Wednesday, 17 October 2007

War in Gaul: the cast (4)

It is an annoying fact, but despite my ardent feminism my creative work invariably tends to centre on male characters. In this particular case, Caesar isn’t helpful at all: De Bello Gallico doesn’t mention a single woman by name. That means that if I want female characters, I am forced to invent them all. This is a tricky business since elsewhere, too, Celtic women’s lives are much less documented than men’s, and in fiction this more than once gives rise to detestable Mary-Sueism and Marion Zimmer Bradleyism, both of which I am rather desperate to avoid. Celtic women seem to have had higher status than their Roman sisters, in that they could, among other things, inherit and be political leaders. But their rights remain a misty issue, and much though I would like to write them as men’s equals, I think that the more realistic thing is to guard against too much ancient girlpower. The famous Boudicca only gained power over her people because her husband Prasutagus died; and though Irish legends mention women like Scathach who train warriors for battle, there is no trace to be found of warrior women in the texts of ancient historians or archaeology – women were buried with mirrors and needles and such, not with weapons. I suppose it is possible to question whether the graves are identified as female on the basis of the gifts alone, but still: no hard evidence. Caesar certainly doesn’t seem to have negotiated with women, and war in Gaul was a man’s affair.

I’m doing my best, though :-). Just – I can’t say too much about the women’s plots, because you can’t find them anywhere and so, unlike the men’s storylines, they have the potential of holding surprises. I mean, not that the men’s stories won’t have any, but – you know what I mean, right? ^_^

4. Rigantona

Rigantona used to be called Brigantia (Briga for short), but I recently decided that as Vercingetorix’s sister, she should have a name with ‘queen’ in it. Rigantona is the same as the Welsh Rhiannon and means “great queen”. Briga/Rigantona long vied with Vercingetorix, then Commios, for the position of overall main character of the story. When I was still in the novel phase, my drafts alternated between her and Vercingetorix as the first person narrator. Then, when Commios entered the scene, she fell in love with him, much against her brother’s wishes. At this moment, she still functions as a link between Vercingetorix and the Belgic characters, but has receded a little in importance due to Ambiorix’s arrival. At this moment I do think I will let her end the story; I have cooked up a nice storyline for her involving … -no, I rather think I should keep that a surprise :P.

Rigantona is a female druid-in-training – yes, despite my reservations. I want her to be as closely involved in the war as can be, namely, as her brother’s advisor. That is a bit of a classic role for a woman, so I hope that brings some sort of balance to the fact that female druids are barely attested… I would like to use her unusual position to point at the differences between the Celtic peoples, and to show the influence of the proximity of Rome to the south of Gaul. Women are rather prominent in Irish literature and British politics, whereas they seem to have lost some privileges in the east. As Rigantona is the daughter of a conservative usurper who tried to reintroduce kingship to a republic, I thought her family might well have looked around to see how they could give her extra high status, and that they wouldn’t have been put off by the fact that a custom or notion they deemed useful was considered outdated. Britain was decidedly old-fashioned in the first century BC; British warriors still fought from chariots, for one thing, a practice that had become obsolete in Gaul; and as I mentioned when talking about Commios, coins were not yet in use there either. If the equal status of women has become history in Gaul, it might well survive in Britain for a while longer. So that is where Riga will be going. When she returns to her people, called back by her brother, you can bet that her exertion of authority will cause some of the gentlemen to grumble…

5. Volca

Volca is the most recent of all my characters, which means she still has the most room for development – she’s not entirely stable yet. In fact she has taken the place of several other female characters I had been considering for a larger part in the story; on Volca’s arrival, most of them have faded entirely. My original idea was to have a woman warrior; instead I have ended up with a young princess, which may not sound like an improvement (?), but I’m happy that she’s there. She’s nice. She is perhaps more conventional than Rigantona, but she represents another side of the story of the Gaulish war that deserves some attention too – that of the people who don’t take an active part in the battles and schemes, but get to bear the consequences of the actions of their kings. Volca’s plot will have little to do with politics (though there will be some) but rather play out on a personal level.

Volca is the daughter of Catuvolcos. I guess I invented her when I started thinking about the other characters’ households. Actually I don’t find it easy to estimate how large families were and how many people lived in one house. Should all my interior scenes be crowded with family and servants? How much privacy should people have? Nowadays in the West we tend to have rather a lot, because we live in very small units, but I suppose it was rare for people in ancient times to live alone. I still haven’t found answers to these questions. What I have done is given Catuvolcos a son and a daughter, Catutigirnios and Volca (as you can see, he isn’t very imaginative and has given his children bits of his own name – which isn’t nearly as bad as Comm’s family, which contains no less than three Comms *g*), and to Ambiorix four sisters, Avitoriga, Allicia, Abesa and Aia (with Ambiorix as the middle child). I’m afraid that so far, many mothers are dying in childbirth and fathers get killed defending their cattle and crops from raiders, because seriously, how on earth am I going to keep the cast in hand :/?

Because Volca is so new to my repertory, she is still undergoing changes. Basically she is supposed to look young – mid teens at the start of the story – and grow up to be … well, fine-looking but not stunning. I need to learn to draw a nice, complicated hairdo on her, though :-).

Romans. I haven’t even started on those yet. Caesar, Labienus, Volusenus, Mark Antony, Sabinus, Cotta and my very own Quintus Tullius Veridicus – here I come … one day … :D

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