Perhaps unsurprisingly, my mother knows me very well. For my birthday this year, she sent me a book about the science inspiring Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. Which I had never heard of but is described as telling the story go The Iliad through the voices of Briseis and other women.
Spoilers, I guess, for the story of The Iliad. I mean it’s been 2500 years or so, but I guess not everyone knows who dies…
A version of The Iliad from Briseis’ POV is different from, for example, that told by Cassandra or Helen. I think this is a marvellous idea, since she’s right there at the heart of the quarrel that is itself the heart of the problems in this story. And the first part is largely what I was hoping for. It starts with Briseis being captured, along with other women, and there’s a marvellous moment where she looks at a slave woman who looks back, and Briseis knows she is thinking ‘now it’s your turn.’ And Briseis knows that’s fair, because she’s never given much thought to the slave women in her life, who themselves have been captured in war. She and the others get carted off to the Trojan beach, and she’s handed to Achilles, and she experiences the life of a slave woman. There are some remarkable moments where she reflects on being a thing, and how she finds it hard herself to think of herself as anything but a thing.
And then. Sigh.
After Briseis is taken from Achilles and given to Agamemnon suddenly we get these sections written from Achilles’ point of view. I’m confused and disappointed. I understand the need to examine that all-important turning point of the story, but why does it have to be through the words of the fellas who’ve always been the ones telling the story? The title of the novel itself starts to seem a bit of a mockery. Couldn’t Barker have inserted some other unnamed slave girl to tell the story that she watches going on in the tent, while cleaning up? Or couldn’t Briseis have heard patches of the story later – she does marry one of Achilles’ companions – and have that patchwork nature of the narrative be a feature? If the death of Hector could be told from inside the weaving room rather than being viewed then I don’t see why we had to be taken into the lives of Patroclus and Achilles and see it from their point of view. And the women find out about the death of Achilles from the wailing on the battlefield – it’s not like they have to view everything to know it! In fact couldn’t that be part of the exploration of the nature of being female, and a slave, in this context?
I think an exploration of masculinity through the lens of the Achilles/Patroclus friendship would be deeply interesting, told well, that is not the story for a book called The Silence of the Girls.
Another minor quibble is that this book is not sure what it thinks of the gods. I am reminded of the film Troy (which I quite liked, fight me): it only shows Thetis, and it hints at her connection to the sea but not her divinity, so it’s definitely a story about
humanity men. Here, though… the plague is probably because of Apollo but not definitely. There’s a line about Athens wrapping Achilles in her aegis but it’s unclear whether that’s meant to be read metaphorically. But Achilles is seen as the son of a goddess and Thetis is definitely one, having gone back to the sea when Achilles was a child (also it’s partly her fault he’s a bit of a psychopath), and she really does come out of the sea at Troy. So the gods are real but not especially involved? And there’s no comment from Briseis or others about whether the gods can be trusted or whether slaves just don’t get to call on deities and expect to be heard.
With the sections from Achilles’ perspective, the book verges on becoming just another retelling of the story rather than keeping its promise of exploring the consequences of war for women. It definitely does do some of that exploration, and more than half of it is from Briseis’ perspective (I estimate). But by shoving Achilles back into the story that he has always dominated – and not even to reflect on Briseis et al, which would have been startling and perhaps worthy – Barker undercuts her own apparent intentions of allowing the previously silent girls to speak.
While it’s beautiful work I am disappointed.
In which Alex touches Troy with her bare hand, Alisa discovers that the best part of Paris is not the part that’s underground, and Tansy cheats on both of them for love of Doctor Who (it was inevitable, really). You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
WHAT WE DID ON OUR SUMMER HOLIDAY!
Alex: Turkey and Egypt
Alisa: Honeymoon in Paris
Tansy: adventures on the internet including the article “Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That” syndicated on Tor.com, selling Wet Shirt Mr Darcy for the Deepings Dolls, and Verity! (a Doctor Who podcast)
Hugo Nominations close on Sunday, March 10, 2013. We’ll be making recs over the next few episodes, though in the mean time check out Tansy’s post on Hugo Recs for Best Graphic Story.
