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July Update and Big Changes

Argh! 1 month and 26 days until ‘The Immortal City’ release! I thought I’d be less excited by now but the opposite is proving true – I AM PUMPED. I can’t wait until this baby is out in the world. It will be my first release with a traditional publishing house so I feel like everything is new and strange again – but in a really good way with supportive people around me. Speaking of support Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has left reviews on NetGalley (omg you guys it’s hit 95 reviews) and any other blog/social media platform etc. I’m sharing the ones I see on Instagram and including them in my ‘Immortal City’ highlights because bookstagramers make the BEST pics. I can’t NOT share them. Seriously, I appreciate every single one. While ARCS are now closed don’t forget you can pre-order it here.

In other news I’m just about to hit 70k words of book 3 of ‘Magicians of Venice’ I’m trying not to freak out at how far I still have to go with it or rush through it to get that pesky draft 0 done. I have the time to go slower with this one and I’m really forcing myself to take the time to enjoy the ride. This series always takes so much more from me than any other books I’ve ever written but I’m already ridiculously in love with it and crazy proud how its coming together.

Here are some pictures of the street that my Magicians live on to celebrate. There will be location videos that I’ll also be sharing once the book is out as well. I hate the sound of my voice on camera but the places are far too pretty and awesome not to share.

While I was in Venice in November I really took the time to sit back, look at my plaftform and my writing process and I vowed to slow down in 2019, to take out the things that were stressing me out and not serving me. Some of the things was focusing on writing ONLY one book this year without killing myself to hit a dead line, cleaning up my brand, doing no university units, and in general taking out the things that stress me out.

On that note, you may have noticed a few changes around my site and Amazon etc. I have taken down ‘The Eagle Key’ and both of the ‘Western Wars’ books. Why? Mostly its because they aren’t really on brand. They are epic fantasy series experiments that I put up to see if they sold okay and if they did, I’d write more in those worlds. While I did have some enthusiastic fans, they never really sold, and I don’t really feel the need to keep writing in those worlds or growing / marketing them. I’d rather focus on The Firebird Fairytales Universe and other unannounced projects. I love writing contemporary fantasy / paranormal so they are the genres I’m going to write and focus on.

Another change is I’ve taken down my paperbacks from Createspace and Ingramspark. Why? Okay there are a bunch of reasons but mainly cost. Ingramspark are about to rise their prices again and because my books are large, and they charge per page, the cost of them were $18 USD as a base sales price, which means retailers were going to have to charge about $40 (for ‘Rise of the Firebird’ my biggest) to make any profit on them. That is insane. It comes down to me being an indie and not having the distribution discounts that other publishers have. Also there has been US Tax legislation and whole swag of other changes that have come in and to be honest? I literally can’t keep up with it all. Maybe in a few months if I’m swamped with requests for paperbacks, I’ll put them back up on Createspace so at least Amazon will have them, but I’m not planning on it. I’ve never really sold paperbacks, I’ve never promoted them either, so its going to be one less stress for me to worry about. This is not even mentioning the extra costs of covers and formatting that come with producing a paperback – money I could be using to get other books out digitally. Its a bummer but at the end of the day, I’m flexible to putting them back up again if there’s a need for it.

Enough boring bummed out stuff – I went to see The Cursed Child this month and it was INSANE. I’m one of the few people that didn’t read it and have managed to avoid most of the major spoilers because I really wanted to see the show. I was NOT disappointed. I was blown away. I go to a lot of musicals and theater and this was one of the best productions I’ve ever seen. The stage effects alone were fucking insane. I’m keen to keep the secrets but omg that shit was magical and I swear I almost peed a little when a frickin damn Dementor floated out of no where. I also got to go FULL Slytherin, I’m a 100% in love with old man Draco, I ship the hell out of Scorpious and Albus, and none of that should surprise anyone. It was the best day, and I really recommend anyone who has the opportunity to go to do it.

BECAUSE I watched Cursed Child and was in the mood for magic schools and fucked up chosen ones, I finally picked up ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell. I KNOW I’m the last person to reach this and fall in love but dudes…I AM SO IN LOVE. It was so much fun. I love the reluctant kind of crap chosen one trope and just ALL of it. Baz…do I need to say it? BAZ. I’m in love. I literally felt queasy when I was finished because I havent loved a book this hard in a really long time. I pre-ordered the hell out of ‘Wayward Son’ and counting down until November to get it in my hot little hands.

I haven’t had a huge amount of reading time this month because I’ve been wrecked (mid-winter darkness kicks my ass so hard) and also been using my spare time to focus on writing and researching (Gods Below so much research) but the other two books I’m keen as hell to finish off; ‘War’ by Laura Thalassa and ‘The King’ by Jennifer Armentrout. I have been waiting about a year for both of these so I’m trying not to go full crazy and read them all at once. There are a lot of mixed feelings out there by the Horseman series of Laura’s but I personally love them and the morally grey characters and fucked up situations they find themselves in. The world building and whole vibe of the books are insanely good – she has gone next level as a writer with them and I’m ecstatic and blown away. I really could rave about it for a good long while but I won’t because spoilers. But seriously…how hot is this cover? Probably my fave hot cover of the year so far. I rave about my love for Jennifer Armentrout a lot on this blog but I seriously LOVE her ‘Wicked Trilogy’ world – fae, hunters, New Orleans – how can I not be obsessed with it? ‘The King’ is a sequel to last years ‘The Prince’ and I nearly sobbed with happiness when I saw it arrive on my Kindle this morning. It’s like one novel split – just to warn you. I can’t wait to keep reading – Brighton is a great character and a lot of fun to read.

