Welcome! Thank you for visiting dave the writer as the blog is re-launched. Here, you’ll see news, excerpts and intriguing stuff about the people, places and events in my new novel. Please come back soon to check it all out!!
My last post gave a basic feel for False Light, the novel I’m writing. Its story begins about twenty years after the Trojan War ends, when tales of that victory are still part of daily life. In that post, I also use the name ‘Wilios’ to mean Troy. A reader asked “Why?” That’s a good question. Below is what I hope you will think is a good answer.
Who conquered Troy? And what happened to the victors after that? We think we know. But do we? Achilles died in the Bronze Age, when Egyptians and Hittites were the two super-powers always clawing for lands in between. On the other hand, Homer lived in the Iron Age, when a faded, inward-looking Egypt was still there, somewhere to the south, but the bard had never heard of anybody called a Hittite. Hmmm… .
Homer’s story of Achilles’ rage amidst the Trojan War was a bard’s song passed from one poet’s memory to the next for twenty generations until it was finally written down. That memorized song somehow made it through the chaos of a centuries-long Dark Age about which we know almost nothing—except that four out of five people died at the start, writing was lost and each surviving village raided the next one for centuries. Today, only a handful of dug-up hints give us even a clue about how bad those times must have been. Or what collapsed the Bronze Age. Or how the Achaeans morphed into the amazing people who thought all those brand new thoughts and made up out of thin air most of what we call Western Civilization.
With False Light I want to bring that lost time and its people to life for you. I also hope to highlight the differences between how things truly were then and what we might assume. In addition, I want to show that human nature is a near-constant, barely changing over thousands of years. Love, hate, villainy, nobility, greed, sacrifice, courage, wisdom, foolishness, seekers of truth and corrupt demagogues have always been with us, and barbarians are always at the gate.
Most of all, I hope to tell a good story.
To help realize these hopes, I’ve chosen to use a lot of scholar-verified words and views from that ancient time. The intent is to make it easier for you as a reader to let go of the Troy you think you know—the Troy with shirtless Brad Pitts and Sean Beans conquering it (just before a ripped Gerard Butler holds off a million or so decadent Persians) or the Troy you fell asleep hearing about for weeks on end in High School. Or both.
So, how does calling Troy ‘Wilios’ fit in with that? Historical accuracy is a factor.
First, Homer called it Wilios. In the Iliad, the bard names the conquered city both ‘Troy’ (Τροίη) and ‘Wilios’ (Ϝίλιος). That makes sense. Especially, if you’re a master bard with ten thousand lines of poetry to remember and you have to modify it on the fly each night to please the audience in front of you. Having two or more names for a thing—each with a different number of syllables—makes it much easier to tell a story as a poem, which was Homer’s thing. ”Thank you, thank you! I’ll be here all week. And don’t forget to tip your waitress. House Master, more wine; my throat is dry!.”
Second, Wilios is what its conquerors and defenders called the city. As I noted above, Homer lived as long after the Trojan War as we live after Drake’s victory over the Spanish Armada, or Shakespeare. Language changes over several centuries—wouldst thou not agree, mayhap, sire? And so it was for Homer. The Greek spoken by Troy’s conquerors used a ‘w’ sound, but Homer’s Greek did not. And Hittite records from the time of the Trojan War name the city and its lands Wilusa.
So, for False Light, ‘Troy’ had to be named Wilios, restoring the dropped ‘w’. And ‘the Greeks’ had to be called what they called themselves, Achaeans (also corroborated by those helpful Hittite scribes).
Make sense? I hope so. Even more, I hope these and my other author’s choices will help carry you away into this fascinating time with your mind wide open. You’re going to meet some intriguing people doing some interesting things.
The events in my novel, False Light, take place long ago in Western Greece and the Central Mediterranean. Things were not the same back then.
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Our story begins twenty years after the fall of Troy, so long ago that most of the Mediterranean Sea was still a vast mystery. In that time, the exciting tales Homer spun out for us in the Iliad and the Odyssey were not myth but the stuff of daily life. There was no ‘Middle Sea’, as the Romans would call it more than a thousand years later, only a Great Sea that had no end, stretching on forever into the West.
The people of False Light lived when Aegypta was the world’s invincible super-power and had been since time began. For our characters, the ‘middle’ of things was somewhere toward that impossibly huge river delta, perhaps at an imaginary spot between the islands we call Crete and Cyprus.
