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Friday, May 13, 2016

Greek References in ASOIAF

It so happens that I'm reading Troilus and Cressida lately --- I've never thought Greek tragedy could be done as farce --- while the Game of Thrones series just put on a flashback segment depicting the Tower of Joy.

Game of Thrones, S6E3, Tower of Joy.

The homage hits me between the eyes. I'm wondering why it took me so long to see the connection.

George RR Martin's references to Greek mythology are not nearly as abundant or apparent as those to Nordic mythology, the Wars of Roses, and Shakespeare, and they are hidden much deeper. So when I recognize one it is a bit of a shock.

I wrote about Deianira, wife of Hercules, being the inspiration for Daenerys Targaryen for the History Behind GoT site. Then, in Season 5 of the TV series, a plot is transparently lifted from Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia. I am not convinced that GRRM would choose to sail so close to the source material himself, but, alas, the TV series has given it away.

It is then all the more puzzling why I did not think of Lyanna Stark as the face that launched a thousand ships. Maybe because the warring factions fought on land? Obviously, men fighting over women is nothing new or unique to the Trojan war. Heck, even the Chinese history books are filled with stories like this. But something in Lyanna's story matches Helen's.

Even now, after 5 books and 5.5 TV seasons, after multiple characters have mentioned Lyanna over and again in their thoughts and their dialog, we still have no idea what happened from her perspective. The questions about Lyanna are almost exactly the same as those about Helen. Was she abducted or seduced? Was she raped or in love? Did she go willingly? Why? Did she regret it? Shakespeare and most interpretations believe Helen eloped with Paris out of love, and that is the sentiment of most ASOIAF readers on Lyanna as well. But we never get to hear it from the woman herself.

What links Lyanna to Helen of Troy is not their role in the Trojan war or Robert Rebellion, that the desire to take them in possession spiraled out of control and led to the slaughter of thousands. Rather, it's how they are both at the center of the myths and completely invisible. I don't know if GRRM is going to eventually reveal the true face of that face or stick to the homage and critique of the original myth and hide it to the end.

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