That about wraps me up, guys, this blog has gotten sooo much longer than I expected. Assassin’s Creed has released its final DLC and I’ve FINALLY got to Atlantis. I haven’t finished it yet so I’ll save my hard core fangirling until  next time.

Ames xx

 

 

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Ancient History, fairytale, fantasy, magic, NetGalley, Novels, paranormal, Research, Reviews, The Immortal City, The Magicians of Venice, Venice, World mythology, Writing

June Update

June is almost gone, and I’ve been flat out as usual. The blog unfortunately is the first thing that suffers but if I can get to it before the month is out I count it as a win.

Okay first up… ‘The Immortal City’ got a good review in Publishers Weekly this month. It’s a big deal for an writer and I couldn’t be more stoked about it. The review tally on NetGalley has passed 70 this week which continues to blow me away. The book has good energy around it and it’s keeping me on point and excited with the release (2 months, 25 days and 13 hrs to go).

It feels like every week something is happening that’s  super exciting and I’m trying hard to create a steady routine around work and writing. Its been a real learning experience this year, focusing on only completing the one book and managing the different pace. I’m really glad that I cleared everything else because book 3 has been challenging to write around everything else thats happening. I’m nudging 60k words and its growing together but it really has taken me since March to find a rhythm with it. I’m hoping to get the draft done by September so I can focus on promoting ‘The Immortal City’ without worrying about a word count. I read a really great article by Erin Morgenstern about the challenges of writing ‘The Starless Sea’ and creating a bubble to create freely in without external distractions and pressures. I’ve been feeling that pretty hard lately and so I’m focused on getting book 3 finished by September so I can have that bubble to write as honestly and clearly as I can in it. I’m giving it my everything and even in draft form, I know its the best thing I’ve written.

This month I’ve also been to see the new exhibit at the NGV here in Melbourne: Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo -Qiang. It was freaking AMAZING. I knew I’d nerd out over the warriors but I was surprised how much I loved Cai Guo-Qiang pieces (made with gundpowder on silk!) so much so I ended up buying a print for my office and a warrior for my desk. Here are some photos, including me all clean and out of the writing cave.

Saturday was also the Winter Solstice here in Melbourne and I ventured out to Her Royal Majesty’s theatre and watched a production of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” and had a blast! It’s one of my fave musicals and seeing it on stage was just incredible.

 

Apart from all that excitement, I’ve been reading some great books lately including:

Margaret Rogersons ‘Sorcery of Thorns’…okay EVERYONE has been on my case to read Margaret Rogerson and I finally cleared my TBR to jump into this one…I mean, sorcerors and sentiant libraries? I couldn’t say no to that even if I wanted to. I’m so in love with Charlie Bowater that I couldn’t resist that cover either. I really enjoyed this one, it was the perfect feel good read for my scattered burned out writer brain. And yes..I DID go and download ‘Enchantment of Ravens’ onto my Kindle straight after. They are charming, warm fuzzy reads that I know I’ll return to for whenever I need a comfort read. I’m hopelessly in love with Thorn but I’m only human. 

I’m also consuming all of Jennifer Armentrouts ‘Dark Elements’ series. Despite it being more YA than I’m really into, there’s enough going on out side of the school yard to keep me interested. The world building alone is so freaking good and as a 90’s kid who was obsessed with the animated ‘Gargoyles’ series you can pretty much put anything with a gargoyle in front of me and I’ll read it. Armentrout is usually a sure bet for me and its been perfect for a somewhat overloaded brain.

In other reads I’ve also just started ‘Djinn City’ by Saad  Z. Hossain  and have been laughing my ass off. It’s hilarous but also so clever its blowing my mind. It has, quite possibly, the BEST explanation for djinn magic I’ve ever seen. The world building, djinn society, the structure of it all, is seamless and perfect. I get so excited when I read something so good that I slow my pace right down just to appreciate it from a writer perspective as well as a reader.  I’m not done and I already am recommending it to every fantasy lover I know.

In gaming news, I’m still obsessed with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey DLC’s that they’ve been releasing. GUYS I’M IN THE UNDERWORLD. The next series I want to write is basically Greek Myth retellings and so my brain is melting everytime I get to sass Hades.  I mean….LOOK.  How  can  I  not  be  in  love.

There’s nothing else to tell except I’m now on Instagram. Twitter has never been a platform I’ve enjoyed so I’ve gone on a permanent hiatus over there and am focusing on Facebook and Instagram. I’m really enjoying the Instagram platform and it will hopefully be compatible for the videos I want to share come September of all the locations in ‘The Immortal City.’

Enjoy your June!

Ames x

 

 

 

magic, NetGalley, Novels, Pre-Order, Research, Reviews, The Immortal City, The Magicians of Venice, Upcoming Projects, Venice, World mythology, Writing

Early May Update

Holy crap it’s May already – HOW did this happen?

There hasn’t been a proper update on this blog for a while so here I am to give you all the news. Firstly, thank you thank you thank you to everyone who blogged, liked, re-tweet or requested an ARC for ‘The Immortal City.’ The response to the cover and the book itself has been amazing and over whelming and I’m so happy and excited for my book baby. It really was a passion project from the start which goes to show you should always write the shit that sets your heart on fire because that love and enthusiasm will shine through.

