Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 2 months ago

WB-S2E19 Mythology Brought to Life

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK Ron Block and Patti Callahan explore the exploration of Mythology both in Fiction with Jennifer Sain and in Non-Fiction with Natalie Haynes

This show is brought to you by our presenting sponsor, Charleston Coffee Roasters. Charleston coffee roasters painstakingly searches the world over for the highest quality coffee beans. They bring them home to Charleston, South Carolina, where slow roasting coaxes out their unique flavor. Along with their promise of great coffee, Charleston Coffee Roasters also pledges to help our planet and local communities. Globally. They support sustainable farming practices. Locally, they partner with the South Carolina seed Turtle Rescue Program Visit Their website, Charleston Coffee Roasterscom, and use the code coffee with friends, all lowercase, all one word, to get twenty percent off on all bagged coffees. The way that women are always compared to one another in a way that men are just not. I think that costemester and penelope that held up his these is, these two examples of wives, but nobody any point seems to be saying. Well, how do it? Just say it's an acommend on stock up as husband's, because neither of them would come out of that comparison particularly well. So I really I really felt that as well. But I knew these stores, one as well known as as some versions of them. What you know? So everybody. Everybody knows that Helen is Helen of Troy, right and and that's because she leaves her home elope with this guy and causes a war. And I thought, well, is that it? Is that all we need to know? You know, there's a version of Helen story which is at least as old as home, at least as old as the Iliad, where Helen goes to troy. But she doesn't go to troy, she goes to Egypt and has this completely blameless time, though. Welcome to the friends and Fiction Writers Block podcast For New York Times Best Selling Authors, one rock star Librarian and endless stories. Join Mary K Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Christy Woodson Harvey and Patty Callahan Henry, along with Ron Black. As novelists. We are for longtime friends with seventy books between us, and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating author interviews and inside or talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you are in the right place. Welcome to the friends and fiction writers block podcast. Today we'll be diving into novels and non fiction books that bring mythology alive. will be talking to Jennifer Saint with her new an electra, and Natalie Haynes with her newest Pandora's Jar. I am Ron Block and I am Patty Callahan Henry. I am by no means an expert in mythology, but I can say that I've had a lifelong fascination with the stories that seem to undergird all other stories. I've been reading them, studying them, picking them apart. So I'm thrilled for today. So first let's meet Jennifer Saint. Due to her lifelong fascination with ancient Greek mythology, Jennifer saint read classical studies at King's College in London. Then she spent the next thirteen years as an English teacher, sharing a love of literature and creative writing with her students. Ariadne was her first novel and received huge praise. It was a Sunday Times best seller and now her second retelling of ancient myth is out. Around Clydemnestra and her daughter, Electra, Jennifer Saint is now a fulltime author living in Yorkshire. England with her husband and two children. Hi, Jannifer, welcome. I'm so glad that you're here. Can you tell us about electra? What, pw you called, for those of you out there publishers weekly, called a brilliant feminist revision of the Greek myth of the House of atreus. Am I saying that right or is actreus age a chance? Yeah, and what's so? Hi, okay, thank you so much for having me and thanks for that wonderful introduction. And so, yeah, it would be delighted to tell you about Electra. And so it is a novel which takes place against the backdrop of the Trajan war. But while the Trajan war is raging in the background, the story is told by the three women who are fighting their own separate conflicts. And that's Kite Temester, the wife of Agamemnon, who has led to the Greek ships against Troy. There is Cassandra, a preestess of try who was cursed by Apollo to be...

...able to see the future but never to be believed. So she knows what's coming for her city, but she can do nothing to prevent it. And of course, Electra, who is the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, who spends her her time in her father's absence, wishing that he would come home again to put everything right, but nurturing this very dangerous delusion as to the nature of what her father truly is. One of my favorite questions when we talk about these stories is what is the story about? And then would you just call us? And then, Jennifer, what is it really about? So I think what it is really about at its heart is about a mother daughter relationship that has gone so terribly, terribly wrong, and it's about these two women who are so very much alike each other, so very similar to one another, that they cannot understand where the other one is coming from and when they come up against each other, that they meet in this terrible conflict from which neither of them feels able to step back, and it's about the the consequences of that. Well, that's what I was going to say. I feel like when I was reading it, I could I have a daughter and of course I am a daughter, and the the conflict and yet the bond and the mirroring between the two of them is astounding. So I have loved the story of Ariadne and no, I never pronounced anything right, and Electra all of my myth loving days and I know they say that they are forgotten women in mythology, but I can tell you that I have never forgotten them. So tell me why Electra this time? What was the spark that made you want to write the book? I mean, I think she's even been an opera, right. Yeah, that's right. So Electra is and it's a really famous story. The Story of Christ Master and Electra, I think, is really well known and it's in mythology. A lot of the time these stories kind of branch off and there's all sorts of different versions of them and they've been told differently by all these different people in different kinds and places, but this is one where it feels more than any of the myth like there perhaps is this quite definitive version that exists that we know. So I was interested to come at it from a different angle. And that's really that when we meet to lecture, in the existed versions, she's fully own woman who already has this very