Monday, December 10, 2007

Thinking Aloud

Famous bust of Themistocles (Roman copy)

I keep mulling over why it's so hard to write O&E. I think I've said this before, but I blame the time period. The early 5th century in Attica is a transitional period, which makes it hard to write about. To add to the frustration, ancient historians didn't always agree with one another, which means modern historians squabble about when things were invented, who did what and when they did it. This confusion makes it hard to reconcile certain "facts" in history and in my story.

This past weekend I finally come up with a plausible backstory for Themistocles, and even then I had to tweek some stuff. For example, his Archonship is traditionally dated to 493 BCE, but I push it foward to 483 BCE, because it makes his career easier to follow (and besides, Herodotus says that Themistocles had only recently came to power when he was in charge at Salamis!)

Anyway, this is what I have so far (keeping in mind it's still a very rough draft) :

Themistocles (son of Neocles) was raised by a single father after his mother--a foreigner-- died when Themistocles was two. The boy who's name means "Glory of the Law" lived in dire poverty after his father gambled away most of their money. The only way they could get by was to swindle the citizens of Athens by various monetary scams. Meanwhile Themis was influenced by the philospher Mnesiphilus and learned to appreciate the art of oration, which would help him later in the political arena.

When Themistocles was in his early teens he was a witness to great political change. In the late 6th century Cleisthenes established democracy in Athens, loosening the stranglehold the aristocrats had on power and giving it to the common citizen. Themistocles was so inspired by Cleisthenes he vowed to become a powerful politician himself. In the meantime he eeked out a living as an unsuccessful lawyer, until he suddenly landed a major case: Miltiades had fled Thracian Cersonese where Athens had a colony and was accused by the citizens of Attica of being a tyrant and put on trial. Remarkably, Themistocles managed to convince the jury not only to drop the charges but pursuaded them that Miltiades could be useful should the Persians ever attack Athens. When the Persians made their move not long after it was Miltiades who led them in battle. After the spectacular victory Miltiades tried to "punish" the city-states in the east that supported Persia but his mission was a failure and he returned home in disgrace. Men called for the death penalty, claiming that Miltiades tricked them, but once again Themistocles managed to change the verdict to a fine instead. Unfortuantly Miltiades died in jail and his young son Cimon was forced to pay the steep fine of 50 talents.

After making a name for himself as a lawyer Themistocles went on to work in the public sector until he gained enough popularity to run for Archon. In 483 he did just that and won by a landslide (some say a crafty scheme was involved). It was during his Archonship that Athens had a major windfall: a huge amount of silver was discovered just south of the city. Themistocles--using his political muscle, a little persuasion, and a lot of blackmail--convinced the citizens to use the silver to pay for a new fleet of ships. They agreed, though not without his enemies trying to ostrasize him. In an ironic twist he managed to get his enemies ostrasized instead! Meanwhile Themistocles increased the power of the Board of Generals so that he could join it after being Archon and continue to be a major influence. He also made sure nobody could have as much power as Archon again by pushing for the Archonship to be determined by lot. After a whirlwind year of change Themistocles go onto the Board of Generals where he continues to wield a surprising amount of power. But his enemies are determined to see his downfall. And for some, that means looking to the East for help...