Steven Pressfield's new Alexander novel

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amyntoros
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Steven Pressfield's new Alexander novel

Post by amyntoros »

The first reviews of Steven PressfieldGÇÖs new novel, The Afghan Campaign are in: USA TodayGÇÖs can be found here, and an excerpt from the book here.

I'm not sure what to make of it. I don't completely hate it, as I did the online excerpts from his last Alexander novel. I found those so boring that I never even bothered to purchase the book and nothing I've read about it since has made me change my mind. The Afghan Campaign isn't looking too promising though, considering that the reviewer shares an opinion with me that creating believable character's is not Pressfield's forte. There are many other things about the excerpt that trouble me as well; things that don't seem quite right in the historical context, but I won't discuss them now and will wait with interest to see if others feel the same.

I am compelled, however, to comment on the use of slang or nicknames, both in this book and in other Alexander fiction. Pressfield, for instance, has the Macedonian soldiers calling themselves Macks and the Afghans Baz! Hmph! Does this mean the Macks go into battle alongside Thraks and Thessies? Would the Athenians have called themselves Ants? It's so ridiculous that I don't know quite what to say. Oh, I understand that Pressfield is trying to establish a feeling of camaraderie and self-identification amongst the rough and ready Macedonian rank and file, but it does not work for me!

The same applies, IMO, to the use of nicknames between characters who are close friends or who are in any kind of intimate relationship. I've previously had a discussion with a friend about this and have accepted that it can not be firmly established that the ancients DIDN'T use such nicknames; therefore this is not a question of historical accuracy in a novel. Try as I might, however, I just don't find it credible that the ancients would use abbreviated names as recognition of familiarity in a society where people were generally distinguished from one another by the use of epithets. I must reiterate again that this is only my personal opinion, although I'd be interested to know what others, especially our native Greek members, feel about this practice.

Best regards,
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Re: Steven Pressfield's new Alexander novel

Post by Paralus »

amyntoros wrote: Pressfield, for instance, has the Macedonian soldiers calling themselves Macks and the Afghans Baz! Hmph! Does this mean the Macks go into battle alongside Thraks and Thessies? Would the Athenians have called themselves Ants?
Ha, ha, he he! Ants indeed! I suppose that then would make the "Athenian War" (as the Spartans referred to it as) a battle between the Ant Empire and the Laks and their aliies? Don't s'pose it would do to call them "Spats". Imagine the face-off of 418: on the one side the Laks (with the Sciris having pride of place), Tegs, Arcads and the Maenies; on other the Mants, Argies, Cleos and Ants. What a mouthfull! The roll call of the Athenian empire will have included such notables as the Lesos, Lemmons, Sams and the Korks.

As I've written before, the last Pressfield novel I purchased was Tides of War which, although a reasonable read, was most disappointing from the historical perspective. His description of the foul-mouthed "let's go **** 'em" Demosthenes was interesting. I think the - non historical - naval battle at Ephesus between Lysander and Alcibiades was what did it for me though.

That and the apologetic approach to one of the greatest impostrous, self centred and capricious bastards ever thrown up by history.
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Post by karen »

Mary Renault seems to have liked Alkibiades too, and I went along with that while reading The Last of the Wine... but I've worked with people like him, and man, you just want to strangle them.

I felt exactly about Virtues of War as you did, Amyntoros -- the excerpts on the website were so dull and made Alexander seem like such a pompous, patronizing twit -- that I didn't want to read the book. Authors who can't develop characters I just don't read, because their stories just can never come alive in my imagination.

In regard to abbreviations, there is a sarissa butt extant which is inscribed "MAK" -- if you have Sekunda & McBride The Army of Alexander the Great it's on p. 28. So that abbreviation did exist, at least enough to inscribe on weapons. Given that, it's hard to imagine it was never used in conversation. (Theory is that the sarissa was standard issue.)

My feeling about shortened personal names (and I think I'm the friend Amyntoros is referring to) is that it was only between intimates and only with long names, and never in formal settings -- which would include all the histories. In other words, even if Ptolemy called Alexander a Greek version of "Al" when they chatted, he would never have dreamed of referring to him by that in his book... and that's why we don't know about them. I just think it's natural, in the quick repartee between friends, to not want to say or hear in full a four-syllable name every time. It also might have been a mark of intimacy, and hence, if you were intimate with, say, royalty -- status.

