Monday, June 9, 2008

An Unscheduled Visit to Athens

A comment thread at Bernita's inspired me to this digression, and what is the use of a blog if you can't have digressions like this. Correct or probable use of historical names here is not guaranteed; I just reached into a grab bag or made names up, though Pericles is intended as the famous politician. Our protagonist is Philonikos the Sophist. We join in medias res, as they say in old style lit crit, since I haven't written a beginning.

As said in Bernita's comment thread, I also have to come up with a plot, since mystery readers sort of expect one.

Death is an Oligarchy

Pericles got right to the point. "Laomedes, the son of Aphon, was killed last night."

"Bad news for people who hire out flute girls," I said. Bad news for Spartan sympathizers, too, but Pericles didn't need me to tell him that. Probably not about the flute girls, either. "What happened, and who by? Or is that what needs finding out?"

He shook his head. "We have him, young man named Thrasymachos, apparently Laomedes' ephebe. They got in a heated argument at a dinner party, and the lad pulled a knife. The Scythians brought him in without difficulty."

Not a very complicated case. "Whose modest little house was the party at?"

Pericles studied the light dancing in his cup. "Kritias'. Assume the regular guest list and you won't go very wrong. Everyone there was an eyewitness, unless they had sneaked off to a storeroom, or the women's side."

The women's side where I grew up was the curtain my mother and sisters got dressed behind. "Why this sudden interest in the tangled love lives of the Ares Hill set?" I asked him. "You didn't send across town for me because some rich guy got his boyfriend upset."

"That's what I'd like you to look into," he said. Pericles is Ares Hill himself, with ancestors who fought at Troy. Mine did too, but stayed sensibly back out of trouble. "I'm not advancing a public prosecution," he said. "Laomedes' family will press charges, a jury will convict the boy in their sleep, and he'll drink his hemlock. The law of the Athenian people says case closed."

I thought about it for a moment. "You want me to help the kid talk his way out of it?" A bloody knife and matching dead body convince most jurors. Extenuating circumstances, including outright acquittal, are whatever sob story makes Athenians weep their way to dropping a white stone in the verdict box.

"I want you to keep the weather hot around Kritias' house," he said, "even after the sea breeze kicks in. I asked you here as a citizen, Philonikos, not in my official capacity as a general. You've spoken up once or twice in the Assembly, not as a great admirer of the Spartans."

"It depends," I told him. "I'm a great admirer of Spartan women." The town is a dump, the men only good at lining up behind spears, and much too good at that. Still the most beautiful city in the world. I shrugged. "Their women aren't the ones poking spears in other peoples' business."

"You have excellent taste and judgment, Philonikos. That is why I pay your excessive rates."

My rates till the next Olympic Games would pay a months' rent on Pericles' house, and wouldn't get me an afternoon with Aspasia. "So," I said, "you want me to pull on threads and see if something unravels, right?"

Pericles nodded. "More or less, yes."

"My rates just went up. If I'm going to circulate on Ares Hill, I'll need one of those pretty gold grasshopper pins, or at least a clean bedsheet to pin it on. The doormen won't let me in wearing this one." I'd need a new mouth, too, because the one I've got says things they don't like on Ares Hill.

"Philonikos, you show up at plenty of parties whether anyone invited you or not, and whenever I've seen you you were dressed. If they won't let you in, slide in behind that girlfriend of yours. Your regular rate, not an obol more."

I had tried. "So that's it? Find out how the Spartans are mixed up with lovers' quarrels on Ares Hill. I'm on it." I finished off my cup and fishcake, and left. No sign of Aspasia anywhere.


It was close to midday, and no one was in the streets. Athenians, except me, are smarter than that. All I had got for my morning's effort was my standard rate, four drachmas a day – payable, apparently, till everyone finally grabs spears all over Hellas. Then Pericles will fire me and spend the money on a trireme.

I kept to the shady side, such as it was, and made my way to that girlfriend of mine's house. Her doorman let me in and announced me. Kalliphryni's lovely voice floated from behind a screen. "Go away, Niko."

"Your enthusiasm overwhelms me."