I’ve kind of been underground the past few months, except to make noise about ‘The Immortal City’, because I’ve been neck deep into writing the third book in the series. Seriously its the biggest book research wise I’ve ever attempted and it’s taking me a while to write because even though I researched everything to plan it..niggling things keep coming up that’s forcing me to go back and double check or dig deeper. I love the process and I have to remember not to freak out if the word count isn’t as high as it normally would be because its going to be big and I don’t want to rush it. It’s taken me two months to write part one which was only 32k words, and I feel like I’m only just getting into my groove.

Some cool stuff thats happened in the past month not Magicians of Venice related? I went and had an afternoon with Sarah J Maas and Lynette Noni as apart of the ‘Kingdom of Ash Tour’ here in Melbourne and yes I did freak out with excitement.

Guys you know how much I love Queen Maas, and afterwards she went to the top of my ‘Writers I Most Want to Have Drinks With’ list. She was rad and funny as hell, and it was one of the best writer events I’ve ever been to. I have photos but look…they are a bit shit because of lighting. I was there as a reader but also as an author because the idea of one day being on a stage really freaks me out so I’m always interested it seeing it done well.

I’m dying to read her new Urban Fantasy that comes out in Jan 2020 ‘Crescent  City.’ I mean, LOOK at that teaser. How pretty is that? I want. Also it will be cool to see her step over from epic fantasy into urban and give it her particular touch. 

OKAY. Fangirling Over.

Well, not quite over because I’ve read some freaking AMAZING books since I last did an update and I need to share.

First of all I got a copy of ‘The Immortal’ by Krishna Udayasankar. I have huge complicated feelings about this book. Here is a short description :

Professor Bharadvaj is more than just another whisky-loving, gun-toting historian-for-hire. Behind the assumed identity of the cynical academic is a man who has walked the earth for scores of years. He is Asvatthama – the cursed immortal, the man who cannot die. When Professor Bharadvaj is approached by the enigmatic Maya Jervois to search for a historical artefact unlike any other, he is reluctant to pursue it. The object in question, the Vajra, is rumoured to possess incredible alchemical powers, but the Professor does not believe it exists. After all, he has spent many lifetimes – and identities – searching for it, in a bid to unearth the secret to his unending life.

This book has the most amazing research I’ve come across in ages. As someone who has spent the past four years reading about magicians and alchemists and history for a book series, I was really excited to 1: be getting all the references and 2: being blown away how Krishna weaves them into plot. Throughout the book the protagonist keeps reiterating that he’s not a hero and he’s really not. It’s one of the rare times I’ve read a book where a character says that and doesn’t turn around and BE a hero. Its well worth the read but it will leave you thinking and processing it for ages afterwards. I still think I need to do another re-read to fully appreciate just how good and tricksey the plot and writing was.

The next book to blow me away in the passed month is ‘Wicked Saints’ by Emily A. Duncan.

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. 

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light.

I cannot express fully in wordage how much I love this book. A goth Slavic fantasy full of saints, monsters and magic. Holy shit. This book has everything I love. It’s about villains and anti-heroes and complicated beautiful monsters. I know its book one of a series and I can’t wait for the next installment. It’s no surprise it hit the NYT Best Sellers list because unlike my complicated love/hate relationship with Holly Black’s ‘The Folk of Air’ series (which is also about villains), Wicked Saints I connected to all of the characters and their motivations and fell in love with them and their world. 

Now this last one is not a book but Assassin’s Creed Odyssey launched their Fate of Atlantis DLC last week and I’m blown away by it. Usually I will rave for hours about AC as it is (especially Odyssey) but to give me Atlantis and the Underworld ON TOP of it all? I cannot deal. The story telling is so good I’m freaking out every time I play it. AND ITS ONLY PART ONE. Just look at how pretty it is!! Its so cool to have the Greek Gods come into play and I swear if I don’t a chance to make out with Hades when I reach the Underworld I will riot. It makes my nerdy heart so happy to see Atlantis popping up right in time for ‘The Immortal City’ because yay Atlantis is the BEST.

Okay so thats all I got for. My life is all about writing ‘The King’s Seal’ and not much else. It’s awesome.

Ames x

 

magic, Novels, Romance, The Immortal City, The Magicians of Venice, Upcoming Projects, World mythology, Writing

The Immortal City Cover Reveal Day

*ANNOUNCEMENT*

The Immortal City, Book 1 of The Magicians of Venice, is going to have its official cover reveal on the 9th of April!!! Eek! Cover party hurray!

Also, if any of you are book bloggers and would love to help me out, my awesome publishers, BHC Press, are hunting people to be a part of the Cover Reveal Day. They are also using it as an early call out for ARCs if you are interested in getting a copy. The Immortal City is about a female archaeologist and a magician hunting a serial killer in Venice. Theres murder, magicians, mystery, serial killers, Venice..all the good things in life (also a full description is below). If you are keen to help and get a sexy marketing package and an early ARC click on this link:

https://www.jotform.com/form/90795915…

Full Description:

In the heart of Venice, a woman is sacrificed to a forgotten god, sparking a mystery lost for thousands of years.

Dr. Penelope Bryne is ridiculed by the academic community for her quest to find the remnants of Atlantis, but when an ancient and mysterious script is found at a murder site, she flies to Venice determined to help the police before the killer strikes again.

Penelope has spent her entire life trying to ignore the unexplainable and magical history of Atlantis, but when she meets the enigmatic Alexis Donato, everything she believes will be challenged. Little does she know, Alexis has spent the last three years doing his best to sabotage Penelope’s career so doesn’t learn the truth—Atlantis had seven magicians who survived, and who he has a duty to protect.