deep resentment against her mother and this very consuming obsession with her father, and she's already in that place and the damage has already been done. So what I was really interested to, what drew me to tell this story, was to work backwards in her life and to actually understand how she came to this point. And I thought it was particularly interesting that she has this this very fractured relationship with her mother, Clitemester, when kite semester, who was such a such a compelling character in mythology, this incredibly strong, incredibly defiant and vengeful woman. I thought it was so interesting that she is driven in her actions by maternal love and yet things go so desperately away with her surviving children. So to kind of piece that together, it felt almost as though this is like a puzzle and that I had to go and and work out how it got put together, because I just felt like their story started almost at the end and there was so much more of it to tell, and that took place before well, and without getting spoilers, Klim Inestra, what she did was out of pure love for her other child, and yet it creates a rift with the child that remains, and it's such a fascinating dual almost the shadow self and the positive self, the real self, and there too these mirroring against each other, which is what mythology does the best. Yeah, I'm absolutely and I think it's just it's this way of exploring these very extreme emotions and he's very and so terrifying situations and I know writing it as a mother myself, I found that like so difficult in so many ways, but such a it's just something that I really really couldn't resist doing. It comes across too because I think as a reader we just like I couldn't get enough. I just couldn't like what happens next, withever's next. We kind of know some of the basics, but but you inject so much emotion into it it's so amazing. But what I want to know is that we can never, you know, identify mythologies primary sources, obviously, but what did you use as a jumping point for the story and then what part of it then did you use to make up beyond that? So I really started with a SCOLLISS's tragedy of ACMEM NAN and which is...

...probably, I suppose, the most famous. I think kind of that would have the most defining vasions of the story and that creates a scliss created such a really dynamic portraits of classymnster in that play. She is incredibly powerful and she's incredibly intimidating and she just she controls everything. She's kind of a puppet master in my sceney and although a lot of the other characters resent her and they fear her, they don't at across at any point she's absolutely earthly ferocious. And yet we we really sympathize with her in so many ways, I think, certainly as a modern audience, and she's not, although she's been quite maligned by history and in particular held up as an example of an especially bad wife, and she's compared in terms of the Trojan Walk Wives. She's often compared to penelope, who waited faithfully at home for a Decius to return, whereas she is, she's the nightmare version of penelope and she's not going to wait at home and look after the kingdom and friend off the other ceaars. She's going to spend that time taking power and planning what she's going to do next, and so I felt that she there was there was something to be redeemed in in that version of Clytem Nester, that we can really understand where she's coming from and why she behaves as she does. So the ESCHOLISS's portrayal of her, I just think, was such a such a brilliant place to start. But, like I said, there was a lot more to fill in, and that's particularly when it comes to Electra's character, because she is quite she's nowhere near as kind of multifaceted as her mother is in Escholis's version. So I had to look at other tragedies. So Euripides and Sophocles both route tragedies entitled electure. That gave me a lot more ideas about her story and her situation. And then beyond that there is a there's references to to these characters in the Odyssey, there's the Iliad to call on, particularly for CASSANDRA's parts in the Trajan Wall. So there was there was a huge wealth of sources to draw on to really kind of put the whole thing together. It's like a puzzle and it's fascinating to me that we do it with all characters all through history, not just mythology. But one is sainted penelope, when really she wasn't that much of a saint, and then demonize and at Chmistra and she really had come reasons. If you know the back story, the origin story, you can't demonize her so to simplify these characters. When you bring their true stories to life, those reductions don't work anymore. Yeah, and it's the way that we've been. Are always compared to one another in a way that men are just not. I think that and class master and penelope that held up his these is, these two examples of wives, but nobody at any point seems to be saying, well, how do it? Just say it's an acamm non stuck up as husband's because neither of them would come out of that comparison particularly well. So I'm yeah, I really, I really felt that as well. So I've heard mythology describe as so many things and when people ask me why I care so much about it, why I read so much of it, I try to describe it and one of my favorites is that it isn't a true story, but it's always true and to me Miss Somehow hit nail the deeper part of who we are. They're sometimes like a tuning fork. We recognize the story even if we don't know the story. How would you define a myth? I mean that is a really beautiful encapsulation of it and I think that that really good. I think that really goes to the heart of why we're still why we are still reading these stories, where we are still retelling them and they were being told three thousand years ago. But we can still find that connection and that shared humanity that really unites us all, that we can all understand who these people where. So even if they're living in a world which seems quite alien and unfamiliar to us and living in a society with, you know, very different beliefs, very different customs, very different habits, we can still see that these people experiencing grief, experiencing loss, heartbreak, love, joys, all these and complicated feelings and anxieties, and I think that, you know, when it comes to the story of clie semester and a lecture, we can see that we have got through a lot of the novel the way that I've written it. We've got a teenage girl kicking back against her mother and it's it's something that we can see it just as clearly today as we can see it taking place, you know, thousands of years ago, and I think that mythologies just gives us that opportunity for Casassis, for understanding and for...

