Tag Archives: character

With This Shield: Historical Characters


Of the 60 men and women in With This Shield’s character listing, more than 40 are based on real people from ancient Greek history.  Below you will find some additional information on 15 of these historical figures.  Am also including the pronunciation of their name, as readers have told me they find this helpful.

SPOILER ALERT:  Though the data below will not give away the plot of With This Shield, in some cases it will tell you what became of the character in history.  I’ve been careful to leave out events covered in the next book in the series, so it does not give away too much information.

Aeschylus (S-kuh-lus)

While only a teenager in With This Shield, Aeschylus will grow up to be one of the most famous dramatic playwrights in Greek literature.  Twenty years later, he and his two brothers, Cynegeirus and Ameinias, would take part in the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.).

Of Aeschylus’ 90 plays, only 7 survive.  One of his earliest works, The Persians, is based on his experiences in the naval Battle of Salamis (479 B.C.).  It is unique among the Greek tragic plays in that it describes a recent historical event.

Aristides (ah-ris-TĪDE-ēz)

In The Histories, Herodotus describes Aristides as the “best and most honorable man in Athens.”  In later years he was called “Aristides the Just.”

His life is recorded by the Greek author Plutarch in his book The Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans.  Plutarch states that Aristides and Themistocles were friends when they were young, but they had a falling out because “…both were in love with Stesilaus…”

My favorite story about Aristides occurred when he was older. The Athenians were voting on who to ostracize (the ‘winner’ being exiled for 10 years).  An illiterate voter who did not recognize Aristides approached him and asked him to write the name of Aristides on the ballot.  When the statesman asked the man if Aristides had ever wronged him, the man said, “No, I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear everyone call him ‘the Just’.”  Honest to the end, Aristides wrote his own name on the ballot and was exiled.

Callicrates (kal-ē-KRAT-ēz)

Callicrates is only mentioned once by Herodotus, who says he was the most handsome man in the Greek army.  Thirty years after the events described in With This Shield, he would die at the Battle of Plataea (479 B.C.) while the Greeks were waiting for the Persians to charge and an arrow struck him in the eye.

Herodotus wrote:  “Having been carried to the rear, as he lay dying, Callicrates said he was  happy to die for Hellas, but it grieved him that he did not get a chance to prove his bravery, that he did no acts of valor worthy of the spirit he had in him to perform great deeds.”

Callimachus (kal-ah-MOCK-us)

Twenty years after the events described in With This Shield, Herodotus lists Callimachus as the polemarch (commanding officer) at the Battle of Marathon.  Callimachus led the Athenian right wing and was killed after the Persians were routed and the Greeks were chasing them to their ships.

In Athens, it was customary for the father of the bravest man killed in the battle to give the public funeral oration over the dead.  Callimachus’ father and the father of Aeschylus (whose brother Cynegeirus was also slain) argued over whose son was the bravest.  Callimachus’ father won.

Years later the Athenians erected a statue on the acropolis next to the Parthenon in his honor, called “The Nike of Callimachus” (the Victory of Callimachus).

Cimon (SĪ-mon)

Miltiades’ youngest son would go on to become one of the most famous statesmen and generals in Athenian history.  My depiction of Cimon is based on what we know from Herodotus and Plutarch, who claim he was a great supporter of the Spartans.  In later life he wore his hair long in the Spartan style, and named his first son, Lacedaemonius, after the Spartan homeland, Lacedaemonia.

After the Greco-Persian Wars, when the Greeks formed the Delian League to prevent future Persian incursions (the League would become the precursor to the Athenian Empire), Cimon was named as its principal commander.  Cimon led most of the League’s military operations from 475-463 BC.  During that period, he and Aristides drove the Spartans under Pausanias out of Byzantium (later called Constantinople and today called Istanbul).

His most famous military victory came at the Battle of Eurymedon River (466 B.C.), when he captured or destroyed over 200 Persian warships.

