I just submitted Helen’s Daughter for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel 2012 contest, mostly because it cost nothing and could not hurt. But I have no illusions that I will win anything. I am not the type of person who wins contests, or is chosen first for anything. Also, I have seen the novels which won in previous years: agents and publishers want the same kind of pretentious literary crap my college instructors tried to push on me twenty years ago. But I am NOT a pretentious, abstract, literary crap-type writer. Yes, I would like to win that $15k publishing contract, but it is not very likely. Nor is it likely that I will ever win a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize, or have my books appear on a college course reading list. But that’s okay. I write what interests me, and I hope others are entertained, too.
Back in June, I mentioned kourotrophoi. These ceramic mother-child figures have turned up at Mycenaean sites all over the Aegean, particularly in children’s graves. Kourotrophoi were not exclusive to the Bronze Age; the practice continued into later times.
The kourotrophos might have represented a divine Mother Goddess and Child, like the Christian Madonna and Child, or it could simply have been a form of sympathetic magic. Mycenaean and Minoan Goddess and Divine Child representations have been found elsewhere, and my next post will be devoted to a very special such artifact.
I mention kourotrophoi in my books. Here is a passage from Helen’s Daughter in which Hermione reflects on childbearing and the talismans that accompany it.
As high priestess in Sparta, I had seen women die in childbirth. Sometimes, they asked for me, to give them my blessings, and perhaps avert disaster by it, but though I held their hands, wiped the sweat from their brows, and said the prayers, they died, anyway.
Opening my eyes, I gazed at the kourotrophos standing on the table nearest the bed. She was very old, crafted in an outmoded Cretan style. Her scarlet and black paint was fading, but she had faithfully watched over the confinements of my foremothers for eleven generations, and had not lost a single woman in childbirth.Purchase Helen's Daughter on Amazon Kindle or at Smashwords.
Seeing her legendary beauty for the first time with an adult’s eyes, I was not impressed. Helen was dainty and dark-haired like a woman in a fresco, but she was also cool and impenetrable. Why in the world had so many men wasted their lives fighting in her name, or had they even known what they were dying for? I would not have died for her.
𐀪 𐂁Linear B ideograms meaning “man” and “woman,” respectively.
As a correction to a statement I made in an earlier post, Linear B does appear to have had some diphthongs, but they are separate signs, and the script still does not represent all the sounds (such as the liquid /l/, /g/, and /h/) that the spoken language must have had.
I am slowly working on Orestes: The Outcast, the second book in the trilogy, but also trying to get the word out there about The Young Lion and Helen’s Daughter. If you read and liked either book, please pass the word along (and let me know your thoughts, of course!).
Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen of Sparta, is the heroine of my novel Helen's Daughter. All that is known about her is that she spent the duration of the Trojan War at Mycenae with her aunt Clytaemnestra, and was later married to both Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, and then to Orestes, to whom she bore a son, Tisamenus. The reason I have not posted an image of her is because there are none to be found. Beside her infamous mother and aunt, Hermione is a non-entity, an also-ran. If she existed--and there is no reason to assume she did not--she must have lived a very quiet life.
There is more than one version of the Hermione-Orestes-Neoptolemus triangle. In Books 4 and 5 of Homer's Odyssey, the Spartan court celebrates the wedding of Hermione and Neoptolemus; the marriage to Orestes is never mentioned. Other sources state that Neoptolemus stole Hermione, either from her grandfather's house, or from Orestes himself. Hermione herself is simply a commodity to be given away, stolen, or reclaimed. Like their fathers, Orestes and Neoptolemus are reduced to fighting over a woman.
Euripides in his Andromache portrays Hermione and her father Menelaus as spiteful and murderous, plotting against Andromache and her newborn son; Jean Racine took up this thread many centuries later in his Andromaque, with Hermione as a treacherous and capricious cock-tease, goading a lovesick Orestes into murdering Neoptolemus, then changing her mind, rejecting Orestes, and killing herself.
Keep in mind that Euripides was an Athenian playwright working at the height of the Peloponnesian War, and Andromache is a piece of anti-Spartan propaganda. Later, in his Orestes, he would portray Hermione as a docile creature who ends up a hostage as Orestes puts a knife to her throat while the palace of Sparta burns around them.
Ovid wrote about Hermione in his Heroides (the Heroines), a collection of "letters" written by fourteen heroines from mythology to their absent lovers. In Epistle VIII, Ovid's Hermione writes to Orestes, urging him to save her from her forced marriage to Neoptolemus. In these excerpts, Hermione complains that it is the lot of the women in her family to be abducted:
Hermione speaks to one lately her cousin and husband,
now her cousin. The wife has changed her name.
Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, proud, in his father’s image,
holds me imprisoned contrary to piety and justice.