Back then, Italy was not Italy, but a barbarous wilderness in the Far West where belief in magic held sway while Gods were few and terrible, a place often populated by vicious cannibals eager to draw dark power from the spirits of their ritually sacrificed enemies. Even the first thought of a place called Rome was four hundred years in the future.
Primeval forests grew and thick topsoil lay where, today, three millennia of wood fires, shipbuilding and sheep have given much of the Mediterranean region its barren, rocky slopes and scrub pines.
Back then, Greeks called themselves Achaeans. Over the previous few hundred years, they’d taken the mainland of southern Greece and learned civilization’s value from a powerful people called the Islanders, who also—inadvertently—taught them the secrets of the sea. So, of course, the Achaeans took the Islanders’ empire as well. Then, they took more. Finally, the allied kingdoms of Achaea invaded and conquered The Island itself, Crete. Today, we call those defeated, ancient islanders Minoans.
The Achaeans were a strong, proud and vital people. They looked down on the old, effete empires that had come before and from whom they’d wrested glory and their own place in the sun. Now, Achaea is a full and rising member in the brotherhood of civilized powers. And Pylos in the western Peloponnese is first in honor among all Achaean kingdoms.
With the capture of Wilios—Homer’s Troy—and its countless treasures, Achaeans rule all of the Great Sea worth having. Nine Achaean kingdoms spread across southern Greece, the Aegean islands and Crete. Three more control much of what we know as the coast of western Turkey. And, the new Achaean Kingdom of Wilios has opened a great door to another vast sea with more riches waiting to be taken.
To the north and west of Achaea, twenty or so scattered Achaean Princedoms dot the wild, barbarian coasts and occupy some choice inland sites. One of those sites will become Olympia, where games to honor the Gods go on for a thousand years. By chance—or the will of the Gods—those games will begin right around the time that a tiny settlement on a single hill near a bend in an Italian river names its first king. This insignificant village calls itself Rome.
Greatest of the Achaean Princedoms is Thapsos on the east coast of modern Sicily. Beyond Thapsos is wilderness. There’s nothing there except more barbarians, those pillars that Hercules will tell of in a few hundred years and then the end of the world.
For Achaeans, salt water is both enemy and friend. There are no maps or charts and the open sea will kill even a hundred-oared galley as fast as a starving lion rips the throat from a newborn lamb. Sailors who want to live never stray much beyond sight of land. But, thousands of them follow those rocky coasts and make the dangerous crossings that allow Achaea to be a great empire rather than just a scattering of kingdoms.
In the Far West, is one other place of note, the mysterious, vile Spider Island of Sardu, a land of looming, black stone castles built in strange, circular patterns, where everyone’s hand is raised against his neighbor. For Sards, war and treachery have been the warp and weft of life since the Gods overthrew the Titans. For a century now, Sard Warfathers have supplied tens of thousands of men as mercenaries to civilized kingdoms around the Great Sea. The strongest of the black castle keeps also send vast quantities of copper and bronze on Pylosian ships to feed foundries and workshops in the civilized world. And they grow rich.
Thanks to its fertile land and secure position, Pylos became the first powerful Achaean kingdom. And, it’s still the richest because of those metals flowing in from Sardu. Pylos is first in honor among the Achaeans because its king and heroes led Achaea to finally defeat Wilios after 200 years and four great wars, though Achaea’s King of kings now rules in Mycenae to the east.
The vigorous Achaeans have made themselves great in the world, and their future is bright. Or so they think.
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The map sums up who is where as the story begins in 1,202 BC, twenty
years after the Trojan War and near the end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean.
In my last post, ‘Who is This Guy?’, I mentioned the novel I’m writing. Here’s a brief description.
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False Light is the story of three brave but mismatched people thrown together against their wills amidst ancient danger. Hektor is a loyal, ambitious mercenary. Korinsia is a smart but frightened princess. Argurios is a skilled and cynical chariot archer. All three are among the best in their land, but that may not be enough. False Light is also a tale of how fragile a great civilization can be.
The time is more than 3,000 years ago, and the place is what we now call Greece. It is two decades since the great Achaean victory over Wilios in the east, and prosperity has soared. Fabled Pylos is first in honor among the empire of Greek kingdoms. This empire and its ships dominate most of the Great Sea, almost to the shores of eternal Aegypta.
