March, and my third book bingo square for my book bingo with Theresa and Amanda. For this square, I have nominated the time in history you’d like to travel back to. Sticking clear of revolutions and war, I chose a book that is set during the Minoan era, as I think it would be interesting to go back, and learn about their culture, religion and practises first hand and then bring that knowledge back to ancient historians to build on what we have so far had to infer from archaeological evidence and second hand accounts translated from Ancient Greece.
The book I chose fort this square isDragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, which draws on the myths and archaeological evidence of the bull leapers of Knossos and the tribute sent yearly, or every seven years – depending on the source – by other islands to appease the minotaur, or Bull King. The most famous myth is that of Theseus, who managed to find his way out of the labyrinth but upon returning home, forgot to change the colours of the sails, and his father, Aegeus, thought his son had died and threw himself into the ocean we now call the Aegean Sea.
This book was a wonderful read and I loved finding out how the bull leaping ceremonies might have happened, where we lack a written text to properly inform us.
Synopsis: Abandoned by the priestess of the island at birth, Aissa is an outcast, surviving by her wits – until she joins the acrobatic bull dancers who are sent away to compete on the island of the Bull King. A gripping and powerful adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.
WINNER: 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award, Children’s Fiction
WINNER: 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, Children’s Literature
HONOUR BOOK: CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers, 2017
There are two ways of looking at Aissa’s story. She’s the miracle girl who escaped the raiders. Or she’s the cursed child who called the Bull King’s ship to the island.
The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly.
Now every year the Bull King takes a tribute from the island: two thirteen-year-old children to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court. None have ever returned – but for Aissa it is the only escape.
Aissa is resilient, resourceful, and fast – but to survive the bull ring, she will have to learn the mystery of her true nature.
A riveting, mythic Bronze Age adventure from award-winning author Wendy Orr.
When Aissa is born, she is abandoned at birth, feared disfigured, and taken in by another family until raiders kill them. Alone in the world, she is found by others, and dumped at the gates of the Great Hall of one of the Greek islands of the Bronze Age. Mute and nameless, she is referred to as No-Name by the servants and seen as cursed – bad things happen around her and she is called the cursed child, and so this is her life for eight years until the lottery of the youths who will be sent to the Bull King – to dance with the bulls, on what is most likely the Minoan island, Crete, at Knossos. Banished from the Hall, she is living in a cave for a time, until she is sent away.
Aissa learns that she can sing snakes and animals, but not talk – and she doesn’t realise she is doing this. When the priestesses at the Bull King’s island discover this, they take her under their wing to train as a priestess. Yet when she sings the animals at the bull leaping, she is thrust back into the world of slavery.
Set in the Bronze Age, and drawing on the myth of the Minotaur, the Minoans and Knossos, Wendy Orr has created a world where the role of names and identity is important to knowing who you are, as well as playing with the traditional sacrifice myth – where the maidens and youths of the isles were sent to the Minotaur as tribute every seven years.
The inspiration for the bull leapers comes from a fresco in Knossos known as The Bull Leaping fresco, depicting the ancient practice of bull leaping. In the novel, it is quite a dangerous affair, where many have died or been maimed over the years and have no returned to their homelands. The original painting is from around 1400BCE. The true purposes for bull leaping are not clear – without being able to translate Linear A, despite it being close to Linear B, used by the Mycenaeans, much guess work is undertaken about Minoan society from the archaeological evidence on Crete and Santorini. Or at least, perhaps not enough is known to fully translate it.
So this is where Wendy Orr starts to imagine what the bull leapers may have done, with a different take on the history and myths that are well known, through the eyes of a mute girl. To do so, the story is told partly in verse song, much like the oral tradition of the time, and the way the Odyssey has been written down, and partly in prose, exploring the rest of the story that way, and putting them together so the story is a whole entity and makes sense, and could easily fit within the mythic cycles, history and the traditions of works by Homer, and other epic poets of ancient times.