"Do you know what time of day it is? It's too hot for enthusiasm. If you need to hide from someone, burrow back into the laundry. I'm not letting you under my bed."

It was too hot to be clever. "I need to talk to you, Kalli. Did you know Laomedes, Aphon's son?"

Silence for a moment. "Did?" asked the voice behind the screen. More silence, this time ominous. "I see," she said. "Some rich asshole is dead, and instead of resting up to be divinely beautiful tonight, I'm supposed to tell you everyone who wanted him that way."

"What use is your divine beauty tonight?" I asked her. Tonight was reserved for one of her rich official boyfriends. Kalliphryni lacks moral fiber. Her tragic flaw is fine linen dresses, with tasteful gold pins to hold them in place. She also likes food and a roof.

"You should appreciate just knowing that divine beauty exists," she said. She reached for a tragic dress on a hook, revealing the head and shoulder of a mere demigoddess. "What use was Laomedes any night? I have no idea who killed him, or why I should care."

"Oh, we know who did it," I said. "His ephebe."

"Then the motive won't be complicated," said Kalli. "He done him wrong, or the other way around. You're getting paid for that? If I hadn't been born a girl, I could be a sophist too."

"You were born a barbarian, unable to speak. I haven't heard that stop you." The gods wasted a lot of either brains or beauty on Kalliphryni. She comes from some place off west beyond Greater Hellas, and strictly speaking she is a barbarian. Her native language sounds more like bum-bum-bum than bar-bar-bar, except that from her lips it sounds more like Sappho.

She stepped out, still adjusting a dress pin. Her dress was strong on air and water, hardly any earth; add your own fire. She looked great through it. "Laomedes, son of Aphon," she said. "He goes to – went to – all the best parties, and held tacky but very expensive ones himself. Had hands all over any woman in sight, including me till I kneed him where it hurts."

"Good," I told her. Women where Kalli comes from do things like that. Just because they're barbarians doen't make them stupid.

She poured cups, handed me one, melted onto the far end of the couch. "So he was all over some poor girl," she said, "and the boyfriend got jealous. At a party, right? Patricians are the same everywhere, except back home, only girls like me get mixed up with nasty boys."

"Because your men are all blockhead farmers," I told her. "You say it yourself all the time. Even if you have a barbarian word for oligarchs." It is the only repeatable word she has taught me. "What else should I know about the late lamented Laomedes?" I asked her.

"No one will be lamenting him very much," she said. "Only the mourners, and his brother won't hire many. I take it back, lots of people will lament. Brother Ari is the sensible one in that family. He doesn't do the party circuit. Ari's thing is racehorses, and naturally real estate. So a lovely golden spring has gone dry, never to flow again."

Kalli may hail from northwest of nowhere, but her real, barbarian name, Cornelia, means 'My family used to have Zeus over for dinner.' Barbarian women can be rich – sail to Phoenicia and see – but who ever knew they could be upper class? "Racehorses?" I asked. "The kind with four legs or two?"

Kalli looked at me over her winecup. "The gentlemen are the racehorses," she said. "We only go along for the ride. Ari likes to do the riding, on real horses." She sat partway up. "There's your clever Athenian motive. The horse dealers got Adonis drunk on jealousy, so Ari would inherit and they'd move more bloodstock."

"Adonis?" I asked. Kalliphryni doesn't make jokes about gods.

She got her special Kalli look. "Philonikos the Sophist, smartest guy in Athens, at least the smartest with reasonable rates, finally asks me about the murderer." She sat right up. "Of course Thrasymachos is Adonis. I thought everyone knew that. For a sophisticated Athenian, Niko, you need to get out more."

"I can hardly afford not affording you," I told her. "Adonis is way out of my budget, and I sure won't get him on my looks." Kalli is not really my girlfriend, needless to say. Every basket in the Liars' Market finds its natural price, and Kalliphryni's is not payable in cash, only gifts. My smart mouth earns me an off hour now and then. "Tell me about him."

"Thrasymachos is the gods' special gift to women," she said, "also men. Donkeys, you'll have to ask them." Kalli sat facing her bedroom. "I know girls who would drink his hemlock for him. I'll hand them the cup, but promise I'll save some for him, too."

