May 16, 2013

Several years ago, I decided that I wanted to write a murder mystery set in ancient Greece in which Socrates was a bumbling idiot.

It has taken me a while, partially because I’ve been focused on other projects and partially because certain aspects of ancient Greek society presented obstacles I didn’t know how to overcome. I’ve figured out how to overcome them, however, and am now working on the book.

I’m finding fiction about ten thousand billion times harder to write than nonfiction, but that’s a post for another day.

Today I want to discuss a small problem: Thucydides.

It turns out that pretty much every single ancient Greek person you've ever heard of lived at the same time. Pericles, Socrates, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Hippocrates, Alcibiades, Protagoras, Zeno, Anaxagoras, Pindar—in 449 B.C., every single one of them was alive (and most of them knew each other). Go fifty years in either direction and you add Plato, Aesop, Xenophon, Pythagoras, Aeschylus, and Themistocles. For Homer, Draco, and Solon you need to go back from there, and for Aristotle, Demosthenes, Archimedes, and Euclid you need to go a little forward, but the point is: they’re all mashed up together.

This is great for me, in that I get to write about how annoying Euripides finds Pericles. This is bad for me, however, because, since nobody had last names (well, they sort of did, but using them in genre fiction would be impossible; Socrates’ full name was “Socrates, son of Sophroniscus, from the deme Alopece,”and doing it that way would be worse than a mystery in which everybody went around calling each other “Mikhail Nikolayevich”and “Stephan Sergeyevich”), there are other people with those names as well.

So my current problem is that a major player in my mystery is named Thucydides—but he’s not the Thucydides we all know and love from the History of the Peloponnesian War. He's Thucydides’ grandfather. The Thucydides we all know and love from the History of the Peloponnesian War is ten years old in my book. But there’s a frame, and in the frame the Thucydides we all know and love from the History of the Peloponnesian War has just started writing the History of the Peloponnesian War. So it’s becoming more and more difficult to give the reader a clear guide in how to tell them apart.

Actually I may have it covered; I'm calling them “Thucydides” and “Old Thucydides.” The real reason I'm making this post is that I was talking about it to somebody the other day and discovered that it’s incredibly difficult to say, “The Thucydides.”

Go ahead. Try it.

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