Monday, December 27, 2010

The Return of Cleomenes.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

I hope you had a great time with family and friends, or at the very least enjoyed time by yourself and caught up on things like eating yummy food and curling up with a good book.I myself spent a very merry Christmas with my family and even texted friends with my new smart phone (a Samsung Fascinate). I've also done a lot of writing.

Still a bit stuck on my Themistocles novel, I found myself writing a story for a video game based on Heracles instead (more about that on a future blog). I also returned to a murder mystery I had started long ago about the death of King Cleomenes I of Sparta. Who is Cleomenes, you ask? Well...

Cleomenes was a very unusual ruler. Unlike other Spartan kings who were more or less hereditary generals, Cleomenes was an aggressive policy maker as well as a fearsome warrior. He bullied his allies, tried to kill off the fledgling democracy in Athens, bribed the Oracle at Delphi in order to get rid or a rival, burned down a sacred grove near Argos where enemy soldiers had taken refuge, and threw Persian messengers down a well after they demanded tokens of submission. This was a cunning and often unpredictible monarch.

Cleoemenes' death was as unusual as his life. After finally being caught bribing the Pythia at Delphi, he fled Sparta in an attempt to escape prosecution. Somehow the Spartans managed to coax him back into the polis, but by then his sanity had begun to slip, and he started poking passersby with his staff of office. The Spartans claimed they had no choice but to lock him up, leaving a helot (a sort of Spartan slave or serf) to watch over him. According to Herodotus, Cleomenes managed to somehow talk the helot into giving him a knife. Once the weapons was handed over Cleomenes then began to disembowel himself, dying a painful and gruesome death. Why the helot didn't stop him is unclear; perhaps he simply wasn't sorry to see his master go. In any case the Spartans ruled the king's death a suicide, blaming his madness and subsequent end on his excessive drinking habit. Apparently nobody challenged this rather dubious explanation (perhaps because most people outside Sparta simply assumed that his suicide was divine retribution for bribing the Oracle and burning down the sacred grove near Argos), and the matter of the king's death was soon forgotten in the face of an impending invasion by Persian forces.

My story starts after Cleomenes' death, and is told from the point of view of Orthryades, the king's closest companion and the only one willing to investigate the death as a crime. As he questions each suspect Orthryades starts having flashbacks of all of Cleomenes' wrong-doings and how they affected people, allowing the reader to understand how and why Cleomenes ended up with so many enemies.

By the end of the first few chapters the protagonist finds himself with a long list of suspects. There's Prince Leonidas (next in line for the Agiad throne), Prince Cleombrotus (also in line for the Agiad throne) King Demaratus (disposed Eurypontid king and rival to Cleomenes), King Leotychidas (current Eurypontid king who may have wanted to be rid of a difficult partner-in-crime), Prince Euryanax (son of Prince Dorieus, half-brother to Cleomenes who died overseas after an unsuccessful attempt to take the throne from his older sibling)and Dieneces (leader of Sparta's secret police and Demaratus' loyal right-hand man). There are also a lot of witnesses who may know more than they are letting on, including Princess Gorgo (daughter of Cleomenes and wife to Leonidas) and Prince Pausanias (son of Prince Cleombrotus).

At any rate, I'm pretty excited about revisiting this story. I think Cleomenes is one of Sparta's most fascinating kings and a murder mystery surrounding his death makes for a good tale. What do you guys think? Interesting? Boring? Confusing? Let me know in the comments section! (And don't worry, I'm still working on Themistocles' story!)