The Galactic Suburbia Award: for activism and/ or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2011 – to be announced in 2 weeks, get your nominations in quick! Check out last year’s winner and honours list to see the type of thing we want to hear about, or be reminded of!
TANSY: Eureka Seasons 1-4; Captain Marvel by Kelly Due DeConnick, Dexter Soy & Emma Rios; Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
ALISA: The entire series of The Closer, Tara Sharp 1: Sharpshooter and 2: Sharp Turn.
ALEX: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (the movie); Zendegi, Greg Egan; The Telling, Ursula le Guin… and how many books in total? Yes, Alisa really ran a book on this one.
AND!! Alisa’s exciting news!!
Happy Birthday to the Silent Producer, who totally missed us while we were away, and got a brand new episode to edit as his birthday present.
Please send feedback to us at email@example.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
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.
Not with work or anything, but with my responsibilities. Instead of reading some of the anthologies waiting for me, I’ve got Ilium, by Dan Simmons, to read. It’s mine, it’s just been with someone else for an awfully long time. Long enough that I’ve bought the sequel, Olympos, and haven’t read it yet – despite the fact that my hands almost literally itch every time I see it lying there on my bookshelf – because I must re-read the first so that it’s clear in my mind.
I love this book. I love it a lot. In fact, I love almost everything by Simmons, but that’s another issue. There aren’t too many books that manage to combine the Trojan stories with lovely, breath-taking scifi (yeh, OK, there’s Simon Brown’s Troy anthology – did I mention and I did a podcast on it?! – but short stories are a different teapot of eels from a full-blown space opera epic novel). It confused me delightfully the first time I read it, and I am loving reading it again – because I already know what various things mean, but there’s a lot of detail that I’ve forgotten and it’s just wonderful.
Pity I didn’t get this at the start of the holidays… as it is, I’m going to have to play a little bit of hookey when I go back to school next week, as I’ve got too much on this weekend to be able to finish it…
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.
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).
It was good.
I went with Mum because she has just recently done some Classics (actually she’s doing it at the moment, but not actual myth stuff), and so she understood when I got miffed or excited, which James would not really have.
They made a few changes, of course… I was a bit surprised at them completely leaving out the gods, to be honest. However, I guess it was already a fairly long movie, so things had to be sacrificed. A few people died who shouldn’t have, and didn’t need to (I thought, anyway). Eric Bana was fantastic, as expected, and Orlando Bloom was perfect for the role – if only because he just looked simply too beautiful to be a warrior; I thought he fit Paris just right. And Brad Pitt was pretty good too. It was also much fun, and not a little smug-ifying, to say “that must be Ajax” or Nestor or someone else… and be right. I think that says good things both about me and the film. Glad they got Aeneas in there too, much as I dislike Virgil.
It looked good: it was really well shot, I thought, although the bro got annoyed with some of Achilles’ long lingering looks. Personally I thought they fit. They must have used the Massive program from Peter Jackson – it reminded me very strongly of LOTR, in places, particularly the thousand ships.
Mum tells me that millihelens is a standard of measurement. If you’ve got 10 millihelens of beauty, you can launch 10 ships…
I’ve been thinking about naming my fish. James is slightly disturbed by the idea. I think he’s most disturbed by the fact that I want to go with classical names – Just Because.* You may recall, Faithful Reader (if you exist), that this trend was begun with the late, lamented Hektor. So: the bumblebee gobies are Castor and Pollux, because they’re virtually indistinguishable. The male molly is Zeus, of course; the beaten-up molly is Hephaestus, and the baby male is Ganymede… The Bitch Fish is Hera, also of course. I think the snail is Ajax. I’ve been trying to think of a couple to name the rainbows after, but I want to encourage them to be nice and have little rainbows so there aren’t really that many good role models that spring to mind! Maybe Priam and Hecuba. And I’m not sure whether the neons or the harlequins get to be the Argonauts. One or the other; the others can be the Nereids. Which leaves the SAEs, and I’m not sure about them either.
*Errata: actually, he tells me that he thinks naming them is a bad idea because their deaths cause enough grief as it is.