...exploring this kind of right to the very dark edges, right to the very extremes of the human experience. Oh my gosh, I love that. Dark edges. I just wrote that day. That's awesome. That's exactly what it does. It's it and we recognize it, but we don't know how to articulate it. But when we read them, if we recognize them. Yeah, so I love that. That's that's beautiful. It is you. You touched on this a few minutes ago, but why do you think that the female mythology characters are the ones that need to be brought to life? I think that we're kind of looking at it through a feminist lens in the Modern Day, but why do you think it's important for us to revisit them? So I think in particular in sort of more recent versions of mythology, and especially versions end at children, and so probably the winds that we've grown up with and the ones that we tell our own children, the female characters have, in the past couple of centuries been pushed to the sidelines, while Tragedians like Eripides were writing these very complex, nuanced female characters I think they've kind of fell out of favor for a little while and in favor of instead presenting the heroes. And of course the ancient perception, kind of concept of what hero is is really quite different to us. And so you had characters like Jason and theseus who's suddenly become these sort of swashbuckling, noble, brave adventures, which really, when you look at the ancient sources and what they actually did, they were never like that at all. It's really there their fame that heroism was about strength and glory and it often took a huge amount of ruthlessness to get there. So these kind of great hair is, like heracles and so on, are not what we would think of as being particularly heroic today, but they've kind of they've been through some sort of process where the kind of unsavory, more brutal elements of their characters and their stories have perhaps been stripped away, and that reduces the female characters then, because they are then on the sides of the story that the damsels in distress, or they're a wicked temperatures or you know, there's some kind of one dimensional archetype. And actually, when we go back to the story as it first existed. When we look at the ways in which it's evolved, in the ways in which it's been told, you can peel back these layers and you can find or underneath that story that I thought I knew, there is this other fascinating story. There is there are so many more elements to it that I didn't even know where they're and there's always more to discover it. And I think that if you come at it from one of these caracters who's perhaps been a little bit flattened and had the edges brushed off, and then you that's the way into their the real myth, the real story at the heart of it. That's so true. So say, please say, that there is another woman mythological story that you're bringing to life next. Yes, that absolutely is. So I'm really excited to be able to talk about it. And so I'm currently editing my third novel and after a lecture which is this very, very dark story, I was really ready to bring some some light and adventure and into my next mythology retelling. So my next one is going to be about at all UNTA, who is the only woman to have joined the argonauts. I just got chilled back. It's I was like leaning into it, like is it you're read to see? Is it persephone? WHO's she gonna say? That's amazing, I can't wait. Awesome. So, personally, it's so obvious that you're passionate about this area of raiding in this part of mythology. What does it do for you? What it does it change you? Does it does it affect you in other ways? So yeah, I mean I think that writing is this this kind of transformative process. It kind of say that, mean, this is a real, this really interesting question, and I didn't I've been asked it quielight this before, such as some kind of trying to gather my thoughts into a coherent answer. And but yeah, I think that writing really lets you get in touch with all of those things that you fear the most, desire the most, and you get to be in charge of it when you're writing these stories. So I found some scenes in electric particularly difficult to write and I think like you'll know which ones they are when you've read the novel. But I think that when you're so you're the architect of it and you're creating it, that that's a really powerful experience to go through. Because you get to face whatever that is and even if it works out tragically in the novel and there is still, I think, that real process of of kind of like I've been there, I've been...

I've been to that extreme and I've come back and it. Yeah, I think that it's something that probably makes you kind of braver and bolder in in all aspects of your life. I think that's greenings. You totally knew what to say and I think it goes back to what you said earlier about the dark edges. I think reading about them and right especially, I would believe, writing about them, we have to tap into this shadow side we don't like to look at very often, and you still come back to yourself. So I really love that. If our listeners out there really want to dive even deeper into myth and mythological history and stories after they've read your box, what what would you tell someone like that who says, you know what, I want to dive deeper into mythology? Where would they begin? Well, I think there are so many, so many and really accessible ways to get into mythology. Now is having such a kind of beam at the moment. So I'd say it's a perfect time and I think if it was somebody who really wanted to start from the beginning, I think a great place to start is with Stephen Fries Books and he's written myth us and heroes and try the audio versions are absolutely brilliant as well, and that really that's kind of like a guide to all the mythology that you need to know, I think, told in very kind of engaging, funny, accessible way. And also, and so I so assuming this is out in the states as well, and I would say Charlotte Higgins Greek myths, which is absolutely amazing because she's taken the process. So in mythology, in the ancient world, weaving is this incredibly important skill that is largely possessed by women, and she has these, I think it's eight terroines of mythology, weaving tapestries and through the tapestries they tell the stories. It's a really, really clever way in, and so that's absolutely wonderful and that's a really female and centered perspective on mythology. So I think those would be great places to start. You've mentally you've got Natalie Haines on this episode and Pandora's Jar is such a such a witty, knowledgeable introduction and kind of analysis of those. Again, I think it's eight female characters of mythology. So there's just I think that there's so much to choose from. I love that it's all here. These stories are ancient, but they feel so modern when you retell them now and and we relate to them so much and it's and the passion comes through in the writing and that's why I think we're drawn to them as readers. So I just thank you so much for being here. Where can people find you online and know more about you and your work? So I'm SA, I'm on twice as at Jenny Saint and I'm on Instagram as well. Jennifer dot say dot author. Awesome and if thank you so much for joining us. I you know, I could have this discussion, obviously for hours. I'll probably email you when we're done, but to talk about what they mean to us today and the retellings and I love seeing how mythology is kind of having a moment in popular culture because of all our stories. It rests at the bottom of our stories and it shimmers under there just like a like the cap stone of a building. So Jennifer thank you so much for joining us. Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed talking to thank you. Thank you. Our next guest is Natalie Hayes, author of the recently published Pandora's Jar, which has been on the New York Times best seller list for two weeks and counting as of this recording. Natalie is a writer and broadcaster and, according to The Washington Post, a rock star mythologist. She has previously published the novels the Amber Fury, the children of Ja Costa and a thousand ships. Her nonfiction work the ancient guide to modern life and her newly released Pandora's Jar, mix her wellknown comedic talent with her deep knowledge of ancient myths and legends. Of Pandora's Jar, none other than Margaret Atwood said funny, sharp explications of what these sometimes not very nice women were up to and how they sometimes made idiots of but read on as a beautiful, beautiful accolade. Yeah, that was a really good day when that happened. I'M NOT gonna lie. Do not blame you. I will cool about it. Now. See You. The day you got it is. I think we were on the lockdown in London, where I live. So I'm pretty sure I was just so I probably went for a celebratory walk on my own around the block. Right they are you out for like a minute? Well, welcome to the PODCAST, Natalie. We're so happy to have you. Yes, I'm a self proclaimed mythology...

