Today I have the utter joy of hosting author Nick Bowling who is sharing his thoughts on some Unheroic Greek heroes. We all know I love a bit of mythology (if you didn’t know that then WHERE HAVE YOU been?!) so this post is PERFECT in my life!
Nick’s new book In The Shadow of Heroes is out now and I can’t wait. It’s been snatched up by one of the kids in my class… so I guess I need to wait my turn!
“Fourteen-year-old Cadmus has been scholar Tullus’s slave since he was a baby – his master is the only family he knows.
But when Tullus disappears and a taciturn slave called Tog – formerly a British princess – arrives with a secret message, Cadmus’s life is turned upside down. The pair follow a trail that leads to Emperor Nero himself, and his crazed determination to possess the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology. This madcap quest will push Cadmus to the edge of the Roman Empire – and reveal unexpected truths about his past…”
Unheroic Greek heroes
The Greeks thought differently about what a hero was. Google the word “hero” today and you get the following result: “A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” Most people would agree with this as a definition. But in an Ancient Greek dictionary the word heros brings up three fairly vague ideas: 1) the Greeks before Troy, all free men of the Heroic age; 2) men born from a god and a mortal; 3) inferior local deities, patrons of tribes, cities, guilds, founders of cities etc. etc.
The important difference is that the heroes of Greece usually were people who demonstrated “courage” and performed “outstanding achievements”, but “noble qualities” were often sorely lacking. Nowadays, we assume that a hero has some kind of moral rectitude, but for the Greeks and Romans there were more shades of grey. Their heroes were messy, complex, conflicted, often just plain awful people. This is what makes them interesting; it’s also what makes them function as mirrors to our own lives.
IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES takes this idea and asks the question: what is a hero? To get you thinking, here are five heroes you might have heard of, along with some of their less “outstanding achievements”:
- We’ve all heard of Hercules suffering nobly through his Twelve Labours, but less well known is the reason why he had to perform them: he killed his wife and all his children in a fit of madness. The rest of Hercules’ life is similarly chequered with random acts of extreme violence. He killed his music teacher for correcting his mistakes, he killed King Eurytus and his sons when he was denied the hand of his daughter in marriage, he killed Sileus for forcing him to tend his vineyards. All of which was, sadly, left out of the Disney motion-picture.
- Heroic slayer of the Minotaur, but also heroic home-wrecker. He escaped from the Labyrinth with the help of Ariadne (King Minos’ daughter), who then eloped from Crete with him. Theseus then abandoned her on the island of Naxos, and upon returning to Athens forgot to change his black sail to a white sail, which would have signalled his success in defeating the Minotaur. His father Aegeus, assuming his son was dead, threw himself into the sea.
- After reclaiming the Golden Fleece from Colchis with the help of Medea (the King Aeetes’ daughter – there’s a pattern developing here…), Jason settled Corinth with her as his consort. He then got embarrassed by having a girlfriend who was foreign and, admittedly, a bit weird, and promptly dumped her to marry Creusa. This, despite the fact Medea helped him win the fleece in the first place, betrayed her family and travelled halfway around the world to be with him. This pushed Medea to perform one of the all-time great acts of female vengeance (no spoilers).
- Perhaps better known for his bad behaviour, but it still bears repeating. Achilles had the mother of all tantrums because Agamemnon took a slave girl from him. He refused to fight and said he won’t return until Agamemnon say sorry. Hundreds of his own men died as a result.
- Even the most unwarlike heroes don’t get clean consciences. Daedalus was a master craftsman, inventor and architect, who built the Minotaur’s labyrinth. While you might pity him for the death of his son Icarus (of melting wings fame), you’ll probably feel less sympathetic when you hear he killed his own nephew – threw him off the top of the Acropolis – because he came up with the idea for the handsaw before Daedalus did.
IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com
Follow Nicholas Bowling on twitter @thenickbowling
Why don’t you check out the rest of the blog tour?
Massive thank you to Chicken House and to Nick for his blog post! What a great start to a Wednesday!