Cleisthenes (KLĪS-thenes)

Cleisthenes was the grandson of the tyrant of the Greek city of Sicyon (also named Cleisthenes).  Among his more famous descendants in the Alcmaeonid clan were the Athenian statesman Pericles (builder of the Parthenon) and the orator, statesman and general Alcibiades.

Cleisthenes is remembered in history as the ‘father of democracy.’  While some people consider his reformation of the Athenian constitution giving equal voting rights to all citizens a benevolent act, more than likely he did it to break the hold of the wealthy plains tribes, the Pedieis, over Athens, giving each of the tribes a level playing field.

Cleisthenes called his reforms “isonomia” (equality under the law).  It wasn’t until later they would become known as “demokratia” (rule by the people).

Cleomenes (KLE-ah-men-ēz)

Even though Cleomenes reigned for 30 years, during which time he was the key player in Spartan politics, and he accomplished numerous, slick diplomatic maneuvers, Herodotus does not paint a flattering picture of him.  He accuses him of being unscrupulous, a drunk and insane.  Historians tend to believe that whoever Herodotus spoke to in Sparta to gather information about Cleomenes, was probably among his worst enemies.

Cylon (SĪGH-on)

What we know about Cylon comes from the Syrian neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus, who wrote in his book, The Life of Pythagoras:

“Cylon was a leading citizen of Croton with all of the advantages of noble birth, fame and riches; but otherwise he was a difficult, violent and tyrannical man who eagerly desired to participate in the Pythagorean way of life.  He approached Pythagoras, but was rejected because of his character.  Unaccustomed to rejection, Cylon vowed to seek revenge and destroy Pythagoras and his followers.”

The story in With This Shield about the alliance between Cylon and Ninon, who used phony, forged documents, to discredit Pythagoras and inspire the populace to burn down Milo’s house are found in Iamblichus.  Whether there is any truth to the story, or if it was part of an oral tradition, is hard to say as Iamblichus wrote 700 years after Pythagoras’ death.

Elpinice (L-pin- ēz)

The daughter of Miltiades, Elpinice, is known from Plutarch’s Life of Pericles, where she appears twice.  On both occasions she confronts and rebukes Pericles regarding his political actions.

After the events described in With This Shield, she became the lover of the painter Polygnotus who used her likeness in a painting of Trojan women on a stoa in the Athenian agora.  Later, the richest man in Athens, Callias, fell in love with her.  At the time, her brother Cimon owed the Athenian state a large sum of money and he married her to Callias to pay off the family’s debts.

Gorgo (GORE-gō)

Euryanax’s cousin Gorgo is among the few women mentioned by Herodotus in The Histories.  She is notable for being the daughter of a Spartan king, the wife of a Spartan king and the mother of a Spartan king.

Though little is known about her childhood, like other Spartan girls from a noble family, she would have exercised daily, been well educated, could read and write, and do mathematics.  She also would have learned how to drive a chariot and taken part in Sparta’s many festivals, which included dancing and singing in a chorus.

Gorgo is presented by Herodotus and Plutarch as an extremely wise, well-respected woman, who offered sage advice on several occasions.  Her most famous remark came when an Athenian woman asked her, “Why are you Spartan woman the only ones who can rule over men?”  To which Gorgo replied:  “Because we are the only women to give birth to real men.”

Miltiades (mil-TĪE-ah-dēz)

Miltiades is among the more famous Athenians appearing in With This Shield.  Will resist talking about his most well-known exploits, which will be detailed in the third book in the series.

Miltiades’ family, the Philaids, claimed descent from the Trojan War hero Ajax the Great.  Miltiades’ father won the Olympic Games three times for chariot racing, making him so popular it inspired the jealousy of Athens’ tyrant Hippias, who had him murdered.

Miltiades’ uncle, known as Miltiades the Elder, established an Athenian colony in the Thracian Chersonese (today known as the Gallipoli peninsula) where he set himself up as a tyrant.  When Miltiades the Elder died the tyranny passed to Miltiades’ brother Stesagoras, and after his death, to Miltiades.  Miltiades cemented good relations with the Thracian tribes in the area by marrying Hegesiplye, the daughter of the Thracian King Olorus.