Geek and lover good O my goodness. You know, those high school years of Latin paid off always because we had to study mythology. So you can see behind me. Those of you listening can't but behind me or just stacks and stacks of mythology books. But definitely not a scholar like you are. So I want to say congratulations. I'm pandiors jar being so beautifully received. It's quite an Honnor. The New York Times list in all the accolades and I cannot wait to talk about it. But before we take a deeper dive, can you give our listeners the overview of this book of pained out doors jar to kind of give a sense of what the readers are in for? Yeah, of course. So what I wanted to do with Pandora's Jar was, truthfully, I had just written three quite harrowing novels in a row and a thousand ships was probably the most harrowing of the three because it just has so many women and so many states of, you know, awful things happening to them, and I was pretty pretty burned out and I realized that what I needed to do, what I wanted to do, was to write a book where I could examine these kinds of women from the outside looking in, instead of from the inside imagining them out, which is just a it's just a lot more paithful. Sorry, honestly, what would it be like if I were? was basically my working day for a really long time. But I knew these stories weren't as well known as as as some versions of them were, you know. So everybody, everybody, everybody knows that that Helen is Helen of Troy, right that? And that's because she leaves her home elope with this guy and causes a war. And I thought, well, is that it? Is? That all we need to know? You know, there's a version of Helen Story, which is at least as old as homer, at least as old as the Iliad, where Helen goes to troy. What she doesn't go to troy, she goes to Egypt and has this completely blameless time. They're but the gods create an image of her and Adelong looks and sounds exactly like that gets sent to troy. The war is fought in the exact same way. So her name is still mud you know, the Greek still think of her as a terrible, adulterous the trojans still see her, as you know, the bane of their city. And at the end of the war, when the Greeks finally get their hands, physically get their hands on the air deln of Helen, it disappears into the air that it was made of. And and still they blame her. You know, it's the most incredible image, metaphor for the futility of war, of course, but she still she still gets blamed either way. And I thought, I'm not sure people even know about the version where she goes to Egypt and I think they might be interested. And so I thought, well, who you know, who else could I do? Can I do a set of these women? And I was like, well, okay, there are some very bad women in Greek myth who I definitely wanted to do, like clytem Nestro, the worst wife and all of Greek myth, and I'm like, is she though cousin. He's GLISSA's Agamemnon. She isn't. I mean she's a bad wife and if you're her husband, obviously who does? Spoiler. So she does murder him, but she is a she's a sort of avenging fury. He murdered their daughter. She kills him in revenge and generally in in Greek Myth and particularly in Greek tragedy, that's not seen as a bad way to behave. That seen as a relatively, you know, noble way to behave. And he killed her. He killed her daughter in front of her. I mean I mean a one wedding. It's just the absolutely does it in the absolutely every person. Killing him in a thousand ships was honestly one of the best days at the office I've ever had. I could have done it twice I was so happy. I was just like Bang and there he goes. Maybe I'll just go back and twist that night for one more time. Oh, it was just a joy. I hate him, absolutely hate him. So, you know, spoiler. I was rooting for her and then I thought the reason the book is called Pandora's Jar is because I think one of the very few phrases that comes to us from Greek myth, isn't from Greek myth at all. You Know Trojan Horse, yes, that one counts, but Pandora's box doesn't exist until a Rasmus, the Dutch scholar, is writing about Pandora. He's translating, heacy odd, two thousand years old at that point, from Greek into Latin and he makes a mistake. He just mistranslates the word pithos jar into the word pixus box, and they're different things. You look at a Greek jar in any museum of, you know, antiquities. There are some beautiful ones, obviously in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and they you know getty villa in Malibu, and you can see they're all glued back together. Don't put all the world's evils in a jar. They break really easily. They're really narrow at the base, they're really fat at the top. But it doesn't take much for Pandora to become a villain if you give her a box and not a job, because soon you start to see artwork of her, you know, malevolently opening this strong box to let all the there are versions of Pandora's story, for example the elgers by Theognis, in which...

