Monday, 23 April 2018


The Arrow of Apollo by Philip Womack


Iulus is also known as Ascanius; he is the first son of Aeneas, by his Trojan wife, Creusa. In myth, he is led out of Troy by his father. All sorts of things happen to Iulus: in Virgil's Aeneid, he is largely the cause of the war between the Latins and the Trojans, when he shoots a pet stag belonging to one of the Latins.

He's also meant to be the original founder of the line of the Julians, which of course continues on into Julius Caesar and his great-nephew Augustus, hence endowing the Julio-Claudians with divine heritage (as Venus is Aeneas' mother) and with a direct link to their mythical past. It is rather like our own Queen Elizabeth II, who is, naturally, descended from the god Woden.

In The Arrow of Apollo, Iulus is Silvius's elder brother: rather arrogant, he teases his little brother, and has been given his own town of Alba Longa to rule.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Thursday, 5 April 2018


Latinus offerring Lavinia to Aeneas
The Arrow of Apollo by Philip Womack


The second wife of Aeneas (his first, Creusa, having perished at Troy), Lavinia was the daughter of King Latinus, a native Italian. She was betrothed to Turnus, a local chieftain; but there was a prophecy which stated that Lavinia should marry a stranger. Hence, when Aeneas arrived, Latinus gave his daughter to the settler. Naturally, there was trouble, and the second half of the Aeneid deals with the war between Aeneas and Turnus. The poem ends with Aeneas killing Turnus (as the Iliad ends with Achilles killing Hector); there were various continuations of the story in later times,  including a 13th book of the Aeneid in which Lavinia and Aeneas get married;  but there is very little in the texts about Lavinia herself.

Virgil describes her as blonde; she is also the subject of an omen, when her hair catches fire, promising future glory. The late, lamented Ursula Le Guin wrote an interesting account of her, Lavinia, in which Virgil is projected backwards in time and sees his subject - he’d got her hair colour wrong, of course.

In THE ARROW OF APOLLO, Lavinia is fleshed out. She is the proud queen of a new, bustling city; she is a healer; she has privileged contacts with divine creatures. She advises Aeneas, being a diplomatic bridge between the new settlers and the original inhabitants,  and runs the palace household - including her stepson, Iulus; her son, Silvius; and his friend, the half-Carthaginian Elissa. 


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Literary Review Children's Book Round Up April 2018

I've rounded up some of the latest children's books for Literary Review. The piece is available here.

The books reviewed are: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M T Anderson
The Ice Garden by Guy Jones
Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy
The Invasion by Peadar O'Guilin
Hari and His Electric Feet by Alexander McCall Smith (illustrated by Sam Usher)
A Lion is a Lion by Polly Dunbar.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018


Aeneas fleeing Troy (Barocci)
THE ARROW OF APOLLO by Philip Womack



Aeneas was a Trojan prince. His father, Anchises, was a first cousin of Priam, King of Troy; his mother was the goddess Aphrodite, who at one point during the fighting pulled him off the battlefield, veiled in mist. When the Greeks eventually attacked at night with the Trojan Horse, Aeneas rallied his men and fought hard; when it became apparent that the city was lost, he collected a group of survivors, including his son Iulus, and took them on a long journey around the Mediterranean.

Along the way he had many adventures; including meeting Helenus, another exiled Trojan prince, who had founded a city. Aeneas' love for Dido, Queen of Carthage is well known, and its tragic outcome matter for much music and art.

When the Trojans finally reached Italy, they entered into a war with the local Latins, which they eventually won; Aeneas married a Latin princess, Lavinia, with whom he had a son, Silvius.

Aeneas is an important figure in THE ARROW OF APOLLO, providing advice to Silvius, and also relating to the general theme of fathers and sons. He is deeply protective of Silvius, a half-Latin, half-Trojan boy, who represents the future of his new state.

In art Aeneas is usually depicted leaving Troy, carrying his father on his back and leading his little son by the hand, representing the virtue of duty for which he was renowned. Virgil's great poem, The Aeneid, is not only one of the most beautiful things in existence, but is also a clever riff on its predecessors, The Iliad and The Odyssey: Virgil was moulding a new hero, for a new time. In THE ARROW OF APOLLO, Aeneas is ageing. Will he be able to let his son take up new challenges to keep the city safe?

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Homecomings: The "Nostoi": The background to The Arrow of Apollo

The Trojan War itself lasted for 10 years. The story of how the siege was eventually won is famous: the horse that was built and left on the shore as a gift; that was dragged into the rejoicing city; and that in fact was a devious trap, full of Greek soldiers, who slipped out at night and caused carnage.

There are many other stories in the Trojan Cycle: such as when Achilles fought Penthesilea, the Queen of the Amazons, and fell in love with her as he killed her; or when Memnon, Prince of the Dawn, arrived from Ethiopia with his army. Achilles himself was killed by an arrow in his ankle, so they say, shot by Paris.

After the siege finished, there were many horrors: Hector's son Astynanax killed; Priam's daughter, Polyxena, was called for as a sacrifice by the hungry ghost of Achilles; Ajax the Greater went mad and slaughtered sheep; the Trojan Women are enslaved. But some Trojans did escape: notably, prince Aeneas, who went on, after many travels, to found a city in Italy.

And then the Greeks went home. Some say that Menelaus, stopping at Egypt, was shocked to discover that Helen had been there all the time, and that the Helen in Troy was simply a phantasm. Others say that was a fiction, made only to save Helen's reputation. But one by one they reached home, and went back to the business of their farms and towns. 

Two homecomings were more famous: Odysseus, whose travels made the matter for another epic poem; and Agamemnon. 

When King Agamemnon returned home, it was not to be greeted joyfully by Clytemnestra. She had been nursing revenge in her heart all this time; and so, she, with the help of Aegisthus, slew her husband and his concubine Cassandra. Agamemnon's son Orestes returned later; and with his sister Electra, they too took revenge on their mother and Aegisthus. 

This is where The Arrow of the Apollo picks up the thread: years later, when Orestes is getting old; he has settled his debt with the Furies, and he has a son, Tisamenos. And Aeneas, too, had a son, Silvius: myth and legend do not record much about them, and so there is a satisfyingly blank space where a writer can fill in a story. 

The stage is then set for The Arrow of Apollo: taking place at the end of an era of gods and heroes, and looking forward to a new age.