The Greek historian Thucydides, author of The History of the Peloponnesian War, was a Philaid.  His father was named Olorus.  Whether it was the same Olorus related by marriage to Miltiades, is unknown.

Othryades (oh-THRAY-dēz)

As noted in the first two books of The Wandering King, Othryades was famous in Sparta as the lone survivor of the Battle of Champions (540 B.C.) between 300 Spartans and 300 Argives.

According to Herodotus, after the battle Othryades was so upset that his companions had all been killed, he committed suicide.  My apologies to Herodotus for letting Othryades live.

The image at the top of this post is a photograph of a sculpture done in 1779 by the French artist Sergel, titled “Othryades the Spartan Dying.”  It is on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Stesilaus (STES-ah-lāy-us)

The “beautiful and brilliant” Stesilaus from the island of Keos is mentioned in Plutarch’s Lives as the cause of the lifelong enmity between the two Athenian statesmen Aristides and Themistocles.

Like Othryades, I’ve taken some creative license with Stesilaus by turning “him” into a “her.”  It’s not that I’m anti-gay.  Not in the slightest.  I just did not think the story would read as well if two of my characters were fighting over a beautiful young boy.  That said, it’s important to realize the role homosexuality played in ancient Greece.

Says Plutarch of Aristides and Themistocles, “They were both in love with Stesilaus of Keos, the most beautiful and brilliant of youths; whom they both cherished so passionately, that not even after the boy’s beauty had faded did they lay aside their rivalry.”

Themistocles (tha-MIS-tōe-clēz)

While I don’t know how many readers are familiar with Themistocles, he is among the most famous Athenian statesmen and generals of all time.  I don’t want to reveal too much about him, as his story will continue in the next book in the series.

My depiction of Themistocles in With This Shield is taken from a tidbit of information I picked up while reading Plutarch’s Life of Themistocles.  Plutarch describes the young Themistocles by saying, “The wildest colts make the best horses.”

He also says that Themistocles was thrown out of his family by his father Neocles for drinking and carousing.  Though this information about Themistocles is debated, it helped form my characterization of him as brilliant, but somewhat wild and unscrupulous.

Plutarch also says that Themistocles was among the first people in history to become a lawyer to launch a political career.

Xanthippus (zan-TIP-ē-us)

Xanthippus was a wealthy aristocrat in Athens, famous in history as the father of the statesmen Pericles, who built the Parthenon and led Athens into its golden age.

Xanthippus married a niece of Cleisthenes named Agariste (Pericles’ mother).  Although not an Alcmaeonid, he became closely linked with their family.

Like Aristides, Themistocles, Miltiades, Callimachus and Aeschylus he would fight in the Battle of Marathon.  His greatest military victory would come in the last engagement of the Greco-Persian Wars as the commander of the Athenian naval forces at the decisive Battle of Mycale (479 B.C.).

Character request?

Want to know more about a character in The Wandering King series?  Let me know, and I’ll do my best to comply.


Creating Fictional Characters

While writing The Wandering King I picked up a few things about creating fictional characters that may be of some use.  Some may be adages you’ve heard before, some may help inspire new ideas.  Use them as you see fit.

1.  Give your character a goal

This is an oldie, but goodie.  Simply put, what is your main character trying to achieve?  Does he want to be king?  Is she trying to earn her father’s love?  Are they trying to get a sport’s scholarship?

If you think about the good books that you’ve read, you can usually pinpoint the main characters’ motivation.  Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s murder.  Romeo wants to marry Juliet.  Macbeth wants to become king.

Giving your character a goal, gives your reader a reason to turn the page.  Will Hamlet kill his own mother Gertrude and his uncle Claudius to avenge his father?  Even though the Montagues and Capulets hate one another, will Romeo still get the girl?  Though Macbeth has pangs of conscience, will he kill King Duncan and steal the crown?

While working on The Wandering King, I made a list of my characters and ascribed a simple, one sentence motivation to each.  Once they had a goal, now I knew how they would behave in each scene. 