She finished off her own cup and refilled us both. Her stuff tastes much better than hemlock. "He wants to be king of Athens," she said. "So far he's the king prick." She laughed, cut it off. "He sort of likes me, calls me his little barbarian oligarch. Hemlock? He'd be crushed if he knew, but if it were up to me you'd execute him the way we do it at home."

Thrasymachos might like Kalliphryni, but she really, truly did not like him. I must have raised my eyebrow enough to notice, because she nodded. "He calls me a lady, but he treats ladies like shit, too. I could tell you the details, but they're merely unpleasant, not dramatic."

"Then tell me about his politics," I said. That was why Pericles hired me. "You must have talked politics with him." Thrasymachos might be a jerk, but he was a sharp kid who paid plenty attention. Little barbarian oligarch? Most guys are not politically conscious around Kalli.

"Maybe we just talked family," she said. "Women only have political opinions in comedies, remember?"

"Shut up. We don't let women in the Assembly because it would never adjourn, just argue until everyone starved to death. What's it to you anyway? You're a foreigner." I held up my cup like a toast, and finished it off. "Of course you talked family. I suppose you at least liked his politics, since you're both Ares Hill. Oligarchs everywhere flock to the same branch."

Kalli mixed and poured us both another cup. "Someday I'll have to learn the Greek word for aristocrat," she said, "and teach it to you. No, I don't like his politics."

"He sides up with the democracy? An Ares Hill beautiful boy? That's unusual." Not half as unusual as a barbarian girl with political opinions. Even reactionary ones.

"Democracy? Gods, no," she said. "That's your bad idea, not his. Like I said, he wants to be king. Not the guy they tag here to lead sacrifices each year. A real king type king." She shrugged, then struck her Athena pose. "So especially if he killed someone, nail him up there."

Kalli has an issue with kings. When her grandpa was a boy, she says, the old hometown gave theirs the boot. Perhaps that makes them honorary Hellenes.

She got up. "Niko, it is way too hot to talk politics, or even think about Adonis. I'm going back to bed. Settle anywhere you wish, so long as you're out of here by sunset." She put down her cup and flicked off her dress pins. The dress clung like a desperate sailor for a moment, then slipped under the waves and drowned. She headed back behind her screen.

Kalli had said to settle down anywhere, so I followed. The most beautiful city in the world is not Sparta. It is a western town called Roma, where all three of her sisters still live, along with a bunch of her cousins.


Anonymous said...

Ineresting; a Hellenic detective story. Kind of a Sam Spade in toga. Very noir feel to it. I'd like to see it expanded into longer story.

Anonymous said...

That was fun & historically accurate SFAICT.

I'd be interested in reading more.

Rick said...

There have been a few mystery series set in Rome, the Marcus Didius Falco books being the most classically - so to speak - hardboiled in style. I believe I had the germ of Philonikos, about teaching simple concepts to Thebans (the first bit in Bernita's comments section) before I knew about the Falco books. Now any hardboiled PI in the sword & sandals era will inevitably be compared to Falco.

It's curious how well hardboiled works in Rome. Having tested it, I think it works in Athens too. Is it because these are 'sophisticated' urban societies? You need that for the jaded tone. I don't think it quite works in the Middle Ages, not because the people are less sophisticated but because the society is less self-referential.

Does that make any sense?

Rick said...

A couple of more Authors' Notes - hist-fic readers love these, to know what's intended to be real or plausible, and what's honestly made up.

Thrasymachos the perp and Kritias the party host are my big offense, because I stole real names of the right political coloration - both show up in Plato - without trying to fit the people, even to being the right generation. If Socrates showed up, and I doubt he will, he'd be fairly young, since this is some time before the Pelopponesian War.

Otherwise I tried to stick to valid historical milieu, within the hardboiled convention of everyone talking like they come from Chicago.

Marcus Didius Falco has a Roman girlfriend, and so does Philonikos, some 500 years earlier. It would be hard for him to have this sort of relationship with an Athenian woman. Kalliphryni is a hetaira, 'companion' in almost exactly the sense of Inara on Firefly, and she could do worse than looking like Morena Baccarin. 'Girlfriend' is less accurate but less exotic where I don't want it.

