Oracle, the next book in the series following the adventures of Cassandra Fortune, is set in Delphi, Greece near the Temple of Apollo. When revising it recently I revisited some old favourites, the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece.
Like many children of my era, I absorbed details about Zeus and Hera, Athena and Apollo fairly early in life, along with the heroes, Heracles, Jason (with fleece) and all those at Troy ( thank you, Roger Lancelyn Green and, later, Ray Harryhausen ). I was briefly confused by the Roman equivalents, Venus usurping Aphrodite in my mind (mainly because I didn’t understand what both really signified i.e. sex, and Venus was an easier name ). Yet Jupiter and Juno remained in distinct second place to the Olympians, as being too pinkly domestic and toga-clad. Gods were supposed to be wild and strange. Narnia cemented my early classical training, with its fauns and dryads, satyrs and Bacchus, and it was the Greek version which remained forever dominant.
I subsequently went on to Odin and Thor, Osiris and Anubis and the Irish heroes ( courtesy of Rosemary Sutcliff ) like Cuchulain and Finn MacCool. Other characters from Celtic folklore, Beddgelert of Wales, the Scottish Kelpie and St Piran of Cornwall supplemented but didn’t detract from my own existing pantheon, which was further nourished by Mary Renault. I never lost the love of them and they led to Homer, Hesiod, Beowolf, the Icelandic Sagas and the Mabinogion.
Yet there are older gods of Greece – Gaia, Uranus and the Titans, twelve male and twelve female, including Chronos, Rhea and Oceanus. Votive offerings to Gaia, the primordial mother, have been found in Delphi, in the Corycian Cave above the Temple to Apollo from the Neolithic period (about 12,000 years ago). Gaia and her daughter, Themis, ruled at Delphi and there was a chapel to her there, though it was long ago absorbed into the larger Temple complex. As Nico, the museum employee in the novel, explains, in legend, the god Apollo arrived at Delphi to wrestle with the Python, the giant snake belonging to Gaia, and won; so he became the ruler of Delphi. It is thought that this represents a change of dominant culture as migrants, whom we now know as the Hellenes, came into Greece from the north. They eventually settled all of Greece and their gods were the Olympians.
Nonetheless the older gods continued to exist along side the new, as did their off-spring (unless they were thrown into the pit of Tartarus). These included some groups, or sets, of minor deities, like the Fates and the Furies. The latter trio, called the Erinye, were three women, often, especially in more modern times, portrayed with snakes for hair and flashing eyes, their hands dripping blood. The image, right, is of Clytemnestra attempting to wake the slumbering Furies to chase down Orestes in the Orestaia on a vase dating c.350 BCE. Delphi, it was believed, was the centre of the world and it is to the Temple of Apollo there that Orestes flees, calling upon the god to save him from the Furies.
I don’t know if the books which I read are still read today, I hope so, even as new games and films bring the ancient heroes and deities to life for another generation. This Pantheon is firmly anchored within western sensibilities. So much so that we even replicate the old jokes in new ways ( see image left ).
Oracle will be published in Spring 2021.