Epithets like the Black or One-Eyed, however, were used publicly to distinguish one person from another of the same name, and so became, in effect, part of their public/formal names... early surnames, as it were. You can see how the Romans broadened the practice.

My .02 anyway.

Warmly,
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Post by agesilaos »

Correct me if I am wrong, revile my name and call me Blair - but I think Greek has a vocative form which applied to names implies intimacy just as some modern languages make the distinction by use of different forms of the second person (maybe this is how Greek does it too - so long ago so many Bachanals) and the use of abbreviated forms is an attempt to capture this. I must agree however that the actual effect is both banal and often ridiculous. One thinks of Massimo and those irritating Alesaundres, ugh - and I remember Virginia Mayo turning to George Saunders in 'The Crusaders' to utter the immortal line ' Now don't you be so grumpy, Dick Plantagenet!'

Or is it just that we want our history with dignity certainly the macedonians did not call themselves Macks (smacks of grunts in 'Nam to me) the MAK on the sarissa butt is just like the LYS on a coin of Lysimachos, etc it is shorthand to denote possession and probably refers to the ownership ofthe King of the Macedonians at that, since these arms were produced in the State workshops for central arsenals and then issued.
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Oh dear, here we go again ...

Post by marcus »

amyntoros wrote:The first reviews of Steven PressfieldGÇÖs new novel, The Afghan Campaign are in: USA TodayGÇÖs can be found here, and an excerpt from the book here.
Ho hum ... problem is, it just doesn't sound authentic, whether they actually used abbreviations or not. And all that tosh about "flag sergeants" ... and why call it Afghanistan when Afghanistan didn't exist, and yet use the names of other satrapies/areas, such as Areia. Pressfield claims to have done loads of research for his Alexander books, but although he might have learned a few facts, he's struggling to understand the "feel". And I agree with everyone else about characterisation - how come the person who wrote such a brilliant book as "Gates of Fire" can never recapture that brilliance, and has been a let down with every subsequent book? (Although I have to say that I thought "Last of the Amazons" was pretty good.) :cry: :cry:

I will, of course, still read this new one, however much I might gnash my teeth as I do so ... :wink:

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Post by amyntoros »

agesilaos wrote: . . . I think Greek has a vocative form which applied to names implies intimacy just as some modern languages make the distinction by use of different forms of the second person (maybe this is how Greek does it too - so long ago so many Bachanals) . . .
I had wondered if there was something like this in the Greek language - one of the reasons I hope to hear from any Greek Pothosians on this subject. I had also wondered if the use of abbreviated forms was culturally linked to the English language. I'm aware its use goes back a long way in English history - King Hal and Good Queen Bess, for example. But does the same apply to the Greeks, historically and/or today? For instance Aristotle Onassis was frequently called Ari in the US press, but is this nickname used in Greece? And even if the shortening of names is used in Greece today, I don't think it necessarily follows that this was a practice in ancient times, given the influence of English language and culture on the rest of the world today. (I realize we're on the same page with this, btw - just following a thought progression here. And I love the quote from The Crusaders! Hooray for Hollywood!)
karen wrote:My feeling about shortened personal names (and I think I'm the friend Amyntoros is referring to) is that it was only between intimates and only with long names, and never in formal settings -- which would include all the histories. In other words, even if Ptolemy called Alexander a Greek version of "Al" when they chatted, he would never have dreamed of referring to him by that in his book. . . . . I just think it's natural, in the quick repartee between friends, to not want to say or hear in full a four-syllable name every time
Yep - you're the friend :) and I understand your point, but my feelings remain the same in that it just doesn't work for me in a novel. I'll try and explain. If such names were used between friends and never in formal settings, then why not create an imaginary symposium wherein we find, Al, Heph, Tig, Perd, Leuk, Peuce, Old Parmey, and his son Phil getting informal over a few kraters of wine? (Shudders) And yes, I know that fiction writers will avoid these particular abbreviations like the plague, but my point is this: If the above names SEEM ridiculously anachronistic, why would anyone think a different abbreviation would be any more acceptable or believable? Agesilaos (should he be known informally as Age?) :twisted: may have hit the nail on the head in that I want my history "with dignity," even in a novel, and the use of such informal names seems far too modernistic no matter what the setting. As for it being natural not to want to say or hear in full a four-syllable name every time - I'm just not sure if that's true for every spoken language.