Rome was just coming on the Greek horizon in the 5th century. To my relief, the Cornelii were a patrician gens, and just show up in the consul lists about this time. No wonder Kalli/Cornelia is into her patrician status that she even teaches her leftie Athenian boyfriend the word.

Raise your hands if you caught my backflip joke about 'aristocrat.'

Anonymous said...

Hmm. An 'aristocracy' is supposedly 'rule by the best'. I think I'm at most half getting it.

Of course aristocrat *is* directly from Greek.

In practice all governments are kleptocracies to some degree.

Carla said...

Good fun. I'm afraid I thought "Hey, this is a Greek Falco" about two lines in, so if that was the intended effect it worked :-) I'm a Falco fan, so that's a compliment.

I think you're right that you need a sophisticated city environment for the hard-boiled detective tone to work. I think at least some of the reason is that you need a mix of people and possible motives all cheek-by-jowl to make a story - cities are complicated enough to weave a mystery story in, whereas it's harder work to construct a plot in a village where the sheep outnumber the people and everyone knows everyone else. Even the Brother Cadfael stories need Shrewsbury and the ecclesiastical and political hierarchy to play with.

If you're collecting statistics, I got the aristocrat in-joke, and sort of got Cornelia but only after you gave her name in that form. I didn't recognise her in Greek.

Rick said...

Jim - 'aristocrat' being from the Greek is the covert joke here. Aristocracy and oligarchy are both Greek terms for rule by 'the few.' Theoretical subtleties aside, if you like a governing elite it's an aristocracy; if you don't like it, it's an oligarchy.

Kalli/Cornelia - a Roman patrician, after all - naturally regards elite rule as aristocracy (good), not oligarchy (bad). And she wishes she could get it through her lefty boyfriend's head.

What is weird to Niko - and the other in-joke in all this - is that his 'barbarian' i.e. non-Greek girlfriend can have any political opinions of her own, because only Greeks have the concept of civic life. You have to have voting before you can argue over who gets to vote. Niko doesn't think it odd that a woman has political opinions; it is downright weird that any non-Greek does.

There's another subtlety I could only address in a novel. A high-class 'companion' in Athens, of any background, might naturally learn to mimic her oligarchic clients' political views. So Kalli sounds outwardly like just another hetaira being charmingly witty when the talk turns to politics. You'd have to listen a bit to realize that she actually means it, and understands why it matters.

On the bright side, what does a Cornelia really care about Athenian politics? In a pinch, she'll side with her boyfriend, not her ideology - but there is a conflict.

Rick said...

Carla - Falco is pretty unavoidable when you're doing classical hardboiled!

Any mystery requires a fair degree of social complexity, but hardboiled needs even more, a sort of critical mass of mean streets. Social flavor comes in here as well. I don't know that you could do full hardboiled even in the Tudor court, though you have all of London for mean streets. There's a perceived modernity to the ancient world. Athens is less complex than Rome, but has even more 'modern' politics to compensate.

Kalliphryni is not a Greek translation of Cornelia, so don't be surprised you didn't get it. In fact it's made up, though put together like a lot of common Greek names. Same with Philonikos, though a quick google shows that it is attested though obscure. 'Kalli-' means beautiful; I can't find out what -phryni means. Presumably she adopted a Greek name not to sound so obviously barbarian.

My intent is to drop a couple of hints before outing her as Roman. Giving my PI a Roman girlfriend is fun for at least three reasons:

1) Gender flip on the stereotype of masculine Romans and effeminate Greeks.

2) Roman (female!) perspective on Athens at its peak; I'm trying to have her think like a Roman.

3) Early Rome, 400-500 years before familiar HollyRome.

I also have this sense that barely inside sophisticated courtesan Kalliphryni is Roman matron Cornelia struggling to get out. Though there is the little question of how she turned up as a hetaira in Athens. Perhaps she was not a good patrician Roman girl of the early Republic, and opted to avoid the fate prescribed for a bad one.

All the same she has more or less her father's political views!

Carla said...