Minoan Bronze Age culture is not often used in books. Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman and the well-known stories of gods and goddesses are told. Perhaps because there is more to work with there, but surely there is also a sense of freedom in working with a culture where so much can be imagined and interpreted from the art and archaeology – until the scripts can be properly translated and give us more insight into the Minoans. It is the mystery of who they are and what they did that I think is what makes this book work, as so much must be imagined – but can also be drawn from the myths involving the island and the minotaur that it works well and I absolutely adored this book.
It is I think, appropriate for ages ten and older, for all readers, and can be the kind of book that just triggers an interest in that area of the world or history. For me, having studied the Minoans, I found it fascinating and then found myself tumbling down a rabbit hole of research into that area again, looking at frescoes. A great book and a good read to start the year and my many challenges.
Synopsis: A vivid history of the ancient goddess Venus by the bestselling historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes
Through ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations Bettany Hughes shows why this immortal goddess endures through to the twenty-first century, and what her journey through time reveals about what matters to us as humans.
Charting Venus’s origins in powerful ancient deities, Bettany demonstrates that Venus is far more complex than first meets the eye. Beginning in Cyprus, the goddess’s mythical birthplace, Bettany decodes Venus’s relationship to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and, in turn, Aphrodite’s mixed-up origins both as a Cypriot spirit of fertility and procreation – but also, as a descendant of the prehistoric war goddesses of the Near and Middle East, Ishtar, Inanna and Astarte. On a voyage of discovery to reveal the truth behind Venus, Hughes reveals how this mythological figure is so much more than nudity, romance and sex. It is the both the remarkable story of one of antiquity’s most potent forces, and the story of human desire – how it transforms who we are and how we behave.
Many gods and goddesses from various religions and myth cycles from all over the ancient world have not only fascinated people throughout the decades and centuries, but often have many counterparts. Aphrodite and Venus are two such goddesses – the same goddess from two different societies, who have gone from Greek to Roman origins, and have been found in other incarnations in other Near East or Middle Eastern ancient cultures where they have evolved and changed as the society has needed them in their pantheon of gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions that either pre-date or run concurrently with the monotheistic religions we associate with the modern equivalents of those places.
Bettany Hughes explores the Grecian and Roman sides of the same goddess – Aphrodite and Venus, and her role in art and the pantheon, and how she came to be in each tradition, and how this influenced arts, stories and other narratives and characters throughout history.
Venus-Aphrodite is a figure that is more than nudity, romance and sex. Like many gods and goddesses, she has many more roles and layers to her, and what she brings to mythology and the understanding of humanity and human emotion. This history adds to our understanding of a goddess who is often reduced to what she is known to represent and stand for in mythology, rather than the complexities behind what she does.
Rather than justify her actions throughout the various myth cycles, Bettany Hughes explores these as part of the history of Venus-Aphrodite and how she has been represented, and what this has meant in how she is viewed and builds on this with layers and complexities.
This is an intriguing book for anyone interested in antiquity, and especially women and their role in antiquity, which is only going to build on our understanding of women and their role in the ancient world. It will help bring to life these myths in a new and exciting way.
Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’ ‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. My kind of man.’ He laughed.
Istanbul, Turkey 1955
Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.
Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.
He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…
In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.
In 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.
This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.
But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.
The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.
As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.
Synopsis: When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born.
Yet after her sister Pasiphaë marries King Minos of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril.
In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.
Set in Ancient Greece, daughter of the sun god, Helios. and naiad, Perse, Circe is cast aside in the halls of their home as an outsider, mocked by her siblings and other gods, and named after a hawk. She is unlike anyone else, with her yellow eyes and strange voice – until her brother Aeëtes arrives, and finally, someone understands her. But still, she is isolated, as her sister, Pasiphaë marries Minos, and Aeëtes is sent away to rule his own island. So she begins meddling with mortals – Glaucus, a fisherman. When her spell backfires and he falls for her sister Scylla, the revenge she takes on Scylla sends her into an exile to Aiaia, where she traps sailors as pigs, and where one day, she meets Odysseus on his way back from Troy – a war of ten years and a journey back that has already taken several years – as told in The Odyssey. From here, Circe seals her fate as a mother and exile, and what she must endure for eternity.
