Historic and Anachronistic Characters in “Medousa.”

The fantasy novel, Medousa, is set in what the ancient Greeks would have called the Age of Heroes, a time in which the Gods consorted with mortals, and their offspring became the heroes of legend. This was a time in which the foundation myths of ancient Greece were laid down, much like our own foundation myths, as laid down in the Bible.

However, as I note in the revised Afterword in the novel, I have thrown in a number of characters who were real historic figures. And the figures of myth and legend are also mixed in without regard to their proper time and place in history. I thought I might take this opportunity to talk about some of them.

The Age of Heroes—populated by such luminaries as Perseus, Theseus, Heracles, Achilleus, and so on—would have been beyond the Early Bronze Age, when some of Greek myth began entering in upon legend—like Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ais (Ajax), Helen of Sparta, and so on.

I’ll begin with Cynisca of Sparta, Medousa’s mistress, and later, lover.

Cynisca was born in 440 BCE, a princess, daughter of king Archidamus II and queen Eupoleia, of the Eurypontid family. She was also sister to Agesilaus II, who later also became king of Sparta. She was named for her grandfather Zeuxidamus, who was also known as Cyniscos. The name Cyniscos/Cynisca refers to a particular breed of hound much prized in Sparta for its skill in tracking.

Cynisca herself was said to be quite the hoyden, and she was an extremely skilled and gifted equestrian. Cynisca was also quite wealthy. In 396 BCE, she became the first woman in history to win Olympic gold.

While women were not allowed to participate directly in the games—the races and combat events—they were allowed to participate by owning and/or training teams for the equestrian events. Cynisca trained a team for the “tethrippon–” the four-horse chariot races, She won in 396 BCE and again in 392 BCE. It was said that her brother Agesilaus encouraged her to enter the Olympic games. Some say that he was trying to somehow discredit the games by doing so, and others say that he was trying to display the prowess of Spartan women.

In any case, Cynisca was honored with a bronze statue of herself erected in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, and was given a hero-shrine at Plane Tree grove in Sparta. It was a place of religious devotion in Sparta, and usually only kings were so honored; Cynisca was the first woman to receive such an honor.

Cynisca’s best friend, in the novel, is Helen of Sparta, perhaps known more popularly as Helen of Troy. Most of us already know the story of Helen—Daughter of the God Zeus and queen Leda of the Agiad royal family. She was married to Menalaus, but was abducted by (or willingly eloped with, depending on which version of the story is being read) Paris of Ilion, and thus instigating a ten year war between Troy and practically all of Greece. Helen, along with Ajax and Teukros, if they ever truly existed, would have lived during the 7th Century BCE. Quite far apart from Cynisca and the Eurypontid royals. Nevertheless, I wanted to include characters from this era, so as to link the age of myth to recorded history.

Depending on the author, Helen has been portrayed as a mostly innocent woman, who had been abducted by Paris and his allies, bewitched by Aphrodite. Some say that Helen knew exactly what she was doing, and actively fled with Paris, hoping to become queen of a powerful and wealthy Hittite city. I obviously went with the former interpretation of the character in my portrayal.

I thought it important to make Helen the wise one of the group of friends, their counselor, and the one with common sense. I felt that it would make her fall all the more poignant, knowing her future doom, even though the novel does not directly explore that story.

Other anachronistic inclusions include personages such as Chionis of Sparta, who was a three time Olympic champion between 665 and 656 BCE. And Epicurus of Samos, 341-270 BCE, the founder of the Epicurean school of philosophy, and who was known to have been willing to teach women as well as men in his school.

Another anachronism involves Spartan society. I have included elements of very late Spartan custom, although the time period the story is set in pre-dates even our myths about Spartan society. And speaking of the Myth of Sparta, this video is well worth your time, and highlights many of the misconceptions we have to this day about ancient Sparta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=303&v=hMQmU0epVr4



About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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