"Though there is the little question of how she turned up as a hetaira in Athens."
This is a little question? :-)

Rick said...

A fairly big one for 'Kalliphryni,' I imagine, though one already answered, since there she is.

Meta moment, this is the evil and limitation of short stories. How can I not want to explore her background? How can I not eventually have them turn up in Rome to meet the paterfamilias? The Pelopponesian War is looming, an excellent time for a prolonged vacation from Greece. :-)

My original thought for her background was Corinth, overtaken by Athens as waterfront town, but who knows or cares about Corinth? Then I thought Rome, and bingo. Early Romans don't much show up in fiction, that I know of, probably because later Romans went on so much about how nobly stodgy their ancestors were. Real early Romans were probably more interesting, considering how their descendants turned out.

Specifically interesting, for my purpose, are the fates of Lucretia and Verginia, model Roman girls both. Lucretia killed herself in 509 BC (by Roman legend) to call attention to her rapist, the crown prince, leading to the end of kings in Rome. Verginia was killed by her father in 451 - about 10-15 years before the story - to save her from the fate worse than.

It isn't hard to imagine that then-Cornelia, maybe in her mid teens, gets in a jam, and just can't quite bring herself to be a model Roman girl. Since she's already ruined, she hikes down to Ostia and finds a Greek merchant who needs a girlfriend.

She can't be totally happy with herself, but not in our sense of a ruined girl. Kalli is ruined in a different way. She just didn't cut the mustard as a noble Roman; how could she face her pater? (And how can I not want to show an archaic Roman paterfamilias as a human being with feelings toward his imperfect daughter?)

If I can get away with it, I see her daydream as going back to Rome with a hubby who crucifies* whoever done her wrong, clearing the family honor without her actually having to stab herself. Rome was pretty cool about welcoming newcomers - unlike Athens, which let you stay freely but almost never naturalized anyone.

Whether Niko really sees his future as the most junior agnate member of the gens Cornelii is an interesting question in its own right. He is not really into farming.

* See next comment.

Rick said...

A little question on historical-fiction ethics. I have a feeling that the early Romans did not crucify people. In that case I definitely not have Kalli make comments about nailing people up. (Quite apart from anyone finding hardboiled humor about crucifixion distasteful.)

But is it an acceptable cheat to make comments about 'the way they do it in Rome,' without getting specific? Most readers will imagine either crucifixion or lions. So I'm being a bit disingenuous, letting the reader fill in awful images of much later Roman executions. Especially if the early Republic only did boring stuff like beheading people.

They did throw some people off the Tarpeian rock. Not nearly as bad as crucifixion, but I suppose that if Kalli suggests just tossing 'em off the Acropolis, it is both colorful and probably authentic.

Bernita said...

You know I love it.
Please keep going.

Rick said...

The start of the next section, with the inevitable glimpse of the famous tourist attractions.

Back in the Heroic Age, when you could sneak up on nymphs who live in springs, the Acropolis of Athens was the crowning glory of Hellas. The spring girls learned to hide, the Heroic Age ended, and the Acropolis has been a construction site ever since. Somewhere along the way the Persians burned it down, not that anyone in the building trades shed a tear.

One of the first things rebuilt after Xerxes left town was the lockup. We Athenians are sharp that way. That makes the jail a bit older than I am. The watch officer logged me in without clever commentary, and a couple of yellow stripes took me to Thrasymachos' cell. He glanced up, took me in. "My old man hired you to try and save my ass," he said.

It was an honest and reasonable guess. "Not exactly," I told him.

I'm also thinking more and more of doing the truly shameless and trotting out Socrates. He was born in 469, so he is not the wise old curmudgeon we know. He is about the same age as Philonikos, and they are pretty much the two most shabbily dressed men who show up at those swanky dinner parties.

In other words, they should know each other, and Niko is someone Socrates would have found rather interesting to annoy.

"So, Niko. If she's a 'babe,' which I interpret to mean 'beautiful,' then you admit that some things, in this case a barbarian girl, can be intrinsically beautiful ..."

Anonymous said...

Re Kalli and crucifixion. It may have been used in Roma 5c BCE. It was certainly common enough through out the ancient world at the time.

