For a blog that is ostensibly about writing, I almost never write about writing. In fact, I think I’ve only done it once. I’ve written more about my travels, and the ups and downs of my blog, but my writing has been mostly focused on this blog (barely lately) and getting my graphic novel out. Speaking of which, I wanted to write another post where I actually write about writing, specifically writing about ancient history.
For those of you who are unaware, my debut graphic novel, ‘Lord of the Twin Lands’ is an alternate take on the Exodus narrative. Serving as the founding myth of Israel, the Exodus narrative has resonated with many throughout history, from early Protestant settlers fleeing religious persecution in Europe to African-Americans fighting for freedom and civil rights.
However, my take on it is a little different, as it always should be when writing about ancient history. Instead of casting Moses as the downtrodden savior of the Hebrews, Moses is an arrogant Egyptian general in the court of Akhenaten, the Pharaoh who initially founded monotheism. Swept up in Akhenaten’s revolution, Moses becomes beholden to a political situation that is bigger than any one man, and ultimately becomes the unwitting leader of the Hebrews after meeting and falling in love with Miriam.
If that sounds like a big departure from the traditional Exodus narrative, that’s because it is. And it’s my love of ancient history that fueled the story. Only because I took many ancient history courses in college was I aware of all the going-ons of the era. And those courses lead me to ‘Moses and Monotheism‘ by Freud, which gave me the basic idea for this graphic novel. What if Moses, was in fact, not a Hebrew, but an Egyptian?
Of course, when writing about ancient history, you need to focus on the action and make it more accessible than philosophical. That’s why you see plenty of stories about Julius Caesar and not so many about Plato or Socrates. In the ancient world, war is what fuels conflict. Everybody suffered, even the Emperor Augustus had many ailments. Unlike the modern world, where might is determined by GDP and the strength of a country’s corporations, what territory you ravaged and how much blood you spilled is what made you the strongest.
But even then, when writing about ancient history, you need to find the humanity in it all. The ancient world was a cruel one, and the pathos among that cruelty is what makes ancient history intriguing. For all the stories about warlords conquering, what readers really want to see is the moments in between. Not just the parts where warrior faces off against warrior, but the parts that show the ancient world as it really was.
When writing about ancient history, you need to keep all this in mind and present the world as succinctly as possible, with a healthy dose of action of course. This is just what I did when writing ‘Lord of the Twin Lands’ and I hope that it portrays a the ancient world as it was; not just at war with itself, but with the very culture within.