If Indiana Jones wrote epic fiction...
WRITING MORAL CHARACTERS IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
By Aria Cunningham
“Historians will say I am a liar,
But History is written by those who have hanged heroes.”
Prologue to the movie Braveheart, 1996.
Where there moral characters in ancient times? It’s a difficult question to answer but one that begs consideration. If you believe Hollywood, ancient history was a time of testosterone-fueled bloodshed inspired by high hormones and a lack of clothing. Sadly, classical sources do little to dispel this skewed perspective. History is taught as a series of unrelated events, usually following the shift of power from one conquest to the next. Our understanding of time is broken into Ages, organized by the technology we used to implement death: Stone, Bronze, Iron, etc. Even archaeology is influenced by death and destruction, the best sources for excavation being tombs and cities buried by war.
Taken together, we have a pretty messed up understanding of ancient life, one that suggests mankind was dominated by unscrupulous characters obsessed with war. Aside from the Bible, we rarely discuss the details of everyday life, and the societal ethics that must have influenced ancient man. We lose sight of the real people who lived, loved and lost: the moral, spiritual people whom we must have much in common with.
There is perhaps no greater example of this skewed perspective than with Greek myth. The epic poems of Homer were written 400 years after the real events that took place at Troy, which raises the question about reliability (see the William Wallace quote above). Not only was Homer extremely biased toward Greek supremacy; he celebrated a culture of war. The heroes of Greek myth are warriors who bring wholesale death to Troy, and he glorified them.
In conducting research for my “Heroes of the Trojan War” series, I began to question: Is Homer’s version of Troy a true picture of history?
I’m an archaeologist with a background in Late Bronze Age Mediterranean cultures. There is a multitude of evidence that the world of the Greek Heroes, from roughly 1600-1200 BC, was a complex landscape of international trade and diplomacy. It was a time of palatial grandeur, monumental architecture, and massive cultural interaction and tolerance. Taking those factors into consideration, the events that lead to the Trojan War paint a very different picture than the tale depicted by Homer. The world was complex, and the players in that world were too.
That was the kernel of inspiration for my retelling of the fall of Troy. I wanted to find the moral characters of the Late Bronze Age whose stories were stamped out by “those who hanged heroes”. I wanted to explore the ethical standards those characters lived by and examine the circumstances that ultimately led to their destruction. Perhaps, in doing so, I could learn from their mistakes.
From that hope, I discovered a new Paris, one who lived up to his true name, Alexandros—which means “protector”. Paris and Helen, more than any other Homeric characters, have been mistreated by historical retelling. The vilified prince, in reality, was an ambassador for Troy, well traveled and sophisticated. He would have interacted with countless kingdoms, cultures, and religions. From his own words in “The Princess of Sparta”:
“It’s a perverse tradition we honor. Kings adorn their halls with images of battles they won, the people they’ve conquered.” He paced as he vented, a lifetime of frustration pent up in that twisted truth. “I have brought kingdoms on the brink of war to peace, and my deeds will never be deemed as heroic as those who kill.”
Often, in war and everyday life, the unscrupulous people win. Those who don’t have a moral compass, who don’t play by the same rules as ethical people, have an inherent advantage. The Trojan Horse is the perfect example. It was an offering of peace to the Gods and Trojans, but one poisoned by deceit. Ultimately, it was the Greek’s willingness to take advantage of their enemies’ honor that brought them “victory”. I found that behavior unworthy of my respect.
Hopefully my readers will too. I hope they will find cause to celebrate a moral character that chooses life over death. I hope they cheer Paris’ goodness and see it as strength instead of a weakness. Yes, the tale for Troy ends in tragedy. But, the epic struggle of good verse evil, of right over wrong, of love above hate— that fight doesn’t take place on a battlefield. And the heroes who embody it deserve a rightful place on our bookshelves and in our history.
About the Book:
The historically faithful retelling of the epic love that sparked the Trojan War and has captivated the world for 3,000 years…
The star-crossed lovers at the crux of the tragic tale are depicted as you’ve never seen them before. Helen, no longer the seductress of Homer’s poems, begins as a princess of Sparta: honorable, loyal, with promise to become a powerful queen. Her lauded beauty is more curse than blessing, inciting lust and jealousy in the greedy kings who would make her their prize. Paris is a noble prince of Troy, whose reputation for fairness and fortitude precede him as an Ambassador. Unjustly cursed at birth by a dark omen claiming he will cause the destruction of Troy, Paris is a haunted figure, a man who has never known love.
Until the day the Fates intervene and Paris travels to Mycenae as an ambassador of Troy. He meets Helen, and two souls linked by common destiny and purpose are reunited. Their love becomes legend, provoking the greatest war of ancient history, shaking the foundations of the world, and paving the way for the rise of Greece and Rome.
AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE APRIL 1ST, 2014 OR PRE-ORDER TODAY
TRADE PAPERBACK Amazon $12.99 ~ Amazon UK £8.99 ~ Amazon EU €10.99 | KINDLE US $5.99 ~ UK £3.99 ~ EU €4.99 | ALL OTHER E-READERS Kobo $5.99 ~ Nook $5.99 ~ Apple $5.99
EARLY PRAISE FOR “THE PRINCESS OF SPARTA”:
“I quickly found my ideas of Helen the bratty beauty fall away, and be replaced with a more female empowered version. What Cunningham quickly reminded me of, is that there are many sides to one story, and I might just prefer this romantic one the best!” iErlynn @ Books Hug Back.
“An intricate web of conflict; honor, power, family, love, sex and the powers of the Gods. It transported me to a world of mystical proportions and took me on a journey where I rooted for my heroes, always fearful of what the star-crossed lovers' fate might be. Powerful, gripping, sexy.” C.T. Hayes, Slackwire Films
Meet the Author:
Inspired at an early age by the adventures of Indiana Jones, Aria Cunningham studied marine archaeology at UC Berkeley. In 2004, she set forth to create her own adventures and helped excavate a Roman palace from 200 AD at Tel Dor, Israel.
Continuing her old world education, she travelled the expansive fjords of Norway, castle hopped from Wales to the Rhineland, and explored the funeral complexes along the Egyptian Nile. She is an avid scuba diver who has navigated shipwrecks on the ocean floor, the immense kelp forests off the Channel Islands, and the legendary Cenote caverns of the Yucatan.
Aria has a Master’s degree in the Cinematic Arts from USC and currently lives off the coast of Southern California.
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