...the jar is full of Nice things and not bad things. There are versions of her story, one version told by esop of fables fame, where it's her husband opens the jar and not her at all. But all of those get lost. So we can break blame a pretty woman, and I thought, well, it would be nice to be able to say to people that's not actually how these stories always were. What happens to the Pandora story, of course, is that it gets mapped onto the eve story. The idea of a beautiful woman who undoes men is, you know, that's that's the narrative of Genesis. But Pandora is very specifically described by Hecid as being calonkc on. She is good and bad, you know, beautiful and ugly, if you prefer to go visual. But of course what happens in translations of that phrase, which is a deliberate parallel, cal on CAC on, good bad, what happens is that it gets translated as beautiful evil. So the good quality becomes visual and the bad quality becomes moral. And I thought, well, I have a problem with that right and what's fascinating is so many of these problems. I don't care whether it's mythology, the Bible, when it's comes in the translation of it. Yeah, that in the translation that makes women at fault. or I'm so geeking out on this. This is so amazing and it reminds me Pandora's Jar a lot of the retelling of legends in this in women who run with wolves. Clara to pick up where she takes these legends and tells them from the outside, from a woman's point of view, just like you're doing. It says. Can we rethink the assumptions that we get out of these stories, the assumptions that are still built into our human psyche about a woman eating an apple, a woman opening a jar, a woman killing her husband? And if we and I've read a version of Pandora's jar not bags, where what she released out of it was hope, and that is well, normally know it days in the jar, normally in almost every ancient version, when she has a job, which is by no means all. Every visual representation of Pandora from the ancient world that survives to us today shows her in the act of being created. No Jar in site, no receptacle of any kind and site. The important thing for the ancient Greeks is that she is the first woman, which means that the care free age of man comes to an end, according to Hecy Oud. Well, bad luck, man, sucks to be right now. Hang out as brows together around your cold no fire, because you don't have one of those either. So I mean, yeah, these these things do, these things do happen. And in terms of translation, you're absolutely right. And it's not always even a gendered issue. So also in erasmus he talks about he translates a phrase which still appears in vernacular English today, where I might not say it, but my parents generation for sure, would say of somebody very blunt they would say, Oh, she likes to call a spade a spade, and that comes from aroundmas. But the words scaffare in Greek doesn't mean spade. It's a mistake. It means a hollowed out object like a canoe. So in fact we should say, Oh, she likes to call a canoe a canoe, but we don't do that because erasmus came along and ruined it for everybody. So yeah, I mean it's not always a gender tissue. But it often is a gender issue and sometimes it's because we have a source like he steered who just doesn't like women. He's, you know, very quick after describing Pandora and in the shorter account that he gives us in the Theogony, to just go off on a round about how we're not as good as bees. And it's like, dude, you're kind of hurting my feelings. It's be the case that when it comes to making honey I am inferior to a bee, but in other regards I am better than a bee. How dare you? And so I kind of thought, well, that that that sense of being sort of wronged, but having I can't help it, there is something so ridiculous in it that I just really enjoyed, you know, unpicking these stories. And often it's the case that in our ancient sources there are versions where they're much less misogynistic than the sort of received versions as we would think of them now. And you're right, it's just been a question of stories being translated or simplified. Often it's the case that a story gets kind of sanitized, sort of for a children's version, and it's very, very hard for us. I think if we read a children's version as a child, to not believe that that's the right version as we grow up and that that's the version from which all other versions deviate. But of course the people who wrote those children's versions were just writers. They weren't. They didn't have some mystical access to the myth truth. So sometimes that you know, mids have multiple timelines, in the time in which it's set, the time in which it's written, the time in which it's read, and those are all lying on top of each other, you know, like like thin, thin layers of aged parchment. So you can see through the whole thing if you try. But you do have to try, because sometimes it's nineteen century or twenty century and misogyny that you're reading. And and the the...