The Circe (Kir-kee or Cir-cee) myth cycle is one of the most interesting myth cycles in Greek mythology. A sorceress and goddess, Circe’s most famous and well-known appearance is in The Odyssey with Odysseus when she turns his crew into swine and induces him to stay for a year on the island with her. As a witch, she used potions and magic to transform people into animals. Where most mythical retellings focus on the male heroes, Madeline Miller takes Circe’s tale and spins it into something new and fresh – Circe and what she did, her exile and how the other gods treated her and feared her – from her perspective of her role as a woman, as a goddess with the voice of a mortal but the body of a goddess and sorceress. It is Circe in her own words – what she did, what she felt when she was exiled and how she reacted to other divine figures sending their nymph daughters to her – to serve her, and in the eyes of the gods, give Circe companionship in her exile.
In Miller’s story, Circe’s dark revenge spell that she casts on her sister, Scylla, forms the backbone to this story. In a mythological world where each god, goddess and mythical figure crossover into each other’s myth cycles all the time, several other gods, goddesses and characters are woven in and out, such as Medea and Jason, seeking refuge away from Colchis, away from Aeëtes, and Pasiphaë and Minos, and the birth of the Minotaur. Madeline Miller has cleverly constructed a story that reads much like the ancient myths, but injected new life into them, amplifying the voices of the goddesses and sorceresses, and giving them a story where they are true to themselves, and where the reader goes on the emotional journey with them, never quite sure what to expect from them, or how to react to them.
Miler’s Circe is allowed to be human, though she tries to hide any instances of what the gods saw as human weakness, when it comes to her son, Telegonus, she does all she can to prevent what she fears the most. Each god and goddess show their good and bad side as well, and their ability to be heartless towards one character, yet at the same time, a patron towards another. Circe is shown as neither good nor bad, but in the grey areas in between, where many figures of mythology lie. As a lover of Greek mythology, seeing the female characters front and centre, in their own words, rather than the ancient texts, is intriguing and fascinating. Whilst still living in antiquity, modern authors give them agency and voice that ancient authors didn’t always, or that the myths didn’t allow for. The mythological world is fascinating in all its incarnations, and this latest Circe interpretation is no exception – she is feminist yet fits into her time in antiquity and uses this to her advantage, and she is individual – embracing every part of who she is because it what makes her Circe, not what Helios and the rest of her family wish she was. Circe is powerful and vulnerable in equal measure and is cautious about letting her guard down – and she is a heroine in her own right, standing up for herself and not letting the world dictate what she must do.
Book Title: Trying War, (Hero Trilogy Book Two)
Author: S.D. Gentill
Publisher: Pantera Press
Genre: Young Adult/Mythology/Fantasy
Release Date: 17th February 2012
Book Synopsis: Mac, Cad, Lycon and Hero return to the ruins of Troy to conf
ront disaster. Once again the Herdsmen of Ida are caught in unfolding legend – facing monsters, murderers and the gods at war, in a desperate attempt to challenge what the fates have decreed.
Picking up where Chasing Odysseus left us, we rejoin Mac, Cad, Lycon and Hero on their journey across the ancient Greek world. From their pursuit of Odysseus back to Ithaca to reclaim the honour for the Herdsmen of Ida, but their return is hindered by Hero’s capture by the Amazons, in search of a new Queen to have a child with Ares, their god, after the death of her mother, Pentheselia. Bremusa, which I deduced was Hero’s true name before her mother stripped her of it and sent her to live with Agelaus at the beginning of Chasing Odysseus where their journey begins. Hero’s capture made me scream NO, so many times in my mind, that I felt I was there with her brothers and Oenone plotting to get her back. Their journey brings them into contact with Medea, a figure from Greek mythology I am quite familiar with, and was immediately fascinated by her appearance, yet alarm bells started ringing as I knew her myth cycle…this is the witch who, in revenge for her husband, Jason, abandoning her and taking up with another princess, a revenge which led her to unspeakable acts that are described in the book and in all her myth cycles. S.D. Gentill has definitely done her research here with the ancient sources and any other sources. In terms of the Medea myth cycle, she has seamlessly combined each aspect of the myth cycle explored by different ancient texts together to explore her character. Her involvement with the Herdsmen does not last the entire novel, but enough for her to cause enough havoc and bring the Erinyes after Machaon for much of the book.
