Friday, May 27, 2016

Character Conversations: Polypoetes, from By Helen's Hand by Amalia Carosella

I arrived at the Victoria & Albert Museum a good fifteen minutes early. Amalia had arranged for Polypoetes to meet me near Antonio Canova's Helen for our interview, but I wanted to get a look at the statue before our Q&A. 

The figure was artistically beautifully, but it was the subject matter that captivated my imagination. Who was this woman? What part did she play in her legends? What sort of spirit lay hidden beneath her celebrated beauty? I didn't know if Polypoetes could answer my questions, but I was eager to find out. 

I looked around and wondered if I'd be able to pick him out of the crowd. I sent up a silent prayer I wouldn't have to hover in the doorway like some sort of stalker, but there was no mistaking him when he arrived. 

Polypoetes proved an easy interviewee. The fact that he was easy on the eyes didn't hurt, but our discussion proved most enlightening. 

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You’d know better than I, does the statue do her justice?
Not in the slightest – nothing so simple as stone, no matter how cleverly carved, could ever capture the brilliance of her beauty. Helen was everything you never knew you desired, and not only in form, but in substance as well. At least to me.

What was Helen like as person?
She was devoted. Compassionate. Loyal and kind. She was in everything a servant to her people, a fine princess and a true queen, though those who did not know her might say otherwise. And she was stubborn as well, determined upon the course she had chosen. But only because she believed it was what she must do to protect Sparta, to protect us all. What she endured for our sakes – in truth, she had the courage and strength of a hero, though she never wielded a sword or fought in a war. Her battles were of a different sort.

What was the nature of your relationship with her?
At first, she was a debt to be repaid. My father’s foolishness had wronged her, betrayed her to her enemies, and while she was the wife of Theseus and rightful queen of Athens, how could I not offer her my aid and protection? When Theseus fought beside my father and mother? When he had always been our friend and ally?

But after I met her – once I knew her for herself... Had she granted me the smallest encouragement, I would have loved her until death. I would have walked happily into madness to have her as my wife. To have her as my queen.

As Prince of the Lapiths you had every right to approach her, but I’m curious, were you nervous?
I did not intend, at first, to present myself as her suitor, only as her friend and ally. But all the same, I was... uncertain, I suppose. Of how she would receive me. She had little reason to love my father, all things considered, and she did not know me. Why should she trust me at all? Why should she not blame me, as my father’s son, for the loss of Theseus, her husband? For the destruction of the peace they had fought so hard to build together?

What did you think of the suitors that flocked to her side? Did anyone stand out for any reason?
I would have liked to kill Menestheus where he stood from the moment I glimpsed him wearing Theseus’s crown. And Agamemnon, of course. There was not a man at that Assembly who would not have been pleased to see Mycenae’s king dead. But sacred law bound my hands, and I would not bring a curse down upon Helen or her people by murdering a man while I was her guest.

Helen’s legend isn’t exactly happy. Why do you think it endures?
Fame and Glory, our lives made immortal by the telling of our stories – these are the greatest gifts the gods can give us, but for true immortality upon Olympus as gods in our own right. That Helen’s story endures is the proof of Zeus’s love for his daughter. Perhaps you think it is a poor repayment for what he asked of her in life, for the use he made of her and the suffering she endured, but I am glad to know we did not fight so desperately only to be forgotten.

Do you think it’s possible to defy the God’s and forge your own destiny as Helen wished?

I believe we must live our lives as if they are ours to do with as we please. The gods will take what they are owed, there is no question, but they will take it whether we pursue our own desires or lock ourselves away. Why should we not fight for what we love? Live as we see fit? To do less seems a greater sin. A betrayal of what we have been given.

Your father also faced challenges as the son of deity. How did Pirithous rectify that reality?
My father – My father learned early that he had no wish to be caught up in the affairs of the Olympians. He was grateful for the gifts Zeus had given him, for his strength and his power, for the ichor that ran like lightning through his veins, but the gods are fickle and cruel, most of all to those they love, to the heroes they raise up. Ixion’s madness was proof enough of what could become of a man who forgot his place, who believed for a moment he was deserving of any favor he was granted, and my mother’s death, after that – my father lived so hard, raided so fiercely, traveled so often and celebrated so much, because if he slowed, if he stopped, if he settled, all the grief and pain, all his suffering would catch up.

Speaking of your father, what do you believe his fate to have been?
Dead or Alive, my father belongs to Hades, now. I do not believe he will find his way back from the Underworld. Not while I live. But perhaps I will find him in Elysium, one day.

Is there anything you wished you’d told Helen when you last saw her?
Helen knew she had my love. Leaving her that day was the greatest proof of it I could offer. There was nothing more to be said between us, not then. I think – I think it was in that moment that I understood her, truly. For Helen, there would only ever be Theseus.