...the misogynistic account, actually wasn't there in the ancient world, or this element of it wasn't there in the ancient world. And you know Pandora's Jar as a good instance of that, but HIPPOLYTA's war belt as another you know, universally translated for for centuries as HIPPOLYTA's girdle, that Hercules, heracles, to give him as Greek name goes to claim and it's always translated as a woman's belt, a girdle, which is a sort of ungendered thin belt. But the word in Greek it every single source we have, is Zerstir, war belt, as the same word that describes the war belts worn by men fighting in the Iliad. The word for a woman's belt is zerner. It's completely different word, but every single translation you can just imagine these lovely old professors in Oxford or Cambridge or wherever two hundred years ago go, well, what would my wife where? And you go, dude, it's not it's not about your wife, it's about an Amazon Warrior Queen. So you know, these problems happen, but it is possible to get through and kind of unpick them if you're prepared to go back to the Greek or the Latin. Well, the problem is not everyone. Most people just want a simple story, a simple reason, a simple story, a simple moral to the story that you can carry away in your hand like for sure, and they don't want to take the time to dig deeper to where it's original meaning, where as in almost any story they want to walk away with the simplest version. And I love that you're undoing that there's a meat. I mean, it's terrific news for me. I'm not going to lie, because I do have the both time and energy to mind these myths and hunt round them and say, okay, well, what other versions are there? Okay, well, what did these people in this part of Ancient Greece think about this character? Why do they claim this character of this character is so reviled? Why are there such massive temples to this God or goddess if they're so horrible in this version of their story or that version of their story? And then, you know, I then I get all the joy of doing the research and other people can can read a version where they can go, okay, maybe it's not just the version I read as a kid, and it's like no, honestly, isn't. There are loads of versions and there is no right version. These stories, you know, bubbled up across the Greek world, across generations. They're being told all over the place, and that's why they're so contradictory, you know, often because different locations want to attach themselves to a heroic narrative, and that's kind of wonderful. As wonderful that, you know, Helen belongs to all these different bits of Greece, or Aphrodite or, you know, Hercules, heracles, another case and point, and it's like an Achilles all across Greece. For hundreds of years there must have been people saying to a Bard, now tell us the story about when this person came to our neck of the woods. Now tell us what it was like when they were here. How wonderful that everybody wants to claim these characters as their own. And what's fast naming to is not only you mentioned the temples or their chapels. For them, things were built on tap of them, and it's just like there's stories, another stories built on tap, another stories built on tap, another temple is built on tap, another temple is built on tap till the original. It's all hidden underneath, absolutely, and the same thing is happening with stories as well as stories, if you see what I mean. So in the same way that it's happening in the in the material world, it's happening in the narrative world. So we get of course, we lose access to you know how many troys are? They are on the site of Troy as as Schliemann believed it to be. I mean ten, twelve, something like that, one under and he dug through, you know, this rogue archologist dug through the the right period, De Troy, thirteen century BC troy, because it was too boring and he wanted more excitement, so he went right through it. And we do that with stories all the time, you know, we just we see the version that's that most easily fills our fulfills our preconceived ideas, and that's the one we cleave to. But why should we when there are other versions? How how cool to get the rest of the story, or at least some more of the story? I don't know, I find it really strange when people, people want the right answer. You know, what's the real version of this? It's like the joy of it is that it's spherical. You know, this is a whole world that you can look at from any angle and you'll find a different bit of the story, and that's that's why it's myth. That's what's so thrilling about it. That's actual which exactly. Yeah, when the people say why you fit fascinated with mythology, I'm just going to take that that recording of you. Yeah, just clay and that is clean O. Yeah, IF THEY FLINCH, turn up as the high school kid who was part of a collective grown whenever mythology was brought up. I have to just give you props for this book because it really made these stories accessible and turned them on their head and they're fascinating and they're there, they're readable and it's just a whole different things than when we had to read is it Miss Hamilton's version of it? But I want to kind of take a cheaper dive and have everybody understand your process. So could we take one of these sections, like majuice so...

...my favorite, and maybe kind of walk us through the process. So if you want to hear about meducing, Oh okay, you're spoiling yourself for the next post. That I won't spoil. Let's let's let's review how you put Pandora together then in the book. Okay. Well, I tried to start with what I thought might be a version that people knew, because I think generally I try to do that with Greek myth because it's an important part of being a nerd. I think is that you have to accept that you, you have maybe spent more time thinking about this than many people ever will and that's not a helpful way to begin a dialog with them. So with, for example, with a thousand ships, I began the novel at the point where the Trojan horse appears and the city falls, because it's like, you know, I don't. I don't believe that lots of people know all the details or the consequences of the Trojan moral, the build up to the Trojan more, but I think a lot of people know there's a wooden horse. So I'm going to start with the horse and we'll take it from there. And it meant I had to run timelines forwards and backward simultaneously through the novel, which was Hilarious, but only in retrospect. And so I sort of did the same thing. I thought with with Pandora, because it's the opening chapter of the book. I thought I'll start with what seemed to me one of the more famous images of her, which is a pre raphael painting by Rosette of Pandora, and it's just an extraordinary kind of deeply read picture. She you know, what she's wearing is red. There's a sense of fire and burning in it that the word is even written on the the box casket that she's holding. The model for Pandora was Jane Morris, who with whom he was having a I mean we have to assume it was a phenomenally exciting affair, because it certainly looks that way from the painting. and He Rosetti made the cast get this beautiful jeweled box that she's holding and she's just starting to open it and there's this very thin kind of plume of orange smoke coming out of it and you're like, I'm not sure what's in there, but it doesn't look good. So I thought I'll talk you through this painting and hopefully that will make people who perhaps hadn't particularly thought about Greek myth but had enjoyed seeing consequences of it on the you know, walls of galleries or, you know, walking past the statues of it or whatever. I thought, well, I'll do that and then we'll see where we are, and I got to the end of that chunk and I was like yeah, okay, you know what, this could actually start the book. That's fine, and