For my main character, Euryanax, I went a step further.  I placed his goals right in the book, right up front on the second page.  He states, “All I ever wanted was to earn my father’s respect.  To win a woman’s love.  And to become a Spartan citizen.”

Those three goals might sound easy, but they’re not, and they’ll take Eury several books to accomplish.  Giving him clearly defined goals and making them difficult to achieve, is what propels the plot and hopefully keeps the reader flipping the page.

2.  Describe your character’s physical appearance

Unless you tell us what a character looks like, they’re a faceless blob to the reader.  If they’re worth introducing, they’re worth describing.  You don’t have to spend three pages telling us about their hairstyle, just give us a quick snapshot of your character in a paragraph or two.

Nor should this be a laundry list of statistics, like Stan was 5’9″, 165 pounds, had blond hair and a laid back demeanor.  That’s pretty dull stuff.  Tell us what makes Stan unique.

Here are a few examples of character descriptions from an author that I admire named Richard Powell:

Character:  Arthur Peabody Goodpasture

“I did not enjoy shaving; not only is my skin quite sensitive, but also every look in a mirror leaves me depressed.  Mine is not the grim, strong face of a typical Goodpasture. Such a face is spare and angular, as if welded from steel plowshares, whereas my features look as if they had been hastily whittled out of balsa wood. I have limp blond hair, near-sighted blue eyes, a snub nose and a chin that barely escapes being weak.  It is such an insignificant face that sometimes people fail to see me when I am right in front of them. The typical Goodpasture usually looks ready to complain of having received poor service, whereas I usually look ready to apologize for having given it. As a boy, I used to practice jutting out my jaw, so that I would look grim and strong, but it merely gave the impression that I had a toothache, so I gave up.”

            Don Quixote, U.S.A.

Character:  Ward Campion

“The young man from Philadelphia who walked on the station platform at Waycross, Georgia, was obviously a member of the upper classes.  In 1895 upper-class people wore clothing that set them firmly apart from persons who made their living at manual labor. Thus the young man wore polished black shoes, a well-pressed suit, white shirt with a high stiff collar, gray cravat with a pearl stickpin, Chesterfield overcoat with a glossy velvet collar, and  black derby on which no speck of dust was allowed to linger.  In spite of the propriety of his clothes, however, he had muscles that could not have been developed at a desk or on the grounds of the Merion Cricket Club. His hands were big and square, and had once been heavily calloused. In many ways his face could have served as a model for Charles Dana Gibson in drawing the ideal mate for the Gibson Girl: high forehead of the type people like to call noble, blue eyes, Grecian nose, well-formed lips, and firm but dimpled chin. A gently reared young lady might have felt impelled to swoon in his arms, confident that when she recovered the young man would be on his knees (having first pulled up his trousers to save the crease) to propose matrimony. 

“After a second look, however, the young lady would have noted the hard thrust of the dimpled chin, the way a glance from the blue eyes seemed to spear whatever they looked at, and the fact that the fine nose had once been broken, perhaps by something as crude as a fist. At that point any sensible young lady would have decided to stay fully conscious and alert in his company.”

           I Take This Land

3.  Reveal your character’s personality through words and actions

In addition to describing a character’s outward appearance, we get to know them through their actions and dialogue.  Here is another example by Richard Powell:

Characters:  Great Ajax and Little Ajax

“Will Great Ajax tell us his thoughts?” Agamemnon said.

Great Ajax rose slowly from the floor, going up and up, until his head bumped a rafter.  He cuffed it pevishly, which shook the hut.  “Uh, what thoughts do you mean?” he asked.

“We have captured Helen,” Agamemnon said speaking slowly and distinctly.  “Should we go home or continue the war?”

“How do I know?” Great Ajax said.  “You fellows decide what to do, and I’ll go along.”

“LIttle Ajax?” Agamemen said.