A looming threat has begun to show itself, but the proud, confident Achaeans are blind. Arrogance, centuries of rising power, and their own internal struggles cause leaders and people alike not to see the new peril for what it is.
Our three heroes are forced together by circumstance, but they are far from being kindred spirits. Too late in the year, they must set out on a long voyage fraught with unknown risk. The goal is Thapsos, a powerful Achaean enclave many weeks away. Their galleys struggle along wild barbarian coasts amidst jagged rocks, would-be pirates and ship-killing storms. At every outpost, they uncover more clues about a vast, new power looming in the Far West. It’s single purpose: destroy all Soft Ones. Utterly.
Can the three fight their way back to warn Pylos in time? Will their constant conflicts with each other and barbarian fanatics curse them to failure? Will any of that matter to merciless Fate?
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As you might surmise, copyrights apply to everything about the book, False Light, and The First Dark Age series.
With some Traveller’s Luck, we managed to achieve our objective by mid-morning: three nights booked in a romantic room with a phenomenal view for two people who were cozily sipping their morning coffee in bed.
We strolled back past the island’s whitewashed homes, shops and churches. Most of them had bright blue trim and dazzled us in the morning sun. We also marveled at how fortunate we were to be on Santorini for the first time when so few other visitors were around.
Every few feet, I’d stop for another photo op or she’d be drawn through another open shop door by that primal urge to declare “Look what I found!” when we linked up again. I have to say that whenever she does tell me that, she has found a small treasure. Not everything is a perfect green velvet riding coat, but all are ‘just right’ for the time and place.
The most scenic part of Thira town is built on the interior crater wall. In a few places, white structures hug the very steep slope all the way to the water. But, mostly, they spread down only fifty yards or so from the ridgeline. Narrow main streets run parallel to the ridge, so there’s the happy situation where you can mostly have a clear view across scenic, well-kept roofs toward the dark, barren lava island in the crater’s center.
As I finished taking the photo to the left, my bride grabbed my arm and guided me to see a roof she’d found a little way ahead. There, snoozing blissfully was a handsome cousin of Max, her beloved German Shepherd from girlhood. I couldn’t begin to describe how much she’d loved that dog, or how safe she’d felt with him by her side. But, every big, healthy ‘Max’ who we meet just melts her heart—perhaps this one most of all.
Later, we took the funicular down from the town center to the small-boat quay. The conveyance looks more like a ski lift than a typical European funicular. Each small, windowed cabin holds four people comfortably—or six whose sense of personal space has been forever ‘adjusted’ by Riechsfuhrer Napolitano and her Gropen SS Battalions.
We rode down with a couple whose ship was anchored close to the crater wall below. After a little small talk, I asked where they were from and what they did when not cruising the Aegean. The well-dressed and bejeweled woman smiled under her broad-brimmed white hat and replied in a smooth voice with just a hint of Southern Belle. They were skiers from Connecticut.
At our puzzled looks, she let out a soft chuckle and delivered her punch line, “Yes, skiers, as in Spending our Kids’ Inheritance.”
In the few minutes remaining of our descent, we learned that they traveled a lot, and always in style.
After saying our farewells at the lower station, my bride and I realized that now we must be skiers in two ways!
One day some years ago, it had also eaten most of an Italian hill town named Civita di Bagnoregio, east of picturesque Lake Bolsena and south of the much more famous hill town of Orvieto in Italy.
My bride and I had walked across the long, narrow bridge to the Civita one cool morning, pursuing our duties as Card-Carrying Etruscophiles. As you may know, the Etruscans thrived in what is now eT(r)uscany from about 800 BC. They also launched a lot of what we think of as Ancient Roman culture.
Around 2,500 years ago, when the Etruscan rapper, Big ‘E’, and his crew founded the Civita, it was much larger, though still a very defensible place high above the two surrounding stream valleys. One of the plusses for them then was the soft tufa rock. It erodes fast and offered a steep approach to deter Bad Guys. It could also be easily shaped into walls, structures and stone-cut storage rooms inside the hill.
One of the minuses today is that more than two-thirds of the ancient town has fallen away, a loss hastened by the big quake of 1695 AD. Long ago, the two valleys were filled with gently-sloping, fertile fields. Now, they’re a relatively barren landscape of what the locals call calanchi (gullies, ditches and small ravines). That’s what happens in a few thousand years wherever tufa overlays sand, as it does in this countryside. But, intense Medieval agriculture surely hurried the process. The medievals weren’t as into maintenance as the ancients.
