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A real page-turner … a wonderfully nuanced novel
Very strongly recommended
Definitely worth reading
Scroll down to see Reviews * Excerpt from JOCASTA * Discussion Guide
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JOCASTA: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus, retells of the story that has been handed down to us for 2.5 millennia through Sophocles’ play, Oedipus Rex, in which King Oedipus of Thebes discovers that he has accidentally married his own mother. Instead of taking place in a single day, the novel covers 40 years in Bronze Age Thebes; instead of seeing the story from Oedipus’ perspective, JOCASTA gives her own version of the events. Queen Jocasta had all the clues, as she was certainly aware that her infant son had been ripped from her arms by her first husband to be set on a mountainside and left for dead. Did she ever realize she was married to her own son? And if so, what did she do about it?
“This is a riveting book about an intelligent woman to whom big events happen” – Mary Campbell, Associated Press
“A real page-turner . . . a
wonderfully nuanced novel that repays previous knowledge of its subject
matter - but never requires it” – Bob
“...very easy to stay engrossed
in Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood's story of Oedipus” – N. S. Gill, Ancient History About
“I don’t want to die.”
“But you will die, Sister.” Creon’s voice is firm, unyielding. “Your only choice is how. You can either take the poison I have brought you – quick and painless – or you can wait for the people to come and pull you to pieces.”
I shiver and feel the blood drain away from my veins.
My brother continues. “The soldiers and the priests will be here in the morning. If you are not already dead, they will drag you out of the palace into the agora. The people will scream curses at you; spit in your face; call you unnatural, a whore. They’ll strip off your fine clothing, take a lash to your soft skin. And, finally, they will tear you limb from limb.”
I look around my room in the palace where I have lived the last forty years. I imagine the mob forcing its way inside, smashing the ancient wooden clothes-chest and intricately carved chairs, knocking over the braziers and setting the building afire. Blood – mine – seeping into the tiles, staining the wool and linen of the cushions, spattering on the tapestries and the wall-paintings.
Like the blood on my dressing table: my husband’s blood, spilled by his own hand.
I slam my fist against the table, toppling a small ivory statue of the god Hermes. “It’s not fair! I’m not a criminal!”
My brother rights the god and then pushes the vial in my direction. “If I were you, Sister, I’d take the poison.”
“I have been a good queen! I have taken care of
Creon takes my hands and stills them. “Because it does matter. The priests and the people say it’s unnatural, against the laws of the gods. They want a royal sacrifice, to cleanse the curse. And you, Sister, are the most royal – and the most cursed.”
I pull away and step toward the door, then turn to look at him. “Can’t I escape?”
“The priests have watchers everywhere, even among the palace guard. You would never make it out of the city.”
“Jocasta, they know the truth.”
He’s right. The secrets of my life are now plain for all to see. And they are not pretty: like the last dregs in a golden cup, after the wine has drained away. And yet – and yet – I’m still healthy, still called beautiful. I’m too young to die.
“The question is, how long have you known it?” Creon asks.
I realize he is suspicious and angry, but I ignore the question; there are more urgent matters. “Maybe they’re not yet decided. If we speak to them…”
He shakes his gray head. “They’re waiting for morning,” he repeats. “The priests plan your punishment to take place in the light of day. They want to make an example of you for everyone to see.” Then, as if to soften the blow, Creon strokes my shoulder, my cheek. His fingers are dry and warm; lamplight glitters off the amethyst of his signet ring. “But you’re right. You have done so much for them, and they have forgotten in an instant. Perhaps someday they will remember that you, Jocasta of Thebes, were their greatest queen.”
“You speak as if I were already dead.”
“You are. I speak to your ghost.” His voice becomes matter-of-fact, and I know now he will not help me. “But your ghost has until sunrise to depart. This poison works quickly.”
“Till sunrise.” The sun has already set. How many hours are left to me?
Creon stands and pulls his cloak around his shoulders. “I’ll be back before dawn. Keep the vial at hand; you’ll need it. Good-bye, Jocasta.”
He opens the door into the corridor and walks through it; I will never see him again. My own way is blocked by two soldiers. Up until yesterday they would have given their lives to save mine; their stony expressions tell me their allegiance is gone. But beyond the renegade men stand two women: Merope, the patient maidservant who has attended me all her life, and my younger daughter Ismene.
Merope walks calmly past the guards into my room; my daughter gives them a nervous look and darts through. Merope, usually so quiet, speaks. “My lady, we did not want you to be alone.”
My daughter, her face shiny with tears, slips into my arms. “Mother? Is it true?”
I hold her a moment, a precious moment, and think: what should I tell her? But if I must be dead by dawn, what is the point of lies? I look down into her blue eyes, so like my own, and say, “My darling, I’m afraid it is.”
“Then, Father—? How could you?”
How could I? That is the question. “Do you really want to know?”
Ismene’s voice is soft. “Yes, I do.”
I search her face. She, too, is an unwitting victim of Fate. Wouldn’t she be better served by truth? Besides, I am tired of lies, tired of keeping silence; and these hours of night are my last chance to talk.
“Come.” I take her by the hand, and lead her to the bed that I shared with her father and her grandfather. We sit down together on the striped coverlet and I put my arm around her slender shoulders. Merope quietly pulls up a stool and sits where she can listen easily, but so that her scarred face is shrouded by darkness.
“Listen,” I say, as I open my chest of long-suppressed memories. “Listen, and I will tell you.”
1. In Jocasta, blindness is a recurring theme. Who is blind literally? Who is blind figuratively? Who has the clearest vision of what is happening?
2. In Jocasta, the characters – Jocasta, Oedipus, Creon, Menoeceus, Melanthe, Niobe – all have different attitudes toward the gods. Compare and contrast them.
3. If you are familiar with Sophocles play, Oedipus Rex, compare it with the version of the myth told in Jocasta.
4. In Jocasta, three different people served as the Tiresias. Which do you think was the most human? Could they all see the future equally well?
5. If you are familiar with the myth about the Sphinx controlling Thebes, contrast it with the version related in Jocasta. Which version seems most likely? Do you think something else really happened?
6. Did Jocasta trust Oedipus more than she trusted Creon?
7. Was Jocasta right to ask Pelorus to save her baby?
8. Do you think Jocasta was a good queen? Why or why not?
9. If you are familiar with the myth of Niobe and the death of her children, how does the version in Jocasta differ?
10. Jocasta, Laius and Oedipus were all a part of the prophecy that Oedipus would kill Laius and marry Jocasta. Compare and contrast their reactions when they learned their fate.
The Tapestry of Bronze is a series of interlocking novels set in ancient Greece, starting several generations before the Trojan War. Archaeological evidence indicates that this “Golden Age of Heroes” aligns with Bronze Age dates. Our series forms a tapestry, because the books tie together, though each novel focuses on one strand of story. Jocasta, Children of Tantalus, The Road to Thebes and Arrows of Artemis are available for purchase today. And more are in the works!
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