What did you do after you parted ways?
I did as she asked of me. I kept her brothers safe, in Thessaly, until she had quieted Menelaus’s fury. It chafed, leaving her. Letting her sacrifice herself to that cur for our sakes, for our safety, but what else could we do? We were bound by Odysseus’s thrice-cursed oath. We could not strike at Menelaus. And Helen had made up her mind. She would not risk more harm to those she loved, to her people, and how could we deny her the right to make such a choice? The right to face her fate on her own terms?

So we left. You asked if there was something I wished I’d told her, and my answer was honest, for there were no more words to be shared, but in truth – in truth I wish I had stolen her, oath or no oath. I wish I had dragged her with us from that hall and let the gods curse us all. Let Ares send war marching north upon our heels. Theseus might have come North to us as well, and perhaps then he might have lived. So many of us might have lived, if we had fought only that small war instead of spending those long years beneath the walls of Troy.

Troy has been heavily romanticized over the centuries. What was it really like? Were the heroes as we know them today?
War is blood and death and disease. It is festered wounds and seeping puss. It is horror and terror and nightmare. What was Troy really like? It was weeping children and screaming women. It was sorrow and choking smoke. No amount of gold, no prize was enough. And that woman that Menelaus found inside Troy’s walls – she stared at me as if I were a stranger. As if we had not struck our own bargain beneath the moon. As if she had not trusted me with her brothers’ lives – brothers she loved more than anything else in this world, save Theseus, perhaps. He did not notice. Perhaps he did not want to see. Perhaps he wanted to believe, because when she looked upon him, there was warmth and love and desire in her eyes, the likes of which I am certain he had never seen...

We were not heroes, Lady. We were, none of us, heroes. We were only fools. Fools made eager for a woman who did not want to be won. From the very beginning, she had not wanted any of us. But the gods – the gods always take what they are owed, one way or another. Only Helen understood, truly, the cost. We did not listen, and we have only ourselves to blame for that.

Our time is almost up and I don’t want to keep you, but I’ve one more question. In looking back, do you think she was worth it?
I do not think your people will ever truly understand – you think we fought this war for Helen. You think we died for her, and her alone. You think to place this burden upon her shoulders, to pin her beneath it as Heracles shouldered the weight of the world. But you are wrong. We fought because the gods would have it no other way, because they demanded a sacrifice greater than any that had come before. We fought for Zeus and Poseidon, for Hera and Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite. We fought for Apollo and Ares, even for Dionysus. Helen was only the lure. The means by which we might be trapped in cages of honor and ill-considered vows.

But if what you truly wish to know is whether I would act again as I did, then. If knowing the outcome, I would still travel to Sparta and join the assembly of her suitors in the hopes of winning her hand – Lady, I knew then what I risked, as well. And I would go to her again, now.

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Date of Birth: Late 13th Century BC

Physical Appearance: Dark-haired and brown-skinned, like his mother, with his father’s blue-gray eyes and well-formed physique.

Education and Job Skills: As prince of the Lapiths and the only acknowledged son and heir of Pirithous, Polypoetes was given extensive training in palace and tribal administration, as well as horsemanship, horse-breeding, and horse-taming. He’s an exceptional hunter and warrior, trained by his father in sword, spear, bow, knife, hand to hand combat, wrestling, and boxing. Polypoetes is not the raider his father was, but you wouldn’t want to find yourself on the wrong end of his sword.

Allies: King Theseus of Athens, as well as his sons, Demophon and Acamas. Aethra, mother of Theseus. Leonteus of Thessaly. The Lapiths people.

Enemies: The Myrmidons of Phthia under King Peleus, the Centaurs of Mt. Pelion

Hobbies: Hunting, Horsemanship and horse-breeding

Most Cherished Possession: His horses

Family: Pirithous, son of Zeus (father), Hippodamia (mother), any number of unacknowledged half-brothers and –sisters scattered across Achaea.

Strengths: Healthy respect for the gods, Natural ability for horsemanship

Weaknesses: Loyal to a fault, liable to be trapped by honor, Helen of Sparta

Appearances: BY HELEN’S HAND, cameo appearance in TAMER OF HORSES (forthcoming)

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Amalia Carosella graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelors degree in Classical Studies and English. An avid reader and former bookseller, she writes about old heroes and older gods. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and dreams of the day she will own goats (and maybe even a horse, too). For more information, visit her blog at

She also writes myth-steeped fantasy and paranormal romance under the name Amalia Dillin. Learn more about her other works at

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads

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1 comment:

Amalia Carosella said...

So glad he didn't give you too much trouble :) Thanks so much for having him!!