What she wouldn't accept is it being used on an aristo who committed a private and not uncommon crime on an equal.

Pretty much everywhere, certainly Rome, crucifixion was the punishment reserved for bottom feeders who really screwed up - rebellion, desertion, treason, offing a superior, stealing from one.

So yeah Kalli would say toss 'em, strangle 'em or hand 'em the pearl handled service revolver and point 'em in the direction of the room off the officer's mess.

Rick said...

Anita - very good call; that qualm was nagging in the back of my mind without quite coming out. Kalli would be happy to see 'Maxos' dead, and thinks hemlock is too good for him, but he is a man of her class.

Unless it turns out grossly wrong, it will probably be 'toss the bastard,' because I'm sure aristos were chucked from the Tarpeian Rock. Besides Kalli's personal anger - but perhaps related - is political outrage.

Thrasymachos, a very cocky 18 year old, has been talking loose about one day being tyrant of Athens, in the Greek sense of 'strong man.' Our girl is smart and politically sophisticated, but her Roman mind makes no distinction between 'tyrannos' and 'basileus' - to Kalli, either one is a rex, and that is a very bad thing.

The Romans super hated kings, so much that they eventually had to invent the word emperor. If Tarquinius Superbus stank that bad to Romans 500 years later, how does he smell to a patrician Roman woman just 60 years later, given the whole story of Lucretia. And Kalli/Cornelia likely had a personal experience rather parallel. A guy who mistreats her and has king ambitions, even over a foreign city (but where she lives) is way deep on her bad list.

Unrelated aside, but I just avoided an embarrassing blunder. I had Maxos say 'hoi polloi' during the jailhouse interview, and Philonikos be ticked off by his tone. It turns out that Pericles used 'hoi polloi,' literally 'the many,' in a positive sense, and Philonikos himself is proud of being one of the hoi polloi.

Maxos might use it in the insulting sense of 'liberal' today, but I suspect aristos wouldn't have used it at all, so I'll have to retool.

Philonikos himself, I'm guessing, is of mixed blood.

"What's in it for me?" Logical question for him to ask. "My old man calls Pericles the tyrant of Athens."

"Your old man needs to go to Syracuse," I said, "and check out the real deal. And you get my introductory lecture on politics, free for every Ares Hill client. My old man didn't tuck in his spear and advance at the run at Marathon, like respectable people's fathers or grandfathers all did. He pulled an oar at Salamis. Either day, it was a lousy morning to wake up and find out you were Persian. Got it?"

He barely nodded. "Got it," he said. He didn't, but I wasn't here to explain why the waterfront vote should be counted. Pop says those old tubs were a bitch to row, not like clean modern ones.

So he is working class, a waterfront Athenian, but he mixes pretty comfortably with the hoity toity, including a very high class hooker girlfriend. I'd guess that Pop married up, or she married down. Just enough that Philonikos knows his way around aristos, though he does not feel one of them and is in no awe of them.

Perhaps not, though, because a sharp kid with hustle could get a great free education in the agora and at the gym. He can mix at dinner parties, but on his own terms. He treats Kalli like a lady, but that is the inherent nobility of the PI hero. Her being aristo, like her being barbarian, are just the coolness of living in the Big Olive. The fact that she is both at the same time is fascinating, because aristo barbarians theoretically should not exist.

Anonymous said...

The other thing that would put off Kalli about crucifixion is the universal mind set of the ancients about proper funeral rites and desposal of the body. Is that you, Antigone?

Unless the body was claimed, it was left on the cross to rot. Kalli may not be a member of Max's fan club; she probably wouldn't wish that fate worse than death on him.

Finally, the classical Greeks just didn't seem to be into crucifixion. While they were quite capable of their share of uproar and mayhem, apparently they lacked the sadistic streak. Even if Kalli thought along those lines, she's sharp enough to keep to herself. A barbarian is one thing; a sociopathic one is something else.

So Max can look forward to a hemlock Big Gulp or a double half gainer off the Acropolis.

Any thoughts as to why the Romans had that near primal hate/fear of kings? Seems excessive to requirement.

