In making Achilles and Patroclus lovers, I wasn't trying to speak for all gay men, just as when I write straight characters, I don't claim to speak for all straight people. My job as an author is to give voice to these very particular characters - these two men, in this time, and in this place
Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of of mortal inventions. "No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from." "But what if he is your friend?" Achilles has asked him, feet kicked up on the wall of the rose-quartz cave. "Or your brother? Should you treat him the same as a stranger?" "You ask a question that philosophers argue over," Chiron had said. H is worth more to you, perhaps. But the stranger in someone else's friend and brother. So which life is more important?" We hd been silent. We were 14 and these things were too hard for us. Now that we are 27, they still feel too hard He is half of my soul, as the poets say. He will be dead soon and his honor is all that will remain. It is his child, his dearest self. Should I reproach him for it? I have saved Briseis I cannot save them all. I know, now, how I would answer Chiron. I would say: there is no answer. Whichever you choose, you are wrong.
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There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles, ' Chiron said. 'And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?' 'Perhaps, ' Achilles admitted. I listened and did not speak. Achilles' eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise, I told myself. I would know it even in madness.
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Name one hero who was happy." I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason's children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus' back. "You can't." He was sitting up now, leaning forward. "I can't." "I know. They never let you be famous AND happy." He lifted an eyebrow. "I'll tell you a secret." "Tell me." I loved it when he was like this. "I'm going to be the first." He took my palm and held it to his. "Swear it." "Why me?" "Because you're the reason. Swear it." "I swear it, " I said, lost in the high color of his cheeks, the flame in his eyes. "I swear it, " he echoed. We sat like that a moment, hands touching. He grinned. "I feel like I could eat the world raw.
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I have done it, " she says. At first I do not understand. But then I see the tomb, and the marks she has made on the stone. A C H I L L E S, it reads. And beside it, P A T R O C L U S. "Go, " she says. "He waits for you." In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.
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Odysseus inclines his head. "True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another." He spread his broad hands. "We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?" He smiles. "Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.
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I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me. If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth. As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong. "Patroclus," he said. He was always better with words than I.
I would still be with you. But I could sleep outside, so it would not be so obvious. I do not need to attend your councils. I""' 'No. The Phthians will not care. And the others can talk all they like. I will still be Aristos Achaion.' Best of the Greeks. 'Your honor could be darkened by it." 'Then it is darkened.' His jaw shot forward, stubborn. 'They are fools if they let my glory rise or fall on this.
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Life for women in ancient Greece was hard - you had to fight for every inch of ground you got. Both Thetis and Briseis are strong, passionate women and in another time and place their lives would have been very different. Part of the tragedy of their characters is how much they have to offer - and how little of that they get to realize. Thetis spends the whole novel fighting the limitations placed on her, desperately trying to eke out the best she can from a bad situation. This makes her fierce and terrifying.
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The ship's boards were still sticky with new resin. We leaned over the railing to wave our last farewell, the sun-warm wood pressed against our bellies. The sailors heaved up the anchor, square and chalky with barnacles, and loosened the sails. Then they took their seats at the oars that fringed the boat like eyelashes, waiting for the count. The drums began to beat, and the oars lifted and fell, taking us to Troy.
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I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt, my scalp prickling till I thought it might lift off my head. My tongue ran away from me, giddy with freedom. This, and this, and this, I said to him. I did not have to fear that I spoke too much. I did not have to worry that I was too slender, or too slow. This and this and this! I taught him how to skip stones, and he taught me how to carve wood. I could feel every nerve in my body, every brush of air against my skin.
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What's amazing to me is how many of the issues facing women in the ancient world still linger today. Take Odysseus' wife, Penelope, a brilliant, resourceful woman who ends up in a terrible situation: in her husband's absence, she is being held hostage in her own home by men who claim to be courting her. She tries to make them leave, but because she's a woman they refuse, blaming their bad behavior on her desirability.
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A part of what makes myths live is their multiplicity, the way different voices retell them in every generation. Homer survives because his poetry was outstanding, yes, but also because he's been passed down by so many by luminaries like Vergil and Ovid, Shakespeare, James Joyce and Margaret Atwood, but also by countless others. I wanted to do my part for these tremendous stories.
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The very dull truth is that writing love scenes is the same as writing other scenes - your job is to be fully engaged in the character's experience. What does this mean to them? How are they changed by it, or not? I remember being a little nervous, as I am when writing any high-stakes, intense scene (death, sex, grief, joy).