This isn't an issue of any great importance, I know, but I'd still welcome further input from others.

Best regards,
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Post by dean »

Hello,

agesilaos wrote:
. . . I think Greek has a vocative form which applied to names implies intimacy just as some modern languages make the distinction by use of different forms of the second person (maybe this is how Greek does it too - so long ago so many Bachanals) . . .
Don't know if I am on the right wavelength here but in Spanish there are two ways of addressing people- the polite way or the informal way depending on who you are talking to- t+¦- you informally- or usted- you- formally. which would be to superiors or to people you don't know or don't know very well.

In fact, there is a verb in Spanish "tutear" which is used to ask permission to people not that well known who you would like to speak to on a more informal level.
-+Te puedo tutear? in other words, "Can I speak to you more informally or use "t+¦"?

As for the Pressfield book, I suppose that I will wait a little while 'cos he's no Renault, God bless him.

All the best,
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Pressfield's book for the Marines

Post by jan »

Since Steven :lol: Pressfield is a marine himself, there is little doubt that this book will be mostly about himself as a marine, and one has to take that in consideration. Men will think better of a man thinking himself able to get into the mind of Alexander than a woman, which is why most people cannot accept Mary Renault's pretensions of understanding a warriorgod!

But thanks for posting the whacko jacko side! I needed that! :lol: Jan

I will try to read it as I could not finish the first attempt as it just was unable to hold my interest! Trying to see Alexander through a marine's eyes does not ring true with me at all, but I get the idea.
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Post by Paralus »

amyntoros wrote: Agesilaos (should he be known informally as Age?) may have hit the nail on the head in that I want my history GÇ£with dignity,GÇ¥ even in a novel, and the use of such informal names seems far too modernistic no matter what the setting. As for it being natural not to want to say or hear in full a four-syllable name every time GÇô IGÇÖm just not sure if thatGÇÖs true for every spoken language.
I'd think that - depending on the number of kraters - "Gesi" may be the name we'd devolve down to. What a round table at the Algonquin that might make: Gesi, Para and Amy.

I agree with the syllable thingy too. The Greeks have nothing on the Indians: names an alphabet and a half long.....
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Wicked men, you sin against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander.

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Pov is of a Macedonian Soldier

Post by jan »

:x I have learned from Steve Pressfield that this time he is not thinking as Alexander but has written the point of view from that of a Macedonian soldier.

(I was using the term whacko jacko as a reference to Michael Jackson. I did not mean that Steven Pressfield is Michael Jackson however, but that as both are creators that both share that ability to transform one person into another person.)

I did contact Steven Pressfield since I read this post and he told me that he wrote this book from the point of view of a Macedonian soldier, so I am hoping that it will be as good as Gates of Fire.

After I read the book, I will be able to review it. I like Steve Pressfield's works very much and think him an exciting writer. He and Michael Harrison Ford are two of the better current historical writers.

Presently, I am reading a book on Scipio Africanus.
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Re: Pov is of a Macedonian Soldier

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jan wrote: He and Michael Harrison Ford are two of the better current historical writers.
I think you mean Michael Curtis Ford?
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Post by Efstathios »

Hello. Here in Greece we use abbreviations for some names.For example Efstathios is the formal name and the abbreviation is Stathis.All the people that have the name Efstathios are called Stathis.That's the way it is for a long time now.While for other names, like Konstantinos both the formal name and the abbreviation is used according to the personal taste of each man named this way.So some like to be called Konstantinos, while other Kostas,which is the abbreviation.

