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The Beatriceid: Kate Elliott on Inspirations & Influences

“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.

On December 22, we will publish The Beatriceid by Kate Elliott–a short story told in verse and written in iambic pentameter. Set in Kate Elliott’s beloved Spiritwalker Trilogy, The Beatriceid is a subversive reimagining of The Aeneid–and to tell us all about the inspiration behind the story, we are delighted to host Kate Elliott.

Photo Credit April Quintanilla

Photo Credit April Quintanilla

Please give a warm welcome to Kate, folks!

We define ourselves through the stories we tell. And sometimes some of us just get so tired of hearing certain kinds of stories that we want to rip them apart and piece them back together in a new shape.

The great epic narratives of Western civilization underpin much of our understanding in the Western world about what subject matter is appropriate for a story everyone is meant to be familiar with. Such narratives teach us who stories center on, how people will behave, and how the world should properly work according to the specific culture and era they grow out of.

For example, The Iliad relates an episode from the Trojan War in which men fight over honor and women are trophies to be parceled out and quarreled over. The name Robin Hood first appears in early modern ballads (15th – 18th c) but the story we know best of a Saxon lord fighting for justice and freedom against oppressive Norman invaders comes from the 19th century. In Star Wars: A New Hope, scrappy and independent rebels fight against a rich and powerful Empire in a tale that owes a debt to Joseph Campbell’s book on the Hero’s Journey as well as glossy versions of the American Revolution.

Stories like The Iliad and The Odyssey and the early Robin Hood ballads begin their lives in the oral tradition, only later written down and elaborated on. In contrast, the Roman writer Virgil set out in the waning years of the first century B.C.E. to write a deliberately epic poem that would, he hoped, create a founding myth for Rome, one that might perhaps rival Homer in its influence.

Virgil wrote during a period of transition as the expanding, vigorous Roman Republic became an empire. As we know, empires need all the propaganda they can get to justify their creation and continuing existence. He chose a secondary hero from the matter of Troy, various loosely connected tales related to the war that were well known in antiquity. For the hero who was the ancestor of Rome to come from one of the heroes of the Trojan War added to Rome’s legitimacy. Aeneas came from the losing side, had a vague connection to Rome, and was evidently known in the corpus of tales as a man of great pietas, defined at as “the ancient Roman personification of familial affection, patriotism, and piety.” Perfect for a founding father!

In The Aeneid, Aeneas flees the final conflagration of Troy with his father and his son, his wife having conveniently expired so she can appear to him as a ghost and generously and unselfishly encourage him to seek a greater destiny without her (which will naturally come complete with a new, fresh, and better-connected wife therefore acquired with no guilt).

The second half of the poem centers around his arrival, exploits, and new-bride-acquiring in Latium (the region where the city of Rome was later founded).

However the best known sequence in the poem comes from its first half, the tale of his arduous travels as he escapes Troy and wanders for some time around the Mediterranean. This part of the story includes an important sojourn in Carthage during which the ruling queen of Carthage, Dido, falls in love with Aeneas after a dalliance and kills herself when he leaves her.

Henry Purcell’s English Baroque opera Dido and Aeneas features the beautiful and heartbreaking aria, “Dido’s Lament”, her final words (here performed by the incandescent Jessye Norman).

The Aeneid is meant to take place in the legendary past. More germane to Virgil’s Roman audience however was their historical memory of the Roman Republic’s conflict with the Carthaginian Empire. The three Punic Wars lasted from 264 BCE to 146 BCE and were the world wars of their time. Perhaps most famous for Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps with elephants to bring the war to Italy, their struggle for dominance over the Mediterranean ended with Rome’s utter destruction of the city of Carthage.

Of course The Aeneid portrays Aeneas as the best of heroes due to his heroism, filial piety, leadership, valor, and good looks. Dido appears at first as a powerful and lovely woman who has been prosperously ruling Carthage since the death of her husband.