I have refused what I could, so as not be held against my will,
a woman’s hand has not the power to do more....
Deafer than the sea, he dragged me under his roof,
my hair unbound, and I calling on Orestes’s name.
How could I have endured worse, as a slave in a captured Sparta,
if a barbarian horde were to seize a daughter of Greece?
Andromache was less abused by victorious Achaia,
when Greek flames might have burnt the wealth of Troy.
But you, Orestes, if my affectionate care for you moves you,
take possession of me, without cowardice, as is your right!
You’d surely take up arms if someone snatched your cattle
from the closed stable, will you be slower for a captive wife?
Don’t ready a thousand ships with swelling canvas
or hosts of Greek warriors: come yourself!
Yet if I too were won back in this way, it’s no shame for a husband
to have endured fierce war for his dear marriage bed.
Why, since Atreus, Pelop’s son, is our mutual grandfather,
even if you weren’t my husband, you’d still be my cousin.
Husband, I beg you, aid your wife, cousin aid your cousin:
both titles urge you to perform your duty.
I am violated, and my face swells with feeling,
and my inflamed emotions grieve me with hidden fires.
Who has not taunted Orestes in Hermione’s presence:
I have no power, there’s no cruel sword here!
Truly I can weep: I diffuse anger in weeping,
and tears flow like streams over my breast.
I have only these, always, and always I pour them out:
they wet my neglected cheeks, from a perennial fountain.
Surely, by the fate of my race, that tracks us through the years,
the mothers of Tantalus’s line are suited to be prey?
In this epistle, Hermione also reveals her feelings toward her mother:
Why must I complain that a troubled destiny harms me?
My childhood was motherless: father was at the war:
and while both lived, I was bereaved of both.
Not for you, my mother, the charming lispings of those tender years,
spoken by your daughter’s uncertain mouth.
I did not clasp your neck with tiny arms,
or sit, a welcome burden, on your lap.
You didn’t tend my dress, nor on my marriage
did I enter a new marriage bed, prepared by my mother.
When you returned I came out to meet you – I confess the truth –
my mother’s face was not familiar!
Yet I knew you were Helen, as you were the most beautiful:
you yourself asked which child was your daughter.
Such dramatic potential was what drew me to Hermione as a heroine. There were many places where I had to fill in the blanks, or compromise between contradictory versions, but the result is, I think, a convincing portrait of a Mycenaean noblewoman who has known her share of resentment and love, and has had to fend for herself.
Among other things, Minoan artwork is known for its plethora of floral depictions. It seems that the Minoans, like their Egyptian contemporaries, loved flowers, and wanted them in their homes; archaeologists have found not only fresco fragments with many species of Aegean and Cretan flowers, but the remains of hanging flower pots. In fact, several floral species known today, including crocus and narcissus, retain some form of their original Minoan names.
Rather than parrot information from my sources, I am linking my readers to an exhaustive but wonderful article on flowers in ancient Crete. Andras Zeke, the webmaster, has a marvelous blog on the Minoans, with particular emphasis on Linear A, so stay and peruse the articles.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say hello to several new readers. My articles here are meant to be nibbles of information from the Mycenaean and Minoan periods, entertaining and informative without being too dry or scholarly. I use my research to write my novels, and currently have a novel out on Kindle: Helen's Daughter, about Hermione, the daughter of Helen of Troy. What, you didn't know Helen had children? Yes, she did! Head on over to Amazon and Smashwords to sample the novel and find out!
This enigmatic female head was found in the Cult House at Mycenae. Is she a goddess, or a priestess? Was the head attached to a wooden cult statue that didn't survive?
The face gives a good three dimensional example, though, of what a Mycenaean priestess might have looked like when painted for a ritual. In Helen's Daughter, when Hermione refers to putting on the "moon-mask," this is what she's talking about.
Helen's Daughter is now available on Amazon Kindle. This is strictly an e-book release, so there will not be a print option. However, if you don't have a Kindle, then there are several other electronic formats, such as .pdf, on Smashwords which are available. I prefer paper, too, but it's simply too expensive, both for me to produce, and you to buy.
Helen's Daughter, the novel I have researched and worked on for a year, is available on Smashwords right now, and will be available through Amazon Kindle by Monday.
When the Trojan prince Paris abducted Helen of Sparta, she left behind a nine-year-old daughter, Hermione. And when Helen's husband Menelaus set out to recover her, Hermione was sent to her relatives at Mycenae to wait out the war.
Now, years later, the Trojan War is over. The adult Hermione eagerly awaits her father's return, but remains ambivalent toward her mother, even as her world is once again turned upside-down. Can Hermione survive the trials that await, or will she become another victim of the curse that haunts her family?