Why the Fascination with Ancient Greece?

When I was twelve years old I was flipping through our family’s Golden Encyclopedia when I found an entry for the Trojan War.  Beneath it was a captivating illustration of two warriors doing battle with shield and spear.  The caption read, “The heroes Achilles and Hector dueling before the walls of Troy.”  Sadly, the accompanying article said nothing about the outcome of their fight.  So I took that volume to school, showed the picture to our librarian and asked, “Who won?”

She took me to the 880 section of the library and pulled an old book down from the shelves.  She handed me a copy of Homer’s Iliad and as librarians must be trained to do, she said, “You’ll have to read the book to find out.”  I did, and when the anger of Achilles slew the family man Hector, I cried.  Never before had a book had such a profound effect on me.  I daresay it changed my life.  The Iliad led to the Odyssey, then Virgil’s Aeneid and eventually in college to Herodotus’ The History, which provides the framework for The Wandering King.

My main character Euryanax meets Herodotus in the book and I have some fun poking fun at ‘The Father of History,’ which comes out of some of the gross inaccuracies in The History noted by modern historians.  For instance, Herodotus places Xerxes’ Persian army at over a million soldiers.  Historians say it would have been impossible to feed that large a force and tend to agree it was more along the lines of 250,000 men.  Too, Herodotus mentions things like flying snakes and giant ants that dig up gold, which probably come from folklore rather than actual, historical events.

Though I have some fun at his expense, without Herodotus, we wouldn’t know about the existence of Leonidas and Euryanax or the events in my story, so my debt to him is great.

The idea for The Wandering King story grew out of reading Herodotus and a book by the now deceased author Richard Powell, who wrote a wonderful novel about the Trojan War epic entitled, Whom the Gods Would Destroy.  As a 17-year old it was my favorite book of all time and is still at the top of my list.  If I manage to give a reader the experience Powell gave to me, I will have succeeded in my task.  If the opening line of The Wandering King sounds familiar to fans of Whom the Gods, it is my homage to Powell’s brilliant novel.

For the record, the word ‘Greek’ is never used in my book as it is the European word for the Hellenic people.  Originally the name ‘Graeki’ was given by the ancient Italians to the first Hellene colonists in Italy as they came from a village called Graia.  Afterwards the Italians called all Hellenes, Graeki or Greeks, which worked its way into Western tradition.  While most of the world considers them Greeks, the people of Hellas to this day call themselves Hellenes. For purposes of the book, the characters consider themselves Dorians, Ionians, Achaeans, etc, as that is the way they thought of themselves.  When I refer to them as a collective group, I use the word Hellene, as it is in keeping with their national identity.

The ‘Triumph of Achilles’ by Franz Matsch (1892)

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