Anonymous said...

I think the king thing with the Romans was in essence political justification on the part of the Patrician class. The difference between legalk rights and treatment between Patrician and Plebian was extreme, but as long as you remind the Plebs about how much worse it would be if they had a king instead of a senate of aristocrats ruling them you can maintain power. Providing a noble heritage for the common labourer is a way to make them ignore the fact that the guys wearing togas are treating them like beasts of burden. It sells people on the idea that a Roman was somehow more free than a Gaul or a Parthian.

I would argue tha tthe Middle Ages can be used to tell a "hardboiled" story;p though there are some extra issues to consider. The problem is, first and foremost, that all our texts from the Earlier part of the period come from churchmen. This leads to a problem since clerical writing tends to exemplify extremes of good and evil rather than a more jaded look at the world. With the growth of minstrel and guild culture, and the rise of more large trading towns, you get both more of a view into emotions and thoughts other than God as well as more options for setting

Florence, Venice, Ulm, Danzig, any of the major trading centers I think would make an excellent setting for a late medieval detective story. You'd probably end up waist deep in guild culture and politics; but here's a tidbit of a bit of cynicism from minstrel/noble culture from the 12th century:

The preacher Fulk of Neuilly confronted Richard the Duke of Aquitaine, later Richard I of England, accusing of having three evil daughters: Pride, avarice, and sensuality. Richard replied that he would give his Pride to the Templars, his avarice to the Cistercians, and his sensuality to the Benedictines.

God was unassailable; anyone else was fair game for cynicism provided you din't say it where you were heard or had some backing.

Back to the Classical age; it looks good.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Doug. That makes a lot of sense, especially considering it still works. *Sigh

Rick said...

A barbarian is one thing; a sociopathic one is something else.

LOL. Kalli clearly knows how to present herself in Athenian high society. Which Niko isn't, but he probably wouldn't want a girlfriend who was barbaric in our sense of the word.

Well, I'll play it a different way. I can keep Kalli's first reference to 'the way we do it at home.' Me and thee knows that the reader thinks crucifixion or lions.

It isn't, it's the Tarpeian Rock - and to Niko, it comes off exactly as if the girlfriend said, 'How about a good old fashioned public hanging?' Hemlock is a private farewell with friends and family. Tossing is a circus - and we know who invented the circus.

Doug is exactly right, plus the patricians didn't want anyone shoving them around. Runnymede, anyone? The problem my other girl is dealing with!

But the Romans sure amped it up. Naturally a patrician of Cornelia's time is very down on kings, but the Romans kept it up long after compromises had been reached between patricians and plebeians, and you would think the whole thing about kings was ancient history. That's how it was in Greece, where the kings were forgotten by classical times.

I'm offering my own little fictional explanation for the intensity. All the Cornelias who stay in Rome take the Lucretia story to heart, and think of kings as people who once raped them with impunity. They pass it on to their daughters, and teach their sons that kings are way bad news. Compare to our basic anti-noble image, the baronial rapist.

Plug in the story of the Sabine women - not just the ever popular with artists 'rape' (mass abduction, not the actual rapes in our sense), but the follow up where the women tell their husbands and brothers to put their damn spears down; like it or not they are family now.

Kalli/Cornelia grew up on all this, and so did real Roman women. One funny thing is that Roman women didn't even have official personal names - every woman of the gens Cornelii is a Cornelia. Niko thinks this is very funny: Go into the Forum, call out "Cornelia!" and a dozen or so of the world's most beautiful women turn around.

Doug - actually I think there has been some medieval semi-hardboiled, set in London, not a monastery somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I'd say a London guild would make an excellent venue for a medieval noir. Power and money to be had, lots of tough guys on the make, not enough slots for them all. Someone's going to infirmary; someone's going to gaol. Cheapside minute.

Geoff Chaucer as one of the players? He came out of that rough and ready world, climbed the slippy pole, knew everyone and had a mind that could cut through to the truth.

Rick said...

The urban element is crucial, because of the class mix. That's why royal courts by themselves wouldn't quite work as a hardboiled venue. It isn't lack of plug-uglies; the 'rural sector' can supply plenty of muscle. What hardboiled needs, oddly, is the middle class.