Trying War doesn’t follow a specific myth cycle, rather it takes on various aspects of the Pantheon of Olympus, Medea, and the priestesses of Artemis in their temple in ancient Athens, in the heyday of the power and authority of the Pantheon, and has our heroes, the Herdsmen and their sister, encountering Ares himself, due for trial in front of the entire Pantheon for a crime against another god. The climax rises with the decision of the fates and the pantheon – too many spoilers to give away here for potential readers, so all I will say that it was a great climax and finale. This familiarity with the Greek mythological cycles, I feel, gave me a better understanding of the books but it isn’t a necessary understanding to have: the important facts of the myth cycles, such as Medea’s, are presented to the reader in conversation.
Yet another spectacular book from Sulari, and I look forward to many more in the future. A definite fan here.
Book Title: Chasing Odysseus, first book in the Hero Trilogy
Author: S.D. Gentill
Publisher: Pantera Press
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Mythology
Release Date: 2011
Book Synopsis: Four young heroes in a quest against myth, magic…and betrayal. One girl, three brothers…four daring young heroes… Treachery, transformations and a deadly quest. A thrilling adventure of ancient myth, monsters, gods, sorcerers, sirens, magic, and many evils…the fall of Troy and a desperate chase across the seas in a magical ship… Hero and her three brothers, Mac, Cad, and Lycon go on this exciting and dangerous quest to prove their murdered father’s honour, the betrayal by King Odysseus and the loyalty of their own people to the conquered city of Troy.
Chasing Odysseus opens with Hero being presented to her father, Agelaus by her Amazonian mother, Pentheselia at age five. Rejected by the Amazonian tribe, and her true name, Hero is welcomed into the arms of Agelaus and her brothers, Machaon, Cadmus and Lycon, Herdsmen of Ida, during the Trojan War. Tragedy befalls the family when they are named as traitors to the Trojans and blamed for aiding Odysseus and his men enter Troy in a wooden horse. Thus begins the journey of Hero and her brothers to find Odysseus, and have him put the story right.
I entered this world with a knowledge and love of Greek mythology that carried me through several university degrees, and immediately, I was swept up
The novel uses the descriptors of the gods used by Homer in the Odyssey, and this link to the original text, though the story is told from an opposing viewpoint to that of the Greeks and Odysseus. Their Phaecian ship takes them on a journey across the world as it was known in ancient times and the setting of the Odyssey. I was swept up into this story, and felt at home amongst the gods and the various ancient Greeks and their alliances. I sat with Hero as she made her sacrifices to the gods, and protected her brothers from the wrath of Zeus, journeyed with them as they met Pan, and ate with the Cyclopes. Having previously read The Odyssey, this retelling of the tale was of great interest to me.
Though this book, and its sequels are aimed at the YA audience, it is a lovely read for those familiar with the world of Greek Mythology. The journey of discovery in Chasing Odysseus that Hero and her brothers take to avenge the death of their father, and to return honour to the Herdsmen of Ida at the hands of Odysseus.
Chasing Odysseus follows the pattern of The Odyssey, a journey that took Odysseus ten years following the conclusion of the Trojan War, from his entrapment by Calypso to encounters with The Lotus Eaters, Circe, Polyphemus, the Cyclops, the Sirens, and with Nausicaa, a Phaeacian princess, to whom he recounts his tale, before he is able to return home. The period of time is unclear in Gentill’s work, but could be days, weeks, months or years, if following the narrative of The Odyssey. Whether it does or not, however, does not take away from the beauty of Chasing Odysseus, and the wonderful set up for the subsequent books.
A five star rating, and recommendation to anyone who loves adventure, mythology or just a good read, and it is not essential to have read The Odyssey before hand.