A number of reviews over on goodreads seem to have two things in common: the reviewer hasn’t read the source material, and they didn’t particularly enjoy this collection. I applaud someone for stepping out of their comfort zone, but I really don’t understand bagging something when the fundamental context isn’t understood. Because this really, really doesn’t stand stand with knowledge of The Iliad and The Odyssey, and it doesn’t pretend it even wants to.
I adored this collection, and I am fantastically thankful that I happened to pick it up a few years ago at the closing-down sale of my favourite bookshop (which has since reopened!). I’m not an author, but I would suggest that anyone who wants to write short fiction – and who has the background – should read this, because it does the short form in glorious, scintillating ways.
The Preface claims that this set of 44 stories translated from variations to the standard Homeric tale found in Oxyrhynchus. I’ll admit that for the first couple of stories I actually half-wondered whether this might possibly be true – I’d never heard of such a find, but Oxyrhynchus has been an incredible literary treasure trove; it’s not like I work consistently in the field so it’s feasible I might have missed hearing about it. I fairly quickly decided that this wasn’t the case, but it doesn’t matter in the slightest. I feel that Mason has stayed true to the core of the mythology, and what more could you want?
Some of the stories presented here are vignettes, others are more substantial stories. Most of them take aspects of The Odyssey and… shift them. Sometimes subtly, sometimes extravagantly, but almost always with that kernel that means it feels basically plausible to an archaic Greek mythological milieu. There are a few that stray beyond those bounds, but even those are wonderfully well written, so I don’t mind. They too help to build up sense of shifting possibilities, what-ifs and could-have-beens. There are a few stories that take aspects from other parts of Greek mythology and tie them, in convoluted but logical ways, to the Troy story; and just one or two that could feasibly be set outside of the 13th century BC, but not with any firm proof that they do so.
A review of all 44 stories would be tiresome and, in some cases, impossible without ruining the sheer pleasure of the reading act. Suffice it to say that Penelope gets some attention, Athene a bit more, and Calypso and Circe a lesser bit. Most of them involve travelling, which is naturally appropriate; some are in Troy and some on Ithaka. Sometimes Odysseus is triumphant, other times a coward, and occasionally seen through others’ eyes – like Polyphemus (sorry, bad joke). Once, Paris is Death. Occasionally, the reality of a two-decade absence is hinted at. Tragically, Hektor does not feature in any meaningful way.
This collection is wonderful and glorious and I loved it very much.
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While Alisa is away, Alex & Tansy play… in ANCIENT GREECE! We talk awards, the end of publishing as we know it, stressful feminist debates, Vonda McIntyre, Twitter fiction, Stargate, and whether there’s enough Greek & Roman mythology in modern fantasy.
Tansy wins WSFA Small Press Award for Siren Beat;
Last Drink Bird Head Award Winners;
John Joseph Adams takes over from Cat Rambo & Sean Wallace as editor of Fantasy Magazine;
Wiscon committee disappoints through inaction (also here); and then finally moves to disinvite Elizabeth Moon as GoH (warning, many of the comments on that one are pretty awful to wade through); also here and here;
Paul Collins on how the ebook revolution isn’t working so well ;
Cat Valente on tedium, evil, and why the term ‘PC’ is only used these days to hurt and silence people;
Peter M Ball explaining how white male privilege uses requests for civility to silence the legitimate anger of others;
What have we been reading/listening to?
Tansy: Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson; Blameless, Gail Carriger, Bleed by Peter M Ball, “Twittering the Universe” by Mari Ness, Shine & “Clockwork Fairies” by Cat Rambo, Tor.com.
Alex: Silver Screen, Justina Robson; Sprawl; Deep Navigation, Alastair Reynolds; The Beginning Place, Ursula le Guin; abandoned Gwyneth Jones’ Escape Plans; listening to The 5th Race, ep 1 (Stargate SG1 fan podcast).
Classical mythology in modern fantasy. Can it still work? Do you have to get it ‘right’?
The Firebrand, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Medea, Cassandra, Electra by Kerry Greenwood
Olympic Games, Leslie What
Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos
Gods Behaving Badly, Marie Phillips
Troy, Simon Brown
Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, also David Malouf’s Ransom – along the same lines as Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin
Robert Holdstock’s Celtika, Iron Grail, Broken Kings
My mother told me to read this book, and after reading about Aphrodite and Apollo getting it on like rabbits I’m a leedle bit embarrassed by that.
The book’s by Marie Phillips; from what I can tell it’s a first novel. The Olympians live in a big old house in London, and it – and them – have definitely seen better days. They bicker and argue, and they still try to act as cavalierly with humans as in ‘the good old days’ – but their power is significantly reduced, which naturally feeds into some rather serious frustration. And then there’s Neil and Alice, the classic near-innocents who get tied up in a cosmic game…
You need a certain amount of knowledge about ancient Greek myth to get along with this book. Although some references are explained – like Daphne, and Orpheus&Eurydice – without a basic grasp on the personalities and traits of gods like Artemis and Aphrodite et al, I think you’d probably struggle to fully appreciate this story.