As Alexis draws her into the darkly, seductive world of magic and history, Penelope will have to use her heart as well as her head if she is to find the answers she seeks.

With the new MOSE system due to come online, and Carnivale exploding around them, Penelope and Alexis will have to work together to stop the killer and prevent dark magic from pulling Venice into the sea.

 

 

 

Ancient History, Upcoming Projects, World mythology, Writing

Journeys to the Underworld- Greek Myth, Film and American anxiety

A fascinating read, courtesy of the Conversation

File 20170920 16414 pqyki1
Gil Birmingham (Cory) and Jeremy Renner (Martin) in Wind River: grieving fathers who come together in the realm of the dead.
Production Co: Acacia Filmed Entertainment, Film 44, Ingenious Media

Paul Salmond, La Trobe University

The success of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, depicting warring Olympians and Amazons, continues to stoke moviegoer interest in Greek mythology. Wonder Woman is the first foray of D.C. movies into classical mythology, a path well trodden by the Marvel cinematic universe. But is Greek myth simply a favoured and enduring wellspring for heroic sagas full of supermen and monsters or are there deeper forces at play?

To the Greeks, the underworld journey was an ideal vehicle for the hero to display his exceptional qualities, often involving the rescue of a soul trapped there. A central convention of Greek mythological narratives is katabasis, the hero’s journey to the underworld or land of the dead. At Circe’s urging, Odysseus consults the seer Tiresias in the land of the dead, where many departed souls (including Achilles) appear to him. Similar journeys are made by Heracles who rescues Theseus during his twelfth labor; Hermes, who rescues Persephone from Hades; and Aeneas who is reunited briefly with his dead father.

Alessandro Allori (1580) Odysseus questions the seer Tiresias.
Wikimedia Commons

Descents into and ascents from the underworld are themes incorporated repeatedly into modern cinema. Film developed from theatre, which in its earliest form was a way of animating mythical sagas. The katabasis has endured in cinema because it can be applied to most characters, times and settings. Often eschewing a literal journey to the underworld, a cinematic katabasis may follow a quest into a type of hell, whether a physical or psychological space.


Further reading: Guide to the classics: Homer’s Odyssey


Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein Orpheus and Eurydice, 1806.
Wikimedia Commons

One particularly celebrated underworld myth recounts Orpheus’s retrieval of his wife Eurydice. Against the warnings of Hades and Persephone, Orpheus looked back at her – only for his wife to disappear, this time permanently. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), drew directly on this myth by sending its hero, like Orpheus, into the realm of the dead to retrieve an imperilled soul trapped there.

Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne created a bleak vision of 1938 Los Angeles, parched by drought and corrupted by a shadowy cabal of oligarchs. Private investigator Jake Gittes, investigating the death of city water commissioner Hollis Mulwray, uncovers a web of corruption and murder. His attempts to rescue Mulwray’s wife, Evelyn, from the violence enveloping her results in her brutal death. In its shocking conclusion, Polanski rooted Chinatown more firmly in its mythological ancestry, pivoting the plot towards an incest revelation. Like Oedipus, redress comes through putting out eyes. Having failed to save his former love years before, Jake grieves over her death a second time with Evelyn.

Chinatown is broadly accepted as a response to Watergate. Like many films of its time, it responded to Nixon’s subversion of US political institutions by depicting a world where shadowy underworld denizens win and the hero fails to rescue his Eurydice from Hades.

In this response, Chinatown demonstrates how the influence of Greek mythological conventions on American filmmakers appears strongest during times of heightened political stress. When many perceived America as attacked from within by communism during the 1950s, for instance, Hollywood responded by reimagining Homer’s perfect warrior Achilles through the towering figure of John Wayne (through no coincidence, the most virulently anti-communist actor of all). In John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), Wayne’s embittered Confederate veteran Ethan Edwards mutilates the body of Comanche war chief Scar to avenge Ethan’s defiled nieces. Like Achilles mutilating Hector in Homer’s Iliad, Ethan hates his enemies beyond death.


Further reading: Guide to the classics: Homer’s Iliad


In the 1970s, a younger cadre of filmmakers and audiences saw the enemy sitting in seats of power. Underworld quests found more subversive avenues for expression, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), which conveyed the horrors of the Vietnam war through a nightmarish journey up the river Styx.

Underworld narratives also formed part of Hollywood’s response to widespread moral panic around ritual abuse and child murder that spread throughout America in the 1980s and 1990s. The horrific sprees of society’s new apex predators like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, linked to hysterical rumours of organised child sacrifice, inspired a film cycle fuelled by pervasive anxiety that children could be snatched up and borne away to horrible fates in hidden lairs. When Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs swept the 1992 Oscars it was our neighbours or the corner grocer – not the government – preying on our fears.

Demme’s film deftly refashioned the myth of Theseus and the minotaur into a race-against-time manhunt. Cadet FBI agent Clarice Starling pursues a serial murderer who has abducted a Senator’s daughter. To track the beast, Clarice must descend into the den of captured cannibal monster Hannibal Lecter for clues to slay the monster at large, Buffalo Bill. For this underworld quest, Lecter is the pedagogue, not the monster. His role isn’t to eat Clarice (he passes up that opportunity when she ventures within striking distance) but to prepare her for her journey. Lecter provides the ball of string enabling Clarice to venture into the minotaur’s labyrinth and return.