so then I thought, well, I need to take you back to the beginning, so the versions that we have in Hesiod, and then I thought well then I need to talk you through this bit where ancient visual images of her are completely different. You know, they always show her being created, which means she's being kind of sculpted. The word in Greek is a core, a maiden, young woman, a woman of marriageable age, as how it always used to be translated. My editor will always write, how old is that and you're like, please, don't ask. It's like fourteen and hi in Greece. You don't want to know. And so she's, she's she's always been kind of freed from the earth because she's sculptured by clay, by the God have fhist us, and it looks a lot, and in the versions that we have of this scene on vas paintings, like she's being she's free. You free somebody when you're sculpting them from clay, from the earth with hammers. All right, so it looks a little bit like the clincher scene and heathers, except with actual hammers rather than Croco mallets. She's not being at a cost, that, I promise. She's being freed from the earth, although I do see that the only thing I need to make that sensence sound, let plausible, is to add the words your honor to the end of it. But anyway, there we go. And so I tried to just hunt around. I watched films with Pandora, I asked around on social media and said, what's your favorite version of the Pandora Narrative and pop culture, and you know, that's otherwise I might not have found, you know, the Air Smith Song and and you want that. At least I want that too. I want, if I'm talking about Helen of Troy, to include, you know, the episode of Star Trek, original serious star Trek, where a version of of Helen appears. So it's kind of it's both, I hope, quite a scholarly process. My Desk, I'm just looking over to the side, as you can, as you guys can see, if people at home can where there's a pile of books so high that at any moment that could all go up. So there is a lot of, you know, reading and Greek and reading in Latin and unpicking these narratives and finding older sources. There's a lot of hunting down ancient art, but there's also a lot of, you know, maybe I'll now watch this, you know, completely bonkers film noir, which has people pursuing a and then once you start the hunting for the idea of the sort of a box that has something in it that we all want but no one knows what it is, which is very much what happens in the Pandora Narrative, then you soon find yourself in all kinds of places like pulp fiction, going oh yeah, no, there's that suitcase which just has light in it and that's all we know. So what is it and why do we want it so badly? And so it's just a sort of there are definitely characters are it that...

I could have included but didn't, and there are bits of their story that I wanted to include and couldn't fit in, and I've starts the thing where you go that's fine. Actually it would be awful if everything you'd found was in the book. Is Lovely having other things to talk about when I do interviews, but also it's just lovely being able to kind of choose the things that most interest you on the day. If I'd written a a year later or even a month later, they would be different examples, for sure, absolutely, and it's fascinating to see and that everybody can see it. And I didn't. I thought about it right when you said it the influence of mythology and modern day storytelling. Of course stories are built on stories, are built on stories, but it even made me think of that package at the end of castaway with Tom Hanks, like what's in the box? Was He never text they never tell us what's in the bonds. We're left to our own imagination, and so this, this kind of echo of mythology through time is it's amazing. I mean in a way it's sort of goes against the grain of the Pandora story, but there is something beautiful about not knowing. I think I'm certainty answer. It's not the scholar and me that feels that way. I guess it's the writer in me, but it's actually okay to say, you know, I I don't know if other people do this, but I definitely do. I have one book, one one really short book of stories by books which I've never read because I love him, and once I've read it, I won't have it to look forward to anymore and I'll have read all of it and then I won't have new bore hairs. And it used to drive my ex boyfriend crazy. This is not why we broke up, subtext nonetheless used to drive them crazy. was like, Oh, what if you've got hit by a bus, I should say in fact at him. I'm a terrible road crosser, he said, but what if you've got hit by a bus and you would net, you would have died not having read them, and I said I would rather have them to look forward to than have I'll live with that risk, even when I cross the road as badly as I do. I will live with that because I love the idea of a thing that I have have to look forward to. But I don't know what it is yet. It's the play, inner play between certainty and uncertainty, break right, mean between needing to know the answer as a scholar and being okay with not knowing the answer because it's a story. Yes, all right. I am curious which of the women you wrote about that was the most surprising to you. Oh, surprising is a really hard question to answer, because there were women in the book that I'd already written about in my fiction. So I'd written about Ja Casta and Helen and penelope, and so I thought, Oh yeah, no, I know, you know Clystonnestra. I thought, I know loads about these women. That's absolutely fine, no problem there at all. And then there were versions of their stories which I found which just blindsided me. The end of the Helen Chapter Focuses on a fragment of a sophocles play which is lost, called the demand for Helen's return, of which I think three fragments survived, tiny fragments, and I was so shocked when I read this fragment I had to go and hunt down the Greek so I could I was like, I must have made a the must be a mistake, where Helen is so kind of appalled by the fact that she's caused the debts of all these men in the war. Helen often takes responsibility for the war from the Iliad on words, I should say, Paris very rarely does, for reasons entirely clear, and Helen is so appalled by what she feels responsible for that she is self harming. She is she's scratching her face with writing implements in this fragment and I thought, are you kidding me? This is two and a half thousand years old, this version, and this the world's most beautiful woman is disfiguring her beautiful face, the thing that has made her world famous, using the exact tools that men have used to celebrate her and make her world famous. Writing implements and I thought that caught. That feels like it was written twenty minutes ago. How is that possible? And yet there it was. You know, this this extraordinary fragment. But in terms of the whole character surprising me, hmm, that's a really tricky one. Maybe the AMAZONS. In the end, there were so many Amazon stories that I felt like I knew, and then the idea of them as a sort of gang, a girl gang, was just this, I was just a side to them that I maybe hadn't picked up on. I'd, I felt, like, the big reveal and things like the jackastera chapter spoiler. She doesn't always I sometimes she goes on to be quite as successful diplomat. I sort of already knew because I'd research that when I wrote children of Jacaster. So sometimes I'd kind of spoiled things to myself. But I mean the most fun one probably was was penelope, because she is sort of trapped in a different kind of prison because she is the good wife, the perfect wife. Yeah, it's just waiting. That's she is waiting. Waiting. Penelope yes, and so to find versions for the story where she in fact does not wait but goes health a leather with one of the suitors. Absolutely delight Fi. Oh good glad. In one version she...

