Thursday, March 20, 2008

Old School: Yea or Nay?

While writing the Owl & The Eagle (another excerpt IS coming, I promise!) I've had to describe a lot of items from Ancient Greece that no longer really exist. This has proven to be a fun challenge, but it begs the question: should I or shouldn't I use the correct Greek terms?

On the one hand, using terms like kylix, skyphos, himation, etc. certainly gives the story a more authentic feel, and also assures readers that the author has done her research. On the other hand, there's something intimidating and even pretentious about weighing the reader down with terms that aren't familiar to them. I mean they're already dealing with difficult names like Themistocles, Artaphernes and Megabyzus (note that I'm not just writing for history buffs).


Ladies and gentlemen, a skyphos.

Here's a small excerpt from a chapter featuring Themistocles and his grumpy father-in-law. Note the two ways I can write it.

1) His father in-law muttered something about unwashed feet and hands, then hurumphed. "So, you need money again, do you?" "How well you know me," Themistocles said with a grin. He took a couch opposite the Boutad patriarch, though none was offered. He helped himself to some wine as well. "That's for my guest," the old man protested as Themistocles filled his saucer to the brim. "It's so good of him to share, too."

2) His father in-law muttered something about unwashed feet and hands, then hurumphed. "So, you need money again, do you?" "How well you know me," Themistocles said with a grin. He took a couch opposite the Boutad patriarch, though none was offered. He helped himself to some wine as well. "That's for my guest," the old man protested as Themistocles filled his kylix to the brim. "It's so good of him to share, too."

Which is better?

One more question. Would a glossary be a good idea? I am sure that I will use one for names, but as I've stated I'm not sure about throwing items into the mix.

8 comments:

Constance said...

I would go for sprinkling the correct terminology through the book. After all, your target audience is fairly knowledgeable. In the second example you give, even someone unfamiliar with the terms can pick up the meaning from the context. I like the odd 'foreign' word in my history and fantasy fic. Adds to the flavor. :)

David Anthony Durham said...

Kylix wins, in my opinion.

You've got all the right instincts about this issue, and you're asking the right questions. Authenticity of detail goes a long way. Just make sure you're using these terms for the reader's benefit. If you do that you're golden.

Meghan said...

Constance--

I think it adds flavor too. But maybe I'm worried that I'LL be the one lost in translation! LOL

David--

you have a really good point. I need to keep in mind what's good for the reader. I guess as long as it's not too overwhelming, I can use the terms to give authenticity to the story and maybe even educate people along the way.

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Wynn Bexton said...

Yes, I think you can use the real ancient names so long as you don't overdo it and it's clear what the items is. (like in the second paragraph, it's pretty clear.) And yes, a glossary is certainly acceptable.

Carla said...

Kylix is fine in the example as it's clear from the context what sort of thing it is. A reader can go and look it up in the glossary if they want to but they don't have to, so it doesn't break the flow of the story.

Meghan said...

I just realized that if I use the authentic Greek it will look weird alongside the Latin spelling for names. But I LIKE the Latin spelling! Arrgg.

Gabriele C. said...

My vote is for the second version as well. And yes to a glossary. :)