Jody Foster as Clarice Stirling in The Silence of the Lambs.

Why does American cinema reflect Ancient Greek narrative conventions most strongly at times of profound social anxiety? The answer may lie in part in political similarities between Americans and ancient Athenians and the perceived vulnerability of their constitutional foundations.

Traditionalists interpret Greek art as an expression of soaring confidence in the triumph of humans over the old gods. But the Athenians were obsessed by the ephemerality of their achievement and how it rested on foundations that could collapse at any time. The late critic Robert Hughes once asserted that “ancient Greek sculpture is used to advance a specious political argument” of man being the measure of all things. Yet Greek art, he argued, was just as focussed on warding off monsters (representing political threats).

Ancient mythological themes are employed most unmistakably in American movies during times of “witch hunts” to expose hidden enemies: communist saboteurs in the 1950s, corrupt political burghers of the 1970s and the “satanic panic” of the 1980s. In response to 9/11, Hollywood was oddly reticent, as if the seismic scale of the event meant translating 9/11 to the screen was unimaginable. But television responded forcefully, particularly through the great HBO crime dramas – The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood – all of which at various times employed underworld sagas in confronting the scarring and resounding effects of violence.

Ancient myth and cinema in a time of Trump

What can we expect to see next as the rise of “Trumpism” promotes internal American division possibly unmatched since the civil war? Certainly, taking at face value Trump’s identified public enemy the “liberal media” (which includes filmmakers), US political institutions are under attack in a manner not seen since 1974. Like Nixon, Trump accuses his critics of witch hunts aimed at sabotaging the will of the people and uprooting American values.

We are yet to see reactions to the President reflected in cinema. Trump was elected ten months ago and has held office for only eight, so films responding to his Presidency are still in production. But the social trauma that saw the ascendancy of Trump’s base – the impoverishment of the “rust belt”, paranoia over Mexican gang culture, the erosion of the natural environment in the face of rapine corporations – are already part of the cinematic landscape.

And we are already seeing key political battlegrounds – the migration of drug crime across the southern border and the violation of the natural world at other frontiers – framed as underworld quests in film.

Director/screenwriter Taylor Sheridan recently explored issues of American decline in his unofficial “frontier trilogy”, using Greek mythological conventions to do so. The middle film, Hell or High Water (2016) is a relatively straightforward backwoods heist saga pitting bank-robbing brothers against a Texas ranger nearing retirement. The script reflects the financial angst of Trump voters, largely sympathising with their perceived disenfranchisement. But the first film, Sicario (2015) and the most recent, Wind River (2017) are dramatic bookends, using mythology to explore the social anxieties that saw Trump elected.

Directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve, Sicario depicts an idealistic FBI agent, Kate Macer, recruited by a government taskforce to combat drug cartels at the Mexican border. Overseen by a shadowy operative, Alejandro, Kate descends into a moral and literal abyss to track her quarry, eventually rejecting her handlers’ demands that she become a monster to fight monsters. In Wind River, the discovery of a young Arapaho woman’s body on a snowbound Wyoming reservation teams hunter Cory Lambert with another rookie FBI agent, Jane Banner, to track down her killer.

Wind River and Sicario are violent, electrifying films, which embrace Greek mythic conventions by sending their heroes to the realm of the dead both in pursuit of monsters and in embrace of loved ones.

In Sicario, Kate and Alejandro pursue the drug lord, Alarcon, across a Mexican landscape made hellish through darkness and night vision technology. Whereas Kate emerges from the underworld with her moral compass intact, Alejandro maddened by the murders of his wife and daughter now resides there permanently. As he tells Kate, “You will not survive here. You are not a wolf and this is a land of wolves now.”

In Wind River the murdered girl, Natalie, was a friend of Cory’s daughter – who had died in similar circumstances three years earlier. Like Orpheus, Cory experiences the loss of his beloved twice, heightening his corrosive need to have her back. But the land of the dead is not always hostile. In the film’s final scene, Cory and Natalie’s father Martin sit together in silence, mentally visiting their lost daughters in the spirit realm.

Both films are sprinkled with references to mythological deathscapes: frozen Wyoming mountains and darkened Mexican foothills become landscapes of dread. Cory, like the hero Heracles, is a hunter of lions; and wolves, traditional guardians of dead souls, embody links between living and dead.

Greek mythological conventions will likely again be used to critique what many see as a uniquely lawless US administration. It will pay to watch the output of Joss Whedon, for one, whose The Avengers (2012) depicted an Homeric world where spectacular battle scenes framed an exploration of the transformative effect of violence, the weight of heroic expectations and the toll both take on men and women who deal in warfare.

Few directors working today are as familiar with Greek heroic archetypes as Whedon. In his signature television production, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon reimagined the doomed Achilles as a teenage girl who at one point returned from a literal journey to the realm of the dead. Given Trump’s treatment of and standing with women, it will be interesting to see the nature of the heroine’s quest, and the monsters she encounters along the way, in Whedon’s upcoming project Batgirl.

The ConversationWe may not yet know what kinds of underworlds will need to be negotiated in years ahead. But American filmmakers are uniquely experienced in passing through landscapes of dread, emerging stronger and more enlightened.

