a bookstore than in any other place, adding, “I think it’s because of books, what they are, what they release in ourselves, and what they become when we make them magnets to our desires.” ....

 

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59 minutes ago, LongRider said:

Retweeted by the the author of Frederick Douglass bio I just read, David Blight.

We will always have Louisiana!  (Though with toxic Gulf, hurricanes, rising sea levels -- maybe not ....)

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Some fallout from reading The Silence of the Girls: I recently booted up again the game "Total War - Troy" and loaded my last save file (obviously playing Penthesilea because of my own story). I then sacked a nearby village and when the game only gave me the options "Kill and enslave" or "Kill everyone", I felt miserable.

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14 minutes ago, Toth said:

I then sacked a nearby village and when the game only gave me the options "Kill and enslave" or "Kill everyone", I felt miserable.

The latest Brett Deveraux Unmitigated Pedantry essays have been all about armies supply and pay and logistics were all bout looting the villages and towns, and raping, killing and taking into slavery, and how this stuff tends to be left out of these games. This is what 'foraging' and 'living off the land' means. Funny though, how seldom historians never actually come out and say that, except for the French ones in outrage, and the English ones with applause to this strategy of the Black Prince in the Hundred Years War, when it was called, chevauchée. Armies have always operated this way.  One significant exception to the taking slaves part was Sherman's March to the Sea, which brought freedom to the enslaved, in contrast to the Army of Virginia's invasions of PA, in which, no differently than any army of antiquity, classical times, up through the Ottoman wars, in which taking of free people to sell into slavery was so much the point.  Still, of course, Sherman's army's policy to 'requisition' and destroy what they couldn't take, was deliberate strategy as well as logistics.

https://acoup.blog/2022/07/29/collections-logistics-how-did-they-do-it-part-ii-foraging/

As we made our way with Xenophon and his '12,000' during his Anabasis, Partner was astounded and astonished to learn this is what was going on.  It, in fact, this is essentially the theme of The Anabasis -- or at the very least the second, primary theme.  The constant concern of food.  It's never said this is what they were doing, but it was.  They also had to feed whatever animals they got hold of, and they had to get the animals from somewhere.  With Xenophon's semi-bemusement, though non-surprise or shock, at the emphasis most of the men, both friend and foe, put upon their favorite boys, there is no mention of women, who are very seldom missing from an army.  Somebody has to wash the clothes and take care of the wounded.

Partner learned a whole lot of what had previously been unknown or mistakenly thought all these years -- particularly that the Siege of Troy didn't happen in the days of Athens's golden age, and that Helen was a Spartan.

 

 

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