In fact, the goddess Venus herself must take a hand in causing Dido to fall so hard for Aeneas that the queen actually begs him to marry her and rule with her. Aeneas is tempted but instead is supernaturally reminded that his destiny lies elsewhere. When he departs, in secret, Dido is seen to have dishonored her own vow to remain chaste after the death of her husband Sychaeus and must pay with her life. Meanwhile, Aeneas leaves behind another dead woman and merrily goes on his way to that fabulous promised destiny.

So, yes, while I can acknowledge the great achievement of The Aeneid, and thrill to its heroic adventures, I can also get tired of a powerful woman’s story of love and rulership being cast as a tragedy when the dude (typically) gets off with a few faint regrets as he trots off to his next conquest.

Enter my alternate-history Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk fantasy adventure Spiritwalker Trilogy, which begins with Cold Magic (and features lawyer dinosaurs, natch).

In the three Spiritwalker books the narrator, Cat Barahal, tells the story of her unexpected adventures and world-traveling shenanigans in an early 19th century-era setting in an alternate history where the Carthaginian Empire did not fall, and in which the Romans and the Carthaginians dueled over control of the Mediterranean for centuries.

Cat and her cousin Beatrice are of Carthaginian descent although they live (and grew up) in the port city of Adurnam on the shores of what in our history is called Britain. As Cold Magic opens, they are 19 going on 20, attending an academy (a college) as lowly Kena’ani (Phoenician) scholarship students who often wrangle with the snobbish rich girls of Roman ancestry.

I have long desired to tell a story about Cat and Bee’s schoolgirl adventures. In the trilogy I allude to several mischievous incidents. But it wasn’t until I decided to offer a piece of written-to-order short fiction for an auction benefiting the Con or Bust organization that the spark for this piece got lit. Paul Weimer and D dueled over the piece, Romanophile Paul planning to ask me to write something on the alternate progress of Rome in the Spiritwalker world. Carthage-champion D won the bid, however, and asked for a piece about the girls’ Cartheginian heritage.

The first thing I thought of was the story of Dido and Aeneas, and how badly I have wanted to tell a different version of the story, a version Bee and Cat would prefer. From there it was an easy step to decide to tell the tale as Beatrice herself would tell it, in a way she found more fitting, and to incorporate as part of the story an incident briefly mentioned in Cold Steel in Chapter 13.

I studied several translations of The Aeneid and decided that the best way to accomplish everything I wanted would be to write the piece as a poem, in the style of The Aeneid, suitable for declaiming by an educated young woman in front of an audience, as one does.

The dactylic hexameter that the original is written in felt too complex to tackle in English. I settled on iambic pentameter in large part because I’m so familiar with it from hearing the works of Shakespeare performed in the theater. For me, it almost defines that epic, declamatory style.

Once I started writing and got the pattern in my head, the words flowed easily. The poem was a joy to write for many reasons, and I hope it will be a joy to read. Not least because I like the ending of my version a lot better.


About The Beatriceid

The Beatriceid

A stunning new short story, written in verse, set in Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker Universe

Before Andevai, the waking of dreaming dragons, the war for Europa, and the cruel treachery of the Wild Hunt, cousins Catherine and Beatrice Hassi Barahal were novice students at the Academy. Here, Cat and Bee learned of mathematics and politics, history and storytelling. But not all stories are told or remembered in the same way–particularly where the tale of Dido and Aeneas, and the fate of Carthage and Rome are concerned.

To the victors go the spoils–only this time, it is the gilded-tongued Bee and the quick-footed Cat who will collect the winnings.

Set before the start of Cold Magic, The Beatriceid is a brand new, standalone short story written in Iambic Pentameter that reimagines The Aeneid in a feminist, Phonecian light.

How to Get the Story

The Beatriceid will be published officially on December 21, 2015. We are officially sold out of our first limited edition print run, but you can still nab a copy of the DRM-free ebook! The ebook edition (EPUB & MOBI) contains the story, a Q&A and two essays from the author, available directly from us, and for purchase on all major ebook retail sites.

Preorder the Ebook

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1 Comment

  • Paul Weimer
    December 21, 2015 at 6:11 am

    It looks like the right person won the duel, in the end.

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