Reading progress update: I've read 33%.

A Thousand Ships - Natalie Haynes

I promise not to spam everyone's dashboard with quotes from every page of this book, but I had to share this one, too, because it shows how Haynes balances the storytelling from a very somber tone with this - it's Calliope complaining about Homer: 

"If he tells me to sing one more time, I think I might bite him.

The presumption of these men is extraordinary. Does he believe I have nothing else to do with my time than sit around being his muse? His.

When did poets forget that they serve the muses, and not the other way around? And if he can remember new lines of verse during his recitations, why can’t he remember to say please?

Does everyone have to die, he asks, plaintive like a child. Perhaps he thought he was writing about one of those other wars. Devastation is what happens in war: it is its nature. I murmur to him in his dreams sometimes (I do have other things to do, but I like how he looks when he sleeps): you knew Achilles would die. You knew Hector would die before him. You knew Patroclus would die. You’ve told their stories before. If you didn’t want to think of men cut down in battle, then why would you want to compose epic verse?

Ah, but now I see the problem. It’s not their deaths he’s upset about. It’s that he knows what’s coming and he’s worrying it will be more tragedy than epic. I watch his chest rising and falling as he grabs a fitful rest. Men’s deaths are epic, women’s deaths are tragic: is that it? He has misunderstood the very nature of conflict. Epic is countless tragedies, woven together.

Heroes don’t become heroes without carnage, and carnage has both causes and consequences. And those don’t begin and end on a battlefield.

If he truly wants to understand the nature of the epic story I am letting him compose, he needs to accept that the casualties of war aren’t just the ones who die. And that a death off the battlefield can be more noble (more heroic, if he prefers it that way) than one in the midst of fighting. But it hurts, he said when Creusa died. He would rather her story had been snuffed out like a spark failing to catch damp kindling. It does hurt, I whispered. It should hurt. She isn’t a footnote, she’s a person. And she – all the Trojan women – should be memorialized as much as any other person. Their Greek counterparts too. War is not a sport, to be decided in a quick bout on a strip of contested land. It is a web which stretches out to the furthest parts of the world, drawing everyone into itself.

I will teach him this before he leaves my temple. Or he will have no poem at all."


It's still somber, of course, that is the point of the book, but Calliope is also playful.