The classic PI himself is middle class, the old middle class of independent professionals. He can move in hoity toity circles or around the docks, but he's not quite at home either place.

Chaucer's London would work fine, and there was plenty going on, most of it pretty corrupt. The late middle ages are sort of inherently noir. The English throne is headed for Pontefract Castle, and eventually Bosworth Field. The Church is headed for the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. The Turks are headed for Constantinople.

Anonymous said...

Plenty going on in Chaucer's London. The urban middle class on the rise, Geoff was part of it. Recovering from the Black Death, the chivalric code breaking down, as Geoff noted, the peasants getting uppity, money becoming a power marker, the aristos starting to think about the unthinkable - overthrowing a king, the Church losing its moral cred.

A shame the saxaphone and cigarettes hadn't been invited yet.

PI leaned on the rail of Old London Bridge, staring down the Thames, the half moon glimmering on the water. Under his hood, his face was barely outlined by the light of the cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. From the travern on the shore, the sob of the sax and the thud of bodies as PI's friend and snitch, Alfred, tossed the last apprentices out into the filthy street.

PI flicked the cig into the equally filthy water, turned and walked down the bridge toward The Bristol Nail. Al had told him an apprentice, a loud mouth, redheaded Sussexman, might know something about the murder of Sir Thomas Radcliff, late Master of the Goldsmiths Guild and once rumored next Lord Mayor.

PI muttered a prayer to St Jude that it may be so. This bitch of a puzzle was turning ugly. Lord Essex was impatient. Not that he gave a tinker's damn about Radcliff personally, but the fat Guild master had been a reliable source of ready coin. And having London's Lord Mayor as an ally was always desirable. Why Essex needed the support or the name of the murderer, PI didn't want to know. Nosy commoners had short life expectencies.

By the dim travern light PI could just make out the pile of bodies near the door. He looked more closely. Yes, red hair. He reached into the pile and pulled out a snotty of 15 years or so. He slapped the boy three or four times until he opened his pale blood shot eyes.

"Ah, leave off, ya bloody Londie bastard."

Slap again, this time harder.

"Hear me young apprentice and hear well. You and I are going have a Socratic dialogue. If I mislike what you say, that slap is lover's kiss compared what I can and will do. Now, tell me what you know about the death of Thomas Radcliff."

Sam said...

Oh - this is super - lots of fun!
You really ought to read "White Murder" by David Wishart - it's all about horse racing and murder in ancient Rome and it's Lots of fun.
Love the banter!!

Rick said...

A shame the saxaphone and cigarettes hadn't been invited yet.

Lutes, mandolins, whatever they had - properly arranged and performed, I'm sure you can get that cheap piano bar mood. I'd go for a bit of country western flavor. Not visually overt, of course, but that bit of cheapness, the girl singer in a nice tight flashy bodice.

The first thing you have to do in medieval hardboiled is take Sir Walter Scott out and drop him in the Thames.

Anonymous said...

I'm for dropping Walt in the first available large body of water -- while he's wearing concrete booties.

We had to read Ivanhoe in eighth grade. I'm amazed I wasn't permanently turned off on historical fiction.

Anonymous said...

You know, the funny thing is that on some level I still love Ivanhoe, even as the damage to the history of the period Scott was responsible for still has me tearing my hair out some days. I think that pretty much making up the legal right of droit de Seigneur/Jus Prima Nocta has to take the cake in the grand books of Scott's sins; though of course there are many more.

Rick said...

On Scott, see my next front pager!

Anonymous said...

I googled 'droit de seigneur' & the consensus seems to be that it is a myth, but the myth goes back further than Walter Scott. So he was responsible for repeating a falsehood rather than inventing it himself.

Carla said...

Terry Jones (yes, the ex-Python) has a theory that Geoffrey Chaucer was murdered as a result of some political skullduggery around the death of Richard II. More George Smiley than Sam Spade, but a similarly nefarious underworld for a PI to operate in.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'll have to talk to a few medieval history profs about Boecce when I get back in the fall. Thanks for the tip Jim Bearg.