Monday, March 09, 2009

Themistocles: The Ancient Greek Churchill?




Or to be more chronologically correct, is Churchill the British Themistocles?




These mens' lives are a near perfect mirror image of each other. Both saved their respected cities from aggressive conquerers, both were stubborn and difficult to get along with, both were unperturbed in the face of danger, both were voted out of office after a smashing victory, and both were known to have a sharp wit and a sharper tounge. The more I read about Churchhill, the more struck I am by how much he and Themsitocles are alike. Which leads me to a question for my blog readers:

Should I give my novel a Churchillian flavor?

I LOVE WC's writing, but worry about my novel looking like I took a copy of My Early Life and simply crossed out the word Winston and wrote Themistocles above it. I don't want any accusations of plagiarism or unoriginal voice. Still, I think it would be neat if the style was reminiscent of the witty Prime Minister. Or is that just lazy/lame/annoying?

There's also the problem I'm having finding my own voice. Right now the tone of my novel changes depending on which of my favorite authors I'm currently reading. I have yet to establish my own unique voice and it's driving me crazy.

What do you think? Any suggestions would be helpful.

BTW, I'm getting closer to writing THE END for my first draft. I'm so excited!

14 comments:

D.A. Riser said...

Good post. I'm working on an ancient Greek novel as well. Fun times!

If you do use Churchill, it might make for a good platform when you go to market your book. At the top of your novel's cover could be "The Churchill of Ancient Greece" or something more clever.

I look forward to hearing what you do.

Constance said...

Go, Meghan. Finish that first draft! :)
*Cheerleading provided by Procrastinators Anonymous, Constance, charter member...*

Meghan said...

Hey D.A. your book looks awesome! Can't wait to read it (people need to write more books on Ancient Greece)!

Thanks Constance for the cheerleading-- it legit means a lot to me (it's lonely if you're writing and nobody cares).

D.A. Riser said...

Thanks, Meghan. Go Greece!

Wynn Bexton said...

Hi Megan, I'm sure your voice will develop in the next draft. I found at first I was using too many phrases that sounded Mary Renaultish as I read her stuff over and over, but eventually, by being careful to rephrase things in my own words, I got my own voice. In fact, a close friend who was reading early drafts of Shadow (who knew Renault's writing) said he liked my style and voice much better. So there you go. You'll get it in the end.

Carla said...

I'd be wary of consciously trying to imitate a particular style. Whenever I've tried it in the past it always ends up sounding stilted. FWIW, I suspect that if you're thinking of Themistocles as Churchill, some of the style will find its way in without you having to do it consciously. Is that happening?
Anyway, good luck, and congratulations on being near THE END!

Meghan said...

Carla,
That's a good point. It might happen anyway. I'm still on the first draft which will need a lot of work,so that gives me an opportunity to go back and see how it reads.

Wynn,

I totally understand. My writing reflects whoever I'm reading at the time so it sounds like GRRM one day and SKP the next. :p

D.A. Riser said...

Stephanie Meyer commented that she developed her character's voices by talking with them all the time inside her head. If that doesn't work, you could try drafting out different scenes with the characters. Even though their ancient Greeks, write a scene for fun with you and them at your favorite restaurant arguing over who will pay the bill. Things like that take some time, but I find that it helps me in the long run.

Know thyself? No, know thy characters! Right ...

Gabriele C. said...

If you put that hat on Themistocles, they even look alike. :)

I've gone through that stage of 'my voice sounds like Tolkien today and Carey tomorrow' stage as well, but fortunately, it didn't last long, and I've found my own voice. Maybe it's somethine every writer has to deal with.

Scott Oden said...

*Joins Constance in the cheering section* Go, Meghan! Go! Write like the wind!

Anonymous said...

A novel on Themistocles is a great subject choice. So too a novel on Alcibiades, another exiled Athenian with connections to Sparta and Persia!
About the 21 letters of Themistocles: The best book on them is by N. A. Doenges, The letters of Themistocles (Princeton 1954/1981?). He shows who was Themistocles' friends, enemies, contacts.

Some more suggestions:
Be careful of names: the family's "coined" name was Alcmaeonidai (the -ai ending is a common noun ending to denote feminine plural, used often for family groups, including names of priestly clans (Eteoboutadai), other families with heroic ancestry (Philaidai), and even town names (Philaidai too, Scambonidai). A good way to translate into English the family's collective name is the Alcmaeonids (the s signifying the plural members of the family, named after Alcmaeon, father of Megacles I, who as archon--Athenian president for a year--led the attack on Cylon and his supporters on the Acropolis, when Cylon tried to establish himself as a tyrant. Megacles II led a faction against Peisistratus, who eventually did become Athens' tyrant, as you know.)

Be care of the difference between lead and led.

Check out the articles by Hans van Wees (any one that has in the title something about the Mafia). I agree with his assessment of pre-Classical Athenian society, that members of the elite behaved like our Mafiosi. Themistocles' father was most likely a newly enriched man and so his son a newcomer to the elite circles. I do not buy his priestly clan (Lycomidai) membership. That seems to have been a misunderstanding. Thus, Themistocles had to work harder than a Kimon of the Philaids, or Kleisthenes of the Alcmeonids, to achieve what he did.
My own-not yet published-depiction of this society is similar to van Wees': each elite tried to build as large a military and political faction of faction supporters as possible. Athenian society was basically a "stand-off" between faction leaders. I depict the sixth century as one riddled with civil wars before and after the tyranny. Themistocles' letters indicate to me that he was no different: he gathered many supporters to back him politically and financially. His enemies collectively attacked him for fear of his popularity. Emulation was a positive mover of Athenian culture: one elite comes up with a new device to gain attention, the others follow suit. Leveling down was the negative force: to keep any one elite from getting too far ahead, his peers ganged up, charged the leader with the most novel device as a cheat or traitor, and forced him into exile through legislation of the assembly. See Sara Forsdyke's book on exile. Those sent into exile (or ostracized) lost their "honor" (atimia) while remaining in Attica. Anyone who was atimios (without honor) could be killed by anyone else, because those without honor had no political backing. No one could go to court on his behalf.

Good luck.

Alex K. Schiller

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