Paul Salmond, Honorary Associate, Classics and Ancient History, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Ancient History, Upcoming Projects, World mythology, Writing

Guide to the classics: Homer’s Iliad

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The Greeks defend their ships from the Trojans in Alfred Churchill’s Story of the Iliad, 1911.
Wikimedia

Chris Mackie, La Trobe University

Homer’s Iliad is usually thought of as the first work of European literature, and many would say, the greatest. It tells part of the saga of the city of Troy and the war that took place there. In fact the Iliad takes its name from “Ilios”, an ancient Greek word for “Troy”, situated in what is Turkey today. This story had a central place in Greek mythology.

The poem deals with a very short period in the tenth year of the Trojan war. This sometimes surprises modern readers who expect the whole story of Troy (as, for instance, in Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 film Troy). But Homer and other early epic poets confined their narratives to particular periods in the war, such as its origins, key martial encounters, the fall of the city, or the returns of the soldiers to Greece. There is no doubt that Homer and other early poets could rely on a very extensive knowledge of the Trojan war among their audiences.

Brad Pitt as Achilles in the film Troy.
Warner Brothers

The central figure in the Iliad is Achilles, the son of Peleus (a mortal aristocrat) and Thetis (a sea-goddess). He comes from the north of Greece, and is therefore something of an outsider, because most of the main Greek princes in the poem come from the south. Achilles is young and brash, a brilliant fighter, but not a great diplomat. When he gets into a dispute with Agamemnon, the leading Greek prince in the war, and loses his captive princess Briseis to him, he refuses to fight and remains in his camp.

He stays there for most of the poem, until his friend Patroclus is killed. He then explodes back on to the battlefield, kills the Trojan hero Hector, who had killed Patroclus, and mutilates his body.

The Iliad ends with the ransom of Hector’s body by his old father Priam, who embarks on a mission to Achilles’ camp in the gloom of night to get his son’s body back. It is worth noting that the actual fall of Troy, via the renowned stratagem of Greeks hidden within a Wooden Horse, is not described in the Iliad, although it was certainly dealt with in other poems.

All of this takes place under the watchful gaze of the Olympian gods, who are both actors and audience in the Iliad. The Olympians are divided over the fate of Troy, just as the mortals are – in the Iliad the Trojan war is a cosmic conflict, not just one played out at the human level between Greeks and non-Greeks. Ominously for Troy, the gods on the Greek side, notably Hera (queen of the gods), Athena (goddess of wisdom and war), and Poseidon (god of the land and sea), represent a much more powerful force than the divine supporters of Troy, of whom Apollo (the archer god and god of afar) is the main figure.

Achilles mourns the death of Patroclus.
John Flaxman, The Iliad, 1793

The many faces of Homer

The Iliad is only one poetic work focused on the war for Troy; many others have not survived. But such is its quality and depth that it had a special place in antiquity, and probably survived for that reason.

Achilles dragging the body of Hector behind his chariot. Vase circa 490 BC.

We know virtually nothing about Homer and whether he also created the other poem in his name, the Odyssey, which recounts the return journey of Odysseus from the Trojan war, to the island of Ithaca. The Iliad was probably put together around 700 BC, or a bit later, presumably by a brilliant poet immersed in traditional skills of oral composition (ie “Homer”). This tradition of oral composition probably reaches back hundreds of years before the Iliad.

Early epic poetry can be a way of maintaining the cultural memory of major conflicts. History and archaeology also teach us that there may have been a historical “Trojan war” at the end of the second millennium BC (at Hissarlik in western Turkey), although it was very unlike the one that Homer describes.

The Iliad was composed as one continuous poem. In its current arrangement (most likely after the establishment of the Alexandrian library in the early 3rd century BC), it is divided into 24 books corresponding to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet.

It has a metrical form known as “dactylic hexameter” – a metre also associated with many other epic poems in antiquity (such as the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, the Roman epic by Virgil). In the Odyssey, a bard called Demodocus sings on request in an aristocratic context about the Wooden Horse at Troy, giving a sense of the kind of existence “Homer” might have led.

The language of the Iliad is a conflation of different regional dialects, which means that it doesn’t belong to a particular ancient city as most other ancient Greek texts do. It therefore had a strong resonance throughout the Greek world, and is often thought of as a “pan-Hellenic” poem, a possession of all the Greeks. Likewise the Greek attack on Troy was a collective quest drawing on forces from across the Greek world. Pan-Hellenism, therefore, is central to the Iliad.

Death and War

A central idea in the Iliad is the inevitability of death (as also with the earlier Epic of Gilgamesh). The poignancy of life and death is enhanced by the fact that the victims of war are usually young. Achilles is youthful and headstrong, and has a goddess for a mother, but even he has to die. We learn that he had been given a choice – a long life without heroic glory, or a short and glorious life in war. His choice of the latter marks him out as heroic, and gives him a kind of immortality. But the other warriors too, including the Trojan hero Hector, are prepared to die young.

The gods, by contrast, don’t have to worry about dying. But they can be affected by death. Zeus’s son Sarpedon dies within the Iliad, and Thetis has to deal with the imminent death of her son Achilles. After his death, she will lead an existence of perpetual mourning for him. Immortality in Greek mythology can be a mixed blessing.

The Iliad also has much to say about war. The atrocities in the war at Troy are committed by Greeks on Trojans. Achilles commits human sacrifice within the Iliad itself and mutilates the body of Hector, and there are other atrocities told in other poems.

The Trojan saga in the early Greek sources tells of the genocide of the Trojans, and the Greek poets explored some of the darkest impulses of human conduct in war. In the final book of the Iliad, Achilles and Priam, in the most poignant of settings, reflect upon the fate of human beings and the things they do to one another.