The Locrian bounced to his feet.  “Why do you always call on that big clod ahead of me?” he cried.  “I get tired of this Great Ajax-Little Ajax stuff.  Why not Stupid Ajax and Wise Ajax?”

“Little man,” Great Ajax rumbled, “some day when a worm hole in my ship needs caulking, I’m going to shove you in it.”

“Just try it mutton head, just try it,” Little Ajax cried.

Here several men grabbed Great Ajax and held him back, while Achilles restrained Little Ajax with one hand.

         Whom the Gods Would Destroy

Though Powell gives us no physical description of Great Ajax and Little Ajax, we get to know a good deal about them, and can even picture them in our minds, based solely on their words and actions.

4.  Tie your characters to people you know

Creating fictional characters out of thin air is difficult.  The job becomes easier, and your characters become more multi-dimensional if you connect them to people you already know. 

For example, in The Wandering King, I’d determined that the character Pausanias was going to be a bully.  What better bully to draw on than my greatest nemesis growing up, a kid in school name Billy?  Billy had treated me cruelly on plenty of occasions.  I knew how he behaved, how he spoke, and how his mind worked. 

Pausanias is based on a real historical person, so he doesn’t look like Billy, but he acts the same way Billy did.  The reader doesn’t see or hear Billy, but I do.  Doing so, helped me determine what Pausanias said, how he sounded, and how he reacted to different situations. 

When I started my story I made a list of my characters, and tied them to people I knew, which gave each one of my fictional characters a way of speaking and behaving, and it gave them multiple dimensions.  It gave them life. 

You certainly can create characters from scratch, but it’s easier to borrow from the people you know well.

5.   Do NOT model your main character after yourself

A lot of writers cast themself as their main character.  I tend to think this is a mistake.  Now your book is no longer about Greece or high school or a Polish family – it’s about you.  Please, don’t work out your life in the pages of a book.  Work it out with your counselor.

Okay, so you screwed up in college by not marrying Anna Marie.  You’ve been a wreck ever since because your life didn’t work out the way you wanted.  So you decide to work out your life by re-writing it so that you get Anna Marie in your book. 

This type of personal writing should be kept in your journal.  No one is interested in your fantasy of what could have been if you hadn’t been such an idiot and dumped Anna Marie in favor of taking the job in Boston.  This is not the material that novels are made of.   This stuff only matters to you.   Hate to be cruel, but we just don’t care.

I don’t mean to upset people by saying this, but I speak from experience.  When i was young, I wrote dozens of stories with myself as the protagonist, trying to work out all of the things that went wrong with my life.  It’s only when I took myself out of the picture, that I became a true writer.  Once I stopped trying to work out my past mistakes in my stories, my writing improved immensely.  The Wandering King is not about me.  It’s about a character named Euryanax, and the story is so much the better for it.

Work out your life with your therapist.  Don’t saddle your main character with your problems.  Give us a main character we can cheer for, not a character we feel sorry for.

6.  Make your main character unique

This is an addendum to #4 above.  The main character in The Wandering King, is not based on anyone I know.  Euryanax is not me.  Not at all.  I wouldn’t have the courage to deal with half the situations Eury deals with during the course of the story.

I suppose I could have modelled Eury on someone I know, but I didn’t.  I wanted him to be his own person.  He’s the main focus of the story, the book is told from the first person perspective, so I put the majority of my efforts into developing his character, nor did I want him to be based on my brother Matt or my Uncle Charlie.  I wanted Eury to be his own man. 

If The Wandering King is creative at all, it’s because Eury is not like any character you’ve ever met before.  He’s the product of his father Dorieus, who was a great general, so Eury becomes a master tactician.  He’s a product of the hero of Othryades, who taught him how to fight.  He’s the product of his mother Phile, whose very name in ancient Greek means ‘love,’ and he’s the product of a Spartan upbringing that taught him such conflicting lessons as to value honor as well as how to steal and kill.

Your main character really should be your work of art.  Make them memorable.  You do that by making them truly one-of-a-kind.

Hopefully some of these tips have helped.  If you have suggestions of your own, please feel free to share them.