Maybe I should be worried that all three of my favorite secondary characters in the Leonidas Trilogy have names beginning with “M.” It is an odd coincidence at some level because each came to me at widely different times in the process of writing the Trilogy. There were many other characters with names starting with other letters that took their place in the novels between the emergences of these three young men. And Mantiklos, Meander and Maron are assuredly very different people. But when I sat down to compose a blog entry on characters, these three young men came immediately to mind because all are excellent examples of minor characters, whose role in the Trilogy, are “marginal” and yet each of whom imposed their will upon me with astonishing strength and clarity.
When writing a biographical novel, an author has certain events that need to be described. The real historical character is known to have done certain things at certain times and there is no way to get around describing these. This simple necessity forces the biographical novelist to “create” characters that play the roles assigned to them by history. I knew from the start, for example, that I could not write about Leonidas without also writing about his three brothers, his wife, and the men he died with.
In practice, this meant that I sometimes had to sit down and focus my conscious thoughts upon what the known historical facts were andwhat were likely inter-relationships were between the characters appearing in the novel. Based on these considerations, I then had to “construct” a character. Let me take as an example Leonidas’ half-brother Cleomenes. According to Herodotus, Cleomenes had an erratic career of trying, usually unsuccessfully, to interfere in the affairs of other Greek cities. He also bribed the oracle of Delphi in his intrigues against his co-monarch Demaratus, and eventually went so mad that he committed suicide. A colorful character to say the least! But history is entirely silent on his relationship to Leonidas. Leonidas’ elder brother Dorieus bitterly refused to accept Cleomenes as his king, preferring voluntary exile to being a subject of Cleomenes. But Leonidas married Cleomenes’ daughter – and became his successor. I decided, quite consciously, that my Leonidas would not share Dorieus’ hatred of Cleomenes, but have a more “objective” view which would enable me as a writer to show Cleomenes’ historical role from a more-or-less unbiased point of view. Then I had to try to imagine what this highly complex man might have been like on a personal level. I had to work from the facts, and from the facts imagine the character.
But Mantiklos, Meander and Maron are not historical characters. They did not exist, and a biography of Leonidas would not be in any way deficient without them. And yet! My biographical novel would be much, much poorer without them because these three young men have stories so compelling that they forced their way into my narrative by sheer strength of character.
Mantiklos is Messenian. He butted his way into Leonidas’ life with every intention of teaching the young Agiad all about Messenia – from the Messenian perspective. Because of his impudence, Leonidas learns that one man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. And he learns that history looks different depending on who tells it. These are important lessons for him – and the reader.
Meander is a disenfranchised Spartiate. Because his father’s marginal estate has become too poor to support his school fees, Meander must leave school and can never become a citizen. To prevent his young brother suffering the same fate, he offers to work for Leonidas as a slave. Meander thus forces Leonidas to face the extent to which poorer Spartiates are being disenfranchised. Because Leonidas finds Meander’s fate unacceptable, Meander becomes the catalyst for Leonidas moving beyond just being a “Peerless Peer” and starting to seek change in Spartan society. Meander sparks Leonidas’ ambition.
Maron is an eirene of limited intelligence but unlimited heart, who is driven to attempt suicide by the injustice of the Headmaster in the agoge. This incident forces Leonidas to move beyond ambition. After the incident with Maron, Leonidas is prepared not only to work for change in Sparta, but determined to fight the reactionary, bigoted forces that threaten his interpretation of Spartan virtues. Maron is the man, who gives Leonidas the ruthlessness he needs to seize power when the time comes.
Thus Mantiklos, Meander and Maron are all vitally important characters in my Leonidas Trilogy and I am grateful to each of them for telling me their story and enabling me to work them into Leonidas’ biography.