Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize

The Golden Mean has been shortlisted for the 2009 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize! To see the full shortlist, please click here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Royal Tombs

Philip II, Alexander the Great's father, was buried in the ancient city of Aegeae, near the modern village of Vergina. The tombs were discovered in 1977 by the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos. The tombs were a rich find: amonst the many precious objects recovered there were Philip's armour, weapons, and marble sarcophogus containing a golden box, or larnax. The larnax held Philip's ashes and a wreath of three hundred and thirteen golden oak leaves and sixty-eight golden acorns.

Aegeae is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO website asserts, in part, that "the site is of outstanding universal value representing an exceptional testimony to a significant development in European civilization, at the transition from classical city-state to the imperial structure of the Hellenistic and Roman periods". To see the website for the museum at Vergina, click here.

This short video clip offers a brief look at the remains of Aegeae and some of the artifacts discovered there, including the Philip's larnax and gold wreath.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Word of the Day

Kandahar in Canada

The name "Kandahar" is a corruption of "Alexander" ("Iskander" in ancient Persian). Alexander the Great founded the Afghan city in 330BCE.

I found this photo on It was taken just outside Kandahar, Saskatchewan.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Word on the Street

I'm very pleased to be taking part in Word on the Street this coming Sunday (September 27) at Library Square in Vancouver. I'll be in the Author's Tent at 3:00PM for a reading from The Golden Mean and an on-stage interview with Steven Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo, Ascension, Finnie Walsh). It's going to be a beautiful sunny day; come on down and say hi!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Montreal Gazette Review

"Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean is Historical Fiction at its Best"

"Whether posing the eternally relevant question of what it means to live a virtuous life, detailing the gory details of an ancient battle scene or probing the relationship between master and student, Lyon authoritatively evokes a fabled time and place in the urbane and dry voice of the man judged the smartest of his age."

To read Elaine Kalman Naves's full review for the Montreal Gazette, please click here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Aristotle on Religion

"[T]here is, in Aristotle's view, no divine providence, which is so important an aspect of the Judeo-Christian view of the world. His god does not look out for, care about, and provide for man. He did not create the universe, for it is eternal, and he is utterly indifferent to it. It is true that he causes its motion, but only as a beautiful picture might cause a man to purchase it. God is the object of desire for the lesser intelligences, but he is unconscious of their admiration and would be indifferent to them if he were aware of them.

"In Aristotle's view god is a metaphysical necessity--the system requires an unmoved mover, a completely actual and fully realized form, but he is not an object of worship. Aristotle did not experience a Christian's love of a heavenly father, nor the Orphic's need for union with a mysterious, infinite power. Aristotle's god is transcendent and remote, and his attitude toward this god, at least as revealed in the Metaphysics and other works of his maturity, was emotionally neutral."

from W.T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, volume I: The Classical Mind (2nd ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970, pp.231-2)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bacchae

Relief of a Dancing Maenad

ca. 27 B.C.–14 A.D.; Augustan
Pentelic marble; H. 56 5/16 in. (143.03 cm)

Euripides, the youngest of the three great Greek tragedians (after Sophocles and Aeschylus) spent the last year of his life in Macedon as a guest of the king, Archelaus, dying there in 408 BCE. His play The Bacchae took first prize at the festival in Athens after his death.

Euripides was known for his use of strong, complex female characters. In the Poetics, Aristotle writes that Sophocles portrayed people as they ought to be but Euripides portrayed them as they were.

Performances of The Bacchae bookend The Golden Mean. It's a darkly funny, violent play that features the god Dionysus descending in human form to humiliate a priggish king for his disrespect. The god persuades the king to dress as a woman and sneak in to observe his mother and her friends engaged in Bacchic rites. The women uncover the deception but in their frenzy fail to recognize their king and rip him to pieces. His own mother carries his head home, believing she's killed a mountain lion, and only slowly recovers to realize she's dismembered her own son.

The play was a court favourite in Pella, and I open the novel with a performance of it for the royal family. Aristotle befriends the play's director, a fictional character named Carolus, who encourages the young Alexander's interest in the theatre. The novel ends (neatly, I hope!) with Philip's murder at a performance of The Bacchae , part of celebrations for his daughter's wedding.

The image above is of a dancing Maenad or Bacchante, a female follower of Dionysus (Bacchus). Notice her thyrsus, a long stick wrapped with ivy symbolizing her fidelity to the god, and her gorgeously flowing robes.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2009 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival

I'm pleased to be taking part in the opening night event of the 2009 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, "What's the Point of all these Words?" (Friday, September 11, 7:00PM - 10:00PM, Legends Hotel at Creekside, $25) with Lee Henderson (The Man Game) and Claire Mulligan (The Reckoning of Boston Jim), hosted by CBC Radio One's Paul Grant.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Calgary Reading

I'll be reading at Pages Books in Calgary (1135 Kensington Road NW) this coming Thursday evening at 7:30PM. If you're in the area, please come by and say hi. Meanwhile, you can read my interview with Eric Volmers in the Calgary Herald here.

Whistler Writers Group Weblog

"It was exhilarating to be transported so effortlessly to a long ago place and time, peopled by vaguely familiar characters – Aristotle, Plato, Cleopatra, Alexander the Great – who now skitter about vividly in my mind’s eye."

To read the full post, click here. To see the line-up for the 2009 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, click here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Creating Character: Pythias

So was Aristotle really a misogynist? Since he was also a slave-owner, the question might seem trivial. But it was still a question I had to reckon with as I created the character of his wife, Pythias. We know for certain little more than her name, and that she bore him a daughter, also named Pythias. She died before her husband, who (after her death, in my imagining, though in reality who knows) took a companion named Herpyllis, who outlived him (he made provision for her in his will; more about her in a future post).

A typical woman of Pythias' time and status would have lived an exceedingly circumscribed life. She would have received no formal education, and would probably have married in her early teens. She would not have had possessions; she would not have left the house very often; she would probably have been illiterate; she would have had a good chance of dying in childbirth.

Not the happiest bundle of probabilities. As a 21st century novelist--as a 21st century woman--I wanted more for her. I thought about different ways of introducing a strong female character into the novel, but they were all cliches of one sort or another. Aristotle's wife really wrote his books! Aristotle was secretly engaged in a taboo love affair! Female academic, 2400 years later, uncovers some shocking secret about the great man!

None of these appealed to me. Partly because they've been done, sometimes wonderfully well (think of A.S. Byatt's Possession); partly because they felt dishonest. I wanted to look history in the eye and reckon with the woman as she probably was, not as I anachronistically wanted her to be. In The Golden Mean, Pythias is neither bright nor stupid, beautiful nor ugly. She wants a child but doesn't really like sex. She's literate (I made this a pet project of her husband's), but doesn't make much use of this gift. She's quiet. She has kindness in her and a bit of unexpected steel, too. She likes nice clothes. She dies too soon, in fear, and leaves behind a frightened, lonely little daughter.

Aristotle's own writings clearly rate women's intelligence beneath men's, and approves of their status as second-class citizens. I don't like the fact that he owned slaves, either; I hate it. But I couldn't bring myself to blink these things away. Fiction requires its own kind of fidelity. "Tell the truth, but tell it slant," Emily Dickinson famously wrote. For me, the operative word here is truth. Fiction is not the place for self-indulgent wish-fulfillment, even when you've got the moral high ground and the best of intentions. With Pythias, I had to choose between feeling good and feeling true. I chose true.