The fertile terrain of ancient times was likely quite well-preserved until the Fall of Rome in the West, when irrigation and terracing systems were no longer maintained. Those pesky barbarians just thought that plundering wealth would produce the same quality of life as civilization. kind of like today’s Occupy movement. Even so, though we don’t see now the landscape that the ancients saw, it is a lovely and fascinating view.
Normal Italians live back along the ridge line in the rest of Bagnoregio (literally ‘The King’s Bath’, a name given the place by Medieval Lombard invaders). Only about thirty people still live in the small Civita area, mostly Brits and Americans, for uniquely Brit and American reasons. There’s a simple church, though, so at least one Italian priest probably lives there as well.
The evening of our visit day, over another in a long series of relaxing Italian dinners, we were moved by what we’d seen to wax philosophical about Time’s perspective on human history. Incidentally, we measure human history as starting when dogs finally domesticated us, about 15,000 years ago.
No Sequoia or Gingko tree alive today was alive then. Yet, 15 millennia is far less than an eye blink in the time of life on Earth. And, science has only been around since, say, Galileo, maybe 400 years. That’s long enough to be perverted and corrupted by power-hungry politicians (a redundant phrase, I know), but it’s s not nearly enough time for many of us to give up the Old Ways.
A sizable percentage of us still freak out over an extra-snowy winter or a few extra-dry summers. Just a century or so ago in similar circumstances, many people wondered why God was punishing them and offered sacrifices to appease His wrath—human sacrifice in the more barbaric cultures.
Today, the High Priests of Climo-hoaxuality tell us that we have sinned against The Earth and The Mother of All Dooms rushes down upon us for our transgressions. So, we must sacrifice our evil and unjust Prosperity on their sacred Altar of Perpetual Tax. Our prosperity, not theirs. And, many Believers rush to do so.
Surely a deep, fundamental aspect of human nature is in there somewhere when so many people worship this foolishness. Theirs’ is not a set of feelings subject to the mind. But, it must have had some survival value for small groups of hunters and gatherers chasing primeval food or we wouldn’t still be so easily duped by Preachers of Wrathful Cataclysm.
Thankfully, for people with time to relax, sip Chianti and reflect on a day with the Etruscans, Galileo’s new-fangled notion of reason does a good job putting things in perspective.
I highly recommend it.
It’d been below freezing in this part of Italy for almost two weeks. Farmers with orchards or vinyards were tearing their hair and wailing in despair, but the crystal-clear air and magnificent views of the snow-capped Apennines in the distance went a long way toward consoling my bride and me.
We’d booked a few weeks’ stay in a romantic room at the recently refurbished 14th century Palazzo Catalani about sixty miles north of Rome. From there, we took day trips all around to explore the countryside.
This day, we were in the small town of Bagnaia to see its major attraction, the gardens and fountains of the Villa Lante (not to be confused with several others of the same name elsewhere in Italy). That’s where Jac comes in.
In the late 15oo’s, a rich* Cardinal asked Jacopo Barozzi of Vignola to create a water wonderland using a small spring that bubbled up on the churchman’s hillside hunting preserve. Jac did fine work.
In our travels, we’ve seen a lot of beautiful fountains, but this one was unique. It was frozen in motion. No pumps or electric-powered mechanisms made the lovely water art there function—just gravity and Jac’s masterful skill. The modern management didn’t have anything to shut down and preserve from cold-weather harm, so they just let it flow.
How perfect for us! Lovely arcs and cascades of ice were everywhere. As the weeks of cold weather had continued, the fountain heads froze last. So, they had the chance to make rare and beautiful paintings in the air before they too stopped working. The beautiful result grabbed us then and has held on in our memories to this day.
Given the skills Jac showed in every other aspect of his work there, we believe that these frozen fountains were no happy accident, but the result of a superb architect’s design intention. And a lucky Cardinal’s bottomless treasury, of course.
* By the way, doesn’t it seem that all the Cardinals were seriously rich back then? That’s probably for the same reasons that modern politicians mysteriously and regularly join ‘the one percent’ on nothing but 30 years of honest Public Service and government salaries. Or, maybe, it’s Divine Intervention helping the Future Saints among us, just like it was 500 years ago. Yeah. Sure. That’s it.