That said, with a rudimentary understanding, this is a very funny story. Apollo reduced to being an oracle on cable? Artemis the dog-walker? And let’s not even talk about Zeus… Perhaps the funniest two are Eros and Athene. Eros, the Christian. And Athene, mind-boggling intelligent… but articulate? Not so much. Even without an ancient Greek background, it would still be funny, since it’s obvious they’re gods and it’s obvious they’re not happy about their current place in the cosmos.
An amusing story that took me a couple of hours to barge through. Highly recommended for a bit of ancient Greek fluff.
A while back, I became a member of the Classical Association of Victoria. I figured I should, since I go to a lot of their public lectures, and it’s not exactly expensive. As a bonus, members get a copy of Iris when it’s published – the CAV journal. I gather that this is something of a haphazard production, because everyone involved has full-time jobs and Iris isn’t it. Nonetheless, it gets produced, and I got my first copy on Friday (bent in half thanks to the postie shoving it through the little slit, instead of lifting the lid for the mailbox…).
Firstly, there’s an editorial, basically explaining why Iris was delayed and ruminating a little on the fate of Classics at various tertiary institutes (I hadn’t realised it resurrected itself at Monash; hurrah!). This is followed by a short intro to Jenny Webb, the new president of the CAV.
The first article – peer-reviewed and all – is “The Making of the Wooden Horse,” by Miriam Riverlea. It feels too short for its material, but is essentially looking at the treatment of the actual making of the horse at Troy, as the title suggests – how this is largely skimmed over by ancient sources, especially, and that there are variations on the theme. She suggests that like epic poetry, as part of the oral tradition, means a story is never told exactly the same way twice, the horse itself is constantly refashioned… at least, I think that’s what she meant. She finishes with a really cool look at two modern examples of the horse. The first is the horse in Troy, the building of which is shown in painstaking detail; and the object itself is now at Canakkale, the closest modern town to the suggested site of Troy (which she points out is hilarious itself – the Turks accepting a wooden horse from strangers… and she parallels this with the Chaser boys trying to get their wooden horse into various places, and it working everywhere – except the Turkish consulte.) The second example is a LEGO version, which some academic apparently finds ridiculous (no sons or brothers?): the creator took eight years to agree to posting the instructions, but now everyone can DIY….
The second peer-reviewed article is by John Whitehouse, who was my tutor way back when and to whom I owe a lot. This, I think, is a paper from his MA: it’s about the similarities between Thucydides and Tacitus, as “Historians of Disillusionment”: Tacitus disillusioned with the Roman Principate, Thucydides with war (after/during the Peloponnesian one). Interesting stuff, especially the question about how deliberately/consciously the parallels are in each from their predecessors.
I must admit to skipping the next article, by Jenny Webb: I’m just not up enough on archaeology to appreciate “Tracking Gender and Technology in Prehistory,” specifically on Cyprus in the Early Bronze Age. I did really enjoy the fourth article, though: called “‘Which of the Gods is this?’ Dionysus in the Homeric Hymns,” it does just that – tracks what the Hymns say about Dionysus (number 1, 7 and 26 if you’re curious) and examine how he is justified as being an Olympian god, despite having a mortal mother (generally this makes you a demigod, and mortal). Very cool – but I was a bit sad it was just a survey of the hymns, and didn’t actually make persuasive arguments about the repercussions on Dionysian worship, for example, or on the origins of Dionysian myth.
I also skipped KO Chong-Gossard’s “On Teaching Euripides’ Medea,” since I’m not likely to do that any time soon, but did enjoy Peter Mountford’s “From Fantasy to Reality in Epic Duels – Iliad 22 and Aeneid 12.” Like Whitehouse, this is a comparison of two ancient texts – but here they’re being compared directly. Mountford’s basic idea, as the title suggests, is that Virgil is more real than Homer, especially in his use and the role of the gods – or lack thereof – in the duels between Aeneas and Turnus, on the one hand, and Achilles and Hektor. It’s a very interesting demonstration of how much Virgil is indebted to Homer – which I already knew, but hadn’t realised how textually that was true: similes, etc, are all borrowed and, generally, re-shaped. I haven’t read The Aeneid since about third year, and didn’t like it as much as The Iliad anyway, but it’s a very engaging article.
The final, very short article is by Meg McPherson. Called “A Perfect Post,” it outlines some of the things she has done in teaching Latin at primary school! It blows my mind to think there’s a primary school that would do that. I had a very brief discussion with someone the other about the point of learning Latin (they suggested there wasn’t one); and I resolutely stayed out of a discussion the other day about whether learning a language had a point at all. Latin at primary school seems indulgent; mostly in a good way, but indulgent nonetheless.
So that’s Iris for 2008. Actually it says 2007 on the cover, but is copyright 2008, so I’m not sure if they run a year behind or what. I think I will definitely continue to support the CAV, and look forward to reading more of their journal.
I never got in to ER; I didn’t like Clooney’s Batman in the slightest. I got very impatient with my friends who thought Clooney was sooo dreamy.
Then I saw O Brother, Where art Thou?