But in formal papers we always use the formal name.Efstathios,Konstantinos,Georgios,Nikolaos e.t.c).Same thing goes for women too.Especially the women that have long names.But usually not for women that their names derrive from two names, like Marianna (Maria-Anna).They tend to keep the full name because it sounds nice.But it's all a matter of personal taste.

I dont know when these abbreviations were introduced.And i dont think that if they existed in antiquity that they were oftenly used.I am not sure if Agis (or Ages,same pronunciation) comes from Agesilaos.Surely it has common root.But i dont think that they generally used abbreviations.If you were named Agesilaos you would be called Agesilaos and not Agis.Same for Socrates,Platon,Themistokles e.t.c.I cant remember of an example of someone that was called with an abbreviation.So in that way Pressfield is being anachronistic.

As for nicknames, i also dont know,but i will make a research.It is possible that the ancients used nicknames.After all if you read Aristofanes you can see that his humorous speech and examples can lead us to think that maybe they used nicknames.I will do a research for this too.

Oh, and about the formal ways of addressing.We use plural for adressing someone in a formal way.To a stranger for example you would use the plural of "how are you", only that in English there is no plural for that.It's you (one person) and you (many persons).So in Greek it would be "ti kaneis?" (how are you,for one person), and "ti kanete?" (how are you ,for many persons,plural), only that the plural in this example is used for one person also, to adress formality.

I hope i didnt confuse you too much.I think it's similar to the German language which also has different extensions in words for singular and plural.
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Re: Pov is of a Macedonian Soldier

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marcus wrote:
jan wrote: He and Michael Harrison Ford are two of the better current historical writers.
I think you mean Michael Curtis Ford?
Michael Harrison Ford: Ionian Jones.
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Post by amyntoros »

Efstathios wrote:As for nicknames, i also dont know,but i will make a research.It is possible that the ancients used nicknames.After all if you read Aristofanes you can see that his humorous speech and examples can lead us to think that maybe they used nicknames.I will do a research for this too.
Thank, Efstations (for all of your post, not just the above). :) I think you're right in that if nicknames were used then evidence would most likely be found in the ancient comedies.

As a Greek, how do you feel about the abbreviation of names in period fiction? After all, you will have an understanding of the meaning of names that English speaking authors might not. For instance, the other day I checked Jeanne Reamme's Zimmerman's dissertation, Hephaistion Amyntoros: Eminence Grise At The Court of Alexander the Great. In it she says that the meaning of Hephaistion is Dear to Hephaestus. Many (usually non-professional) fiction writers abbreviate Hephaistion's name to Phai. My thinking is that this would be wrong because here one would technically be giving the god a nickname. If I'm correct on this, then the only possible abbreviation for Hephaistion would be Tion. Am I right? And if so, what would the meaning be. Would it mean "Dear," or does it have no meaning by itself?

I'm not intending to harp on this topic, btw - just haven't seen it openly discussed before. Thanks again.

Best regards,
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Post by azara »

Dear Amyntoros, I have been absent for some time, but I continued to frequent the site. The discussion about diminutives and familiar forms in ancient Greek is very interesting. As far as I can remember from my university years, when I translated a lot of classic Greek literature, I never found a single personGÇÖs name truncated or shortened the way Mr. Pressfield did in his novel. They used nicknames, of course (in fact every personal name was or derived from a nickname), and these could be so successful as to take the place of the original name such as Platon (= with large shoulders). I remember two suffixes which were used to make diminutive forms or terms of endearment. One was GÇ£-ionGÇ¥ (with the omicron, or small o), such as in Erotion = little Eros, or paidion = little son (do you remember the incident with the Siwa priest?). The other was GÇ£-iskosGÇ¥, such as in oniskos = little donkey (from onos = donkey). Another -ion suffix (but, mind, with the omega, or big o) denotes belonging or closeness, such as in Hephaistion, or Kaisarion (the son of Caesar and Cleopatra) or Gamelion (the month of weddings) etc.
So IGÇÖm afraid there was no way to cut peopleGÇÖs names short the way Mr. Pressfield does. By the way, I suspect that nobody would have accepted such a treatment, because names were tightly linked with personal identities and were also considered ominous in a religious sense. Now I leave this longish post with my best wishes to everybody. Azara
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