The archaeological site of Troy in western Turkey.
Jorge Láscar, CC BY

Postscripts and plagiarists

It was often said that the Iliad was a kind of “bible of the Greeks” in so far as its reception within the Greek world, and beyond, was nothing short of extraordinary. A knowledge of Homer became a standard part of Greek education, be it formal or informal.

Ancient writers after Homer, even the rather austere Greek historian Thucydides in the 5th century BC, assume the historicity of much of the subject-matter of the Iliad. Likewise, Alexander the Great (356-323BC) seems to have been driven by a quest to be the “new Achilles”. Plutarch tells a delightful story that Alexander slept with a dagger under his pillow at night, together with a copy of Homer’s Iliad. This particular copy had been annotated by Alexander’s former tutor, the philosopher Aristotle. One can only imagine its value today had it survived.

In the Roman world, the poet Virgil set out (30-19BC) to write an epic poem about the origins of Rome from the ashes of Troy. His poem, called the Aeneid (after Aeneas, a traditional Trojan founder of Rome), is written in Latin, but is heavily reliant on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

The ConversationMy own view is that Virgil knew Homer off by heart, and he was probably criticised in his own life for the extent of his reliance on Homer. But tradition records his response that “it is easier to steal Heracles’ club than steal one line from Homer”. This response, be it factual or not, records the spell that Homer’s Iliad cast over antiquity, and most of the period since.

Chris Mackie, Professor of Greek Studies, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

fantasy, Life, magic, Research, World mythology

Friday essay: the legend of Ishtar, first goddess of love and war

File 20170621 30161 19y1ok4
Ishtar (on right) comes to Sargon, who would later become one of the great kings of Mesopotamia.
Edwin J. Prittie, The story of the greatest nations, 1913

Louise Pryke, Macquarie University

As singer Pat Benatar once noted, love is a battlefield. Such use of military words to express intimate, affectionate emotions is likely related to love’s capacity to bruise and confuse.

Ishtar holding a symbol of leadership. Terracotta relief, early 2nd millennium BC. From Eshnunna. Held in the Louvre.
Marie-Lan Nguyen, CC BY

So it was with the world’s first goddess of love and war, Ishtar, and her lover Tammuz. In ancient Mesopotamia – roughly corresponding to modern Iraq, parts of Iran, Syria, Kuwait and Turkey – love was a powerful force, capable of upending earthly order and producing sharp changes in status.

From Aphrodite to Wonder Woman, we continue to be fascinated by powerful female protagonists, an interest that can be traced back to our earliest written records. Ishtar (the word comes from the Akkadian language; she was known as Inanna in Sumerian) was the first deity for which we have written evidence. She was closely related to romantic love, but also familial love, the loving bonds between communities, and sexual love.

She was also a warrior deity with a potent capacity for vengeance, as her lover would find out. These seemingly opposing personalities have raised scholarly eyebrows both ancient and modern. Ishtar is a love deity who is terrifying on the battlefield. Her beauty is the subject of love poetry, and her rage likened to a destructive storm. But in her capacity to shape destinies and fortunes, they are two sides of the same coin.

Playing with fate

The earliest poems to Ishtar were written by Enheduanna — the world’s first individually identified author. Enheduanna (circa 2300 BCE) is generally considered to have been an historical figure living in Ur, one of the world’s oldest urban centres. She was a priestess to the moon god and the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (“Sargon the Great”), the first ruler to unite northern and southern Mesopotamia and found the powerful Akkadian empire.

The sources for Enheduanna’s life and career are historical, literary and archaeological: she commissioned an alabaster relief, the Disk of Enheduanna, which is inscribed with her dedication.

The Disk of Enheduanna.
Object B16665. Courtesy of the Penn Museum.

In her poetry, Enheduanna reveals the diversity of Ishtar, including her superlative capacity for armed conflict and her ability to bring about abrupt changes in status and fortune. This ability was well suited to a goddess of love and war — both areas where swift reversals can take place, utterly changing the state of play.

On the battlefield, the goddess’s ability to fix fates ensured victory. In love magic, Ishtar’s power could alter romantic fortunes. In ancient love charms, her influence was invoked to win, or indeed, capture, the heart (and other body parts) of a desired lover.

Dressed for success

Ishtar is described (by herself in love poems, and by others) as a beautiful, young woman. Her lover, Tammuz, compliments her on the beauty of her eyes, a seemingly timeless form of flattery, with a literary history stretching back to around 2100 BCE. Ishtar and Tammuz are the protagonists of one of the world’s first love stories. In love poetry telling of their courtship, the two have a very affectionate relationship. But like many great love stories, their union ends tragically.

Ishtar’s Midnight Courtship, from Ishtar and Izdubar, the epic of Babylon, 1884.
The British Library/flickr

The most famous account of this myth is Ishtar’s Descent to the Underworld, author unknown. This ancient narrative, surviving in Sumerian and Akkadian versions (both written in cuneiform),
was only deciphered in the 19th Century. It begins with Ishtar’s decision to visit the realm of her sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld.

Ostensibly, she is visiting her sister to mourn the death of her brother-in-law, possibly the Bull of Heaven who appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh. But the other gods in the story view the move as an attempt at a hostile takeover. Ishtar was known for being extremely ambitious; in another myth she storms the heavens and stages a divine coup.