I still don’t think he’s that dreamy (although Danny Ocean was more convincingly so), but this movie showed me that Clooney has real acting talent. I loved this movie – and I rewatched it today, for the first time I think since I saw it at the flicks – as I have been cooking all afternoon in preparation for my darling’s birthday party. Gosh it’s good! Firstly, the soundtrack – which I own – is one of the best soundtracks overall ever. Clooney and his two cronies are fantastic, convincing and sympathetic and inimitably entertaining. John Goodman is cool as Cyclops, I don’t know who it is plays Tommy, who sells his soul, but he’s great too… and Holly Hunter, not my favourite actress in general, is perfectly prim.
I love the cinematography, too: the juxtapositions, the close-ups and wide angles… in general, one of my favourite movies. If you haven’t seen it, you ought! And, of course, I loved the Odyssey references, which were stronger for me this time around.
I shouldn’t have had the wine.
I have a bad habit. When circumstances conspire – bit tired, warm-to-stifling environment, not too loud and not too bright – I have a tendency to fall asleep. In public. Sitting up. *sigh* And when you add a glass of wine to the mix….
Anyway, I went to see a performance of The Odyssey at the Stork Hotel this afternoon. I only saw it advertised yesterday when I was walking in the city, thought I had missed it (like I missed their performance of The Iliad – GAH!), then found out they were doing a matinee today… very excited. But this is also where the wine comes in (average service at the Stork on a Sunday, just by the way): I didn’t hear all about Polyphemus….
The performers were excellent. Rod Mullinar was brilliant as the patriarchs – and his voice is so familiar, I will have to go and google him. Helen Morse, Jane Nolan and Humphrey Bower were also fantastic – although I am still thinking through Bower’s very Yorkshire Poseidon. They were thoroughly engaging, and easy to listen to, and didn’t go too overboard on characterisation – which actually worked very nicely.
Couple of things:
* Odysseus in the Underworld, after he pours out the libation? First zombie appearance in Western literature. That’s my theory.
* I was dreading the Telemakos bits. I can’t stand those bits (actually, I’m more of an Iliad girl, but you take what you can manage to get to). They skipped them out! Telemakos only appears on Ithaka – no jaunting off to Menelaos or Nestor! Very relieved.
* The one thing that didn’t work so well was Odysseus returning home. I thought it was a bit jerky, the events of landing on Ithaka – being found by Telemakos – and eventually getting the suitors (and Morse as the nurse was so evil in her delight at their deaths!). It didn’t flow very well at all.
All round, though, this was fantastic. Not too long, lighting was effective, music was a surprise (not the music itself, when it started – the fact that there was music at all) but also effective, and the performers… marvellous.
You know how some people can listen to their recorded voice, and they have no problem with it?
Well, that’s not me.
Nonetheless, I bring you My First Podcast. The first part is Cassiphone interviewing Marianne, which is interesting; the second part is Cassiphone and I having a yarn about Troy, which I have previously raved about here. I have listened to, oh, about 10 seconds of it. I am sniffling a lot – had a nasty cold – and I think I sound dreadful. If you think I sound like I do in real life, don’t bother telling me! Because I don’t want to know that. Still, it is very exciting to have this podcast up – a first for ASif!, and quite possibly going to become a semi-regular feature. And if GJ gets Skype too, the world had better start trembling!
Not the movie, not a person, but a collection of short stories by Simon Brown. Despite the fact that I had been warned to the contrary, I rather did expect that all of the stories would be genuinely and obviously connected to the Greek myths. This was not the case. All of the stories were quite good, but I admit that the stories that were very definitely set in the Trojan context were my favourite. I won’t go into it in too much detail now, because there’s another project coming up that I will reveal more about soon… but I have to share my joy over one story.
“The Masque of Agamemnon” had me crowing with joy from the first paragraph to the last sentence. It is just so clever, so beautiful, so enjoyable… I can’t really explain it. I tried to explain it to J, but since he doesn’t know the stories very well it didn’t make all that much sense to him. But just the title – so clever! (Although damned by Schliemann.) And the ending – brilliant! And the merging of scifi with the stories – ! My incoherence shows, I hope, my inchoate appreciation rather than a Sunday night brain.
It also reminded me that I have Dan Simmons’ Olympos stil looking at me accusingly, unread… but I haven’t read Ilium in ages, and I have to before I read this one, and it is still loaned out to someone.
The cover of Troy is lovely too.
This was one very, very good purchase from NatCon. And it’s one of the copies with signatures from Simon Brown, Sean Williams (co-wrote “Masque”), and (!) Garth Nix, who wrote the Introduction (on which I have mixed feelings, but I think I like it).
I had no idea that Robert Fagles was still alive, let alone that he was working on The Aeneid. Must admit that I prefer the Lattimore translation of The Iliad – I have to get hold of his Odyssey, and I must write about my re-visiting of Troy sometime soon too. Anyway, with a new – and apparently fantastic – translation, maybe it’s time I revisited Aeneid… I didn’t like it at uni, thinking it far inferior to Homer, but maybe it was a bad translation. Plus I was influenced of course by all those contemptuous ideas that he was simply Augustus’ lapdog (the ideas aren’t contemptuous, they express contempt…).
New camera… nice fishy.