Thursday, September 06, 2007


DODONA: The palace was up near that wall

Helmer: First and foremost, you are a wife and mother.
Nora: That I don't believe any more. I believe that first and foremost I am an individual, just as much as you are.

Henrik Ibsen 1828- 1906 "A Dolls House"

I've been making good progress on the novel but had to take the day off to prepare and deliver handout material to the School Board, as my classes start in two weeks.

The parts I've been writing lately, in Roxana's point of view, brought to mind some memories, not entirely pleasant ones, of my former married life.
The Mother-in-Law from Hell. Well, perhaps in my case it's an exaggeration, but truly, she was a weird one. I can recall first meeting her and being quite disturbed by the way she'd sit, almost silent, and stare at me with her odd eyes, like she was giving me the Evil Eye. (Truly, at times I think she was!) She was the kind of woman who buried her money in coffee cans in the back yard and wasn't terribly generous. My husband's young brother, living at home, was never given gifts at Christmas as it "wasn't his birthday". She was a Seventh Day Adventist, Ukrainian immigrant woman and had odd ideas.

I've always made a point of not being the 'interfering mother-in-law' in my kid's marriages. I adore my son's wife and think she's an absolute angel. I loved my daughter's ex too and was very sad they split up. But then, I'm not a conventional kind of mother either. (I remember once seeing a Peanuts cartoon of Woodstock lying on the top of the dog house waving at a plane flying overhead and saying "Bye Mom!" And I thought how much I was like that kind of Mom. The gypsy Mom, always on the go.)

Well, poor old Roxana unfortunately has the quintessential "Mother-in-law from Hell". Olympias. She herself is a pretty tough lady but she's met her match in Alexander's mother and as the story progresses we see her losing her power and being reduced to nothing more than a detested alien woman, eventually a prisoner of her dead husband's enemies. Poor Roxana. She's far from her homeland, a widow, disliked and resented by the Macedonians and now she's under the control of the formidable mother-in-law. She's even losing custody of her child.

What will happen to her next?

"What greater grief than the loss of one's native land."
Euripides 485-406 Medea l 650
"Sons are the anchors of a mother's life."
Sophocles 495-406 BC Phaedra fragment 612

View of Dodona

Here is a new segment of "Shadow of the Lion" in which Roxana is reminiscing about her life past and present.

It was early summer in Epiros. The warm sun had melted the snow filling cascades and streams so the mountain shoulders, watered from the snow-melt, were fresh and green . In the valley the fields were ablaze with crimson poppies. Blossoms fell from the orchard trees and new buds burst on the vines.

Roxana sat by the fountain in the forecourt enjoying a quiet time alone. The child had gone to his grandmother as he did most every day. In spite of her
loneliness, Roxana had spent a pleasant winter at Dodona. and felt more at home there than she had anywhere before. She and Olympias spent hours together in womanly talk; she was always careful to curb her tongue and acquiesce to the old Queen’s demands. Olympias instructed her in local customs that were not so different from her own, except here she had more freedom. The harem life seemed strangely distanced from her now. In Dodona a woman ruled, Alexander’s mother, and her will was obeyed by everyone from her regent cousin to the most menial servant.

Still, she did not regret that they had come to Epiros. She and her child were safer under the watchful and critical eye of Olympias than she had ever been before when she had been left to the mercy of the Macedonians who resented her. Iskander, at least, was learning more about his father than she could ever teach him. Olympias’ domineering nature was no match for her own and more and more Roxana saw the child come under his grandmother’s influence. Iskander no longer ran to her with his questions, but to his grandmother. Although she felt resentful and seethed with jealousy she could do nothing about it. Only yesterday she had watched them walking hand-in-hand down the path toward Dodona’s sacred oak shrine. Olympias had even suggested she would take the child to the Nekromanteion where he might speak to his father’s Shade. There was never any hint that she was to be included.

Olympias had declared at once that Iskander should speak Greek and in no time he was chattering fluently in both Greek and smatterings of Olympias’ own tribal dialect, quickly forgetting the elegant Elamite Persian he had grown up with in the harem. Iskander was, to his grandmother, Alexander, and in the old Queen’s eyes, the child had replaced her own son. She coloured all the tales she told him of his father’s boyhood instilling in the child the belief that truly his father was god-begotten. She embellished details of her own family’s glorious past and regaled him ancient family lore handed down from generations, tales as exciting as Homer’s in which Achilles’ became more than a storybook hero but one of the child’s own kinsmen. She even arranged a formal engagement between Iskander and his playmate Dedemeia, insisting it was necessary despite their tender ages.

When she had protested, Olympias reminded her of how disappointed she had been with Alexander when he refused to take a Macedonian wife before he went off to war.

“I do not wish to live to see the day when my grandson makes the same impulsive mistake as his father and ends up taking a foreign bride when there are noble Macedonian girls who he might have wed, keeping the Archaiad blood line pure.”

She had felt crushed being so belittled by Olympias words but she swallowed her anger and held her peace, though she felt a lingering hurt.

“I have chosen Deideima, my cousin’s child,” Olympias told her. “They will make a perfect match. Dedemeia is a beautiful child, and very bright. I will see that she is trained in all the arts. She is clever with her hands and already capable at the loom and will make an excellent wife for little Alexander when she is grown.”

Roxana argued that at the age of five Iskander was far too young to be ’engaged’ but Olympias explained it was customary to make a marriage contract, a promise so to speak, to ensure Iskander would have a suitable wife when the time came for him to take the throne. When Iskander was told of his grandmother’s plan, he was pleased, though he did not understand the meaning of being ‘engaged’.

“It means when you are old enough, you and Dedemeia will marry.”
“You mean we can play together forever?” he had asked.
“Yes. As often as you wish,” she replied. “Forever.”
And he had skipped away happily to tell Dedemeia the news.

The sound of hoof beats and shouting voices roused Roxana from her reverie. She ran quickly to the postern gate to investigate and saw that a crowd of people had gathered along the road that led up to the palace. A cloud of dust hovered over the valley and from the road that led through the mountain pass, the sun glinted off of armour.

Alarmed, she summoned a servant to fetch Olympias.

The Sacred Oak Grove

The Sacred Oak where the oracle was read in the shifting of the leaves.
(Of course, this is a distant relative of the ancient tree)
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