Pramas and the Olympians

In my “free” time I’ve been boning up on my ancient Greek mythology. I had an idea for a skirmish miniatures game set in the Age of Heroes. The idea is that the captain of your warband is a hero like Achilles or Perseus. You play a series of battles with other heroes and monsters and try to win enough glory to become a demigod like Heracles. Not sure I’ll do anything with the idea, but it’s simmering on the back burner.

In my research I ran across a reference to some novels by Gene Wolfe set an ancient Greece. I’m reading the first one, Soldier of the Mist, right now. It’s about a Roman mercenary named Latro who fought for the Persians during their invasion of Greece. He receives a head wound which causes the loss of his short term memory. By the morning he forgets the events of the previous day. He thus keeps a journal and that supposedly provides the text of the novel. The premise is reminiscent of the movie Memento, but the book came out long before the film (1986).

I’m about halfway through and enjoying the book quite a bit. Due to his head wound, Latro can see the spiritual world that lies hidden from most mortals, so he has many encounters with gods and spirits. Wolfe evokes the beliefs and superstitions of the ancient Greeks vividly and I’d recommend it to gamers looking for a good portrayal of day to day polytheism. He stresses the idea that gods are strange beings and hard to understand. Their actions may help you, but showing mercy to mortals is an alien idea to them.

My only complaint is that Wolfe chose to use the literal translations of all the place names in ancient Greece. This is certainly evocative and reads well, and it would not bother someone who doesn’t know much about the history of the period. I have read a fair bit about the Persian invasion of Greece, however, and the naming conventions are throwing me. I had to figure out that the “Rope Makers” are Spartans and “Thought” is Athens, for example. I was overjoyed to discover a glossary in the back, but it was no help in that regard. It would have been nice if at least the glossary clued you in on the more common names. Overall though, this is good stuff and I look forward to finishing it and moving on to the sequel, Soldier of Arete. You can get both in one trade paperback called Latro in the Mist.

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