Any questions over Ishtar’s motives are settled by the description of her preparation for her journey. She carefully applies make-up and jewellery, and wraps herself in beautiful clothing. Ishtar is frequently described applying cosmetics and enhancing her appearance before undertaking battle, or before meeting a lover. Much as a male warrior may put on a breast plate before a fight, Ishtar lines her eyes with mascara. She’s the original power-dresser: her enrichment of her beauty and her choice of clothes accentuate her potency.

Next, in a humorous scene brimming with irony, the goddess instructs her faithful handmaiden, Ninshubur, on how to behave if Ishtar becomes trapped in the netherworld. First, Ninshubur must clothe herself in correct mourning attire, such as sackcloth, and create a dishevelled appearance. Then, she must go to the temples of the great gods and ask for help to rescue her mistress. Ishtar’s instructions that her handmaiden dress in appropriately sombre mourning-wear are a stark contrast to her own flashy attire.

‘No one comes back from the underworld unmarked’

But when Ereshkigal learns that Ishtar is dressed so well, she realises she has come to conquer the underworld. So she devises a plan to literally strip Ishtar of her power.

Once arriving at Ereshkigal’s home, Ishtar descends through the seven gates of the underworld. At each gate she is instructed to remove an item of clothing. When she arrives before her sister, Ishtar is naked, and Ereshkigal kills her at once.

Her death has terrible consequences, involving the cessation of all earthly sexual intimacy and fertility. So on the advice of Ishtar’s handmaiden, Ea – the god of wisdom – facilitates a plot to revive Ishtar and return her to the upper world. His plot suceeds, but there is an ancient Mesopotamian saying:

No one comes back from the underworld unmarked.

Once a space had been created in the underworld, it was thought that it couldn’t be left empty. Ishtar is instructed to ascend with a band of demons to the upper world, and find her own replacement.

In the world above, Ishtar sees Tammuz dressed regally and relaxing on a throne, apparently unaffected by her death. Enraged, she instructs the demons to take him away with them.

The Ishtar Gate to the city of Babylon, was dedicated to the Mesopotamian goddess. Reconstruction in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
Daniel Mennerich/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

A goddess scorned

Ishtar’s role in her husband’s demise has earned her a reputation as being somewhat fickle. But this assessment does not capture the complexity of the goddess’s role. Ishtar is portrayed in the myth of her Descent and elsewhere as capable of intense faithfulness: rather than being fickle, her role in her husband’s death shows her vengeful nature.

Women and vengeance proved a popular combination in the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, where powerful women such as Electra, Clytemnestra and Medea brought terrible consequences on those who they perceived as having wronged them. This theme has continued to fascinate audiences to the present day.

The concept is encapsulated by the line, often misattributed to Shakespeare, from William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride:

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

Before she sees her husband relaxing after her death, Ishtar first encounters her handmaiden Ninshubur, and her two sons. One son is described as the goddess’s manicurist and hairdresser, and the other is a warrior. All three are spared by the goddess due to their faithful service and their overt expressions of grief over Ishtar’s death — they are each described lying in the dust, dressed in rags.

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, depicting the Roman goddess of love.

The diligent behaviour of Ishtar’s attendants is juxtaposed against the actions of Tammuz, a damning contrast that demonstrates his lack of appropriate mourning behaviour. Loyalty is the main criteria Ishtar uses to choose who will replace her in the underworld. This hardly makes her faithless.

Ishtar’s pursuit of revenge in ancient myths is an extension of her close connection to the dispensation of justice, and the maintenance of universal order. Love and war are both forces with the potential to create chaos and confusion, and the deity associated with them needed to be able to restore order as well as to disrupt it.

Still, love in Mesopotamia could survive death. Even for Tammuz, love was salvation and protection: the faithful love of his sister, Geshtinanna, allowed for his eventual return from the underworld. Love, as they say, never dies — but in the rare cases where it might momentarily expire, it’s best to mourn appropriately.

Ishtar’s legacy

Ishtar was one of the most popular deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon, yet in the modern day she has slipped into almost total anonymity. Ishtar’s legacy is most clearly seen through her influence on later cultural archetypes, with her image contributing to the development of the most famous love goddess of them all, Aphrodite.

There are intriguing similarities between Ishtar and Wonder Woman.
Atlas Entertainment

Ishtar turns up in science fiction, notably as a beautiful yet self-destructive stripper in Neil Gaiman’s comic The Sandman: Brief Lives. Gaiman’s exceptional command of Mesopotamian myth suggests the “stripping” of Ishtar may involve a wink to the ancient narrative tradition of her Descent.

She is not directly referenced in the 1987 film that carries her name (received poorly but now something of a cult classic), although the lead female character Shirra, shows some similarities to the goddess.

In the graphic novel tradition, Aphrodite is credited with shaping the image of Wonder Woman, and Aphrodite’s own image was influenced by Ishtar. This connection may partially explain the intriguing similarities between Ishtar and the modern superhero: both figures are represented as warriors who grace the battlefield wearing bracelets and a tiara, brandishing a rope weapon, and demonstrating love, loyalty and a fierce commitment to justice.

Ishtar, like other love goddesses, has been linked to in ancient sexual and fertility rituals, although the evidence for this is up for debate, and frequently overshadows the deity’s many other fascinating qualities.

Exploring the image of the world’s first goddess provides an insight into Mesopotamian culture, and the enduring power of love through the ages. In the modern day, love is said to conquer all, and in the ancient world, Ishtar did just that.


The ConversationThe author’s book, Ishtar, will be published this month by Routledge.

Louise Pryke, Lecturer, Languages and Literature of Ancient Israel, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.