...gets laid and one of the favorite there has been. Are running around with a witch plenty three years. She's allowed. Ye. So, yeah, no, I enjoyed enormously finding out versions of penelope where you know, and we get so used to this sort of saintly version of her, but that's the version that's told by men who don't know her. You know, when Agamemnon says in the Odyssey, oh the gods themselves will write a beautiful poem to Penelope. It's like, Dude, when did you last meet her? The suitors have just arrived in the underworld's more than twenty years since you last met this woman and as far as I can tell, you and you met her at most twice, once when you went to scoop up a disseus and take him to the war epper effort, and maybe when all the men of Greece come to try and woo her cousin, Helen of Sparta, as she still is at that point, Helen of Troy, yet to be. And so when you say she's the perfect wife, the Gods Adore her, what you mean is she didn't, and plain, when her husband was away of twenty years, didn't murder him when he came home. She was just a really good yeah, she cut the house up and was a good single mom, and it's like well, okay, Um, I'm not sure that tells me very much about her as a purse. So yeah, but then off it comes along a few hundred years later and his hero Das and he gives Sarah Poem in her own voice where she's writing a letter to the absent, well, ulysses, as he calls Odysseus, because he uses their Roman names, of course, and in that version, I mean it's just the most audacious piece of writing. We see a scene from the Iliad where Odysseus goes off and is brave sequence that's usually known as the Dolan are where he and his friend imedies go off in the cover of darkness and find and trap this Trojan spy and they basically torture him and then kill him. And it's presented in the Iliad as a fantastically heroic narrative. And then when of it comes along and takes on this part of the story, but gives the voice to Penelope. She could not be less than Pressus like Oh, I'm sure you were thinking of me and your son when you were going off with your night antics. And it's like, yeah, what looks like heroics when it's men telling tales of their heroic endeavors to other men, to the woman waiting at home for her husband to come back, just looks fullhardy and and actually it. There's something really valuable about being able to reassess those stories. Even in even in the ancient world, these stories are being reconsidered and reworked by everyone from euippides to of it. So it was just lovely getting to roll around in them for a bit. Absolutely well, newly, sadly, we are running out of time with you and are you are endlessly fascinating. Your book, in your work is the same and I hope that we get another opportunity to continue this, because I could do this all week. I could well. Yes, please, can I come back and talk to you about the MEDICIA novel? Yes, Oh my God, yeah, that's what yes, I was so I want to. I'm me and so I hope I get to read an early cop you're there. I hope you do too. Somebody will send you one right. Yes, she's at breaker though. I'm just warning you. I figured she might be. But what it fascinating story for it. It's extraordinary. Everybody's going to want to know more about you. So where can they find you online? Oh, they can find me well, wherever they like really. I am lurking around on facebook as Natalie Haines, stand up classicist. I have a podcast which is called Natalie Haynes stands up for the classics and that's on BBC sounds and I think in the US it's maybe also on audible. But we've made, I should know, the seven series, so but their UK s or so like four episodes each, so twenty eight episodes. So you can hear me talking at my old job as a standup comedian, yes, talking about people from the ancient world, and then two series where we don't have an audience because of Covid, but generally we have an audience. So track that down if you'd like to. I'm lurking around on twitter as Natalie Haynes author. You can track me down on instagram. I think I'm even on Ticktock, but I'm too old to understand it. So that, yes, they just watch as younger people to. Okay, that BBC. Thank I'd just found my next binge. Listen absolutely as Fer. Yeah, it's fine. Wow, okay, I'm on it. Good. Well, people finish listen to a lot during lockdown's heir, including my mom when she missed me. This makes me a bit terry, but home spend a whole weekend just to listen to old twenty, whatever it was. I A episodes and then she just went back and starts it again. I'll thought you could just phone me. Okay, fine, all right. Well, continued success with Pandora's Jar and we are so looking forward to what you have coming next. I just I can't thank you enough for being here just it's been such a pleasure. Thank you for having me and once again, thank you all for tuning into this episode of the friends and Fiction Writers Block podcast. On behalf of Mary K Patti, Kristen and Christie. Thank you for your support of this podcast and remember share with a friend.

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