Family, Vengeance, and Law in SONS OF SPARTA
Posted by Barbara Leavy on Oct 2 2014, 2:51 PM
     Like the previous five books in Jeffrey Siger’s six Andreas Kaldis books, Sons of Sparta is a page-turner.  It would hardly be a surprise, however, if most of Siger’s readers pause for significant moments after the stunner that they find on the first page.  They will later be astonished by an unexpected and startling conclusion to the mystery, in which a family’s century-old history reaches its climax.  It will be a mystery that goes well beyond the revelation of whodunit, for why it occurred will continue to confound Andreas and his investigative team—and the reader—until the end.
     This is the episode that Yianni Kouros recalls as he obeys a summons by his uncle to return to the Mani, the southern-most section of mainland Greece, where Kouros’s family roots are.  Since Siger’s first book, Murder in Mykonos, Kouros has worked with Andreas, first on Mykonos as an upstart rookie cop, and now as Andreas’s right-hand man who, nonetheless, still calls Kaldis “chief.”  In the early 1900s, a medical student in Athens is called back by his father to the Mani. When he arrives after a journey of several days, his father, his sister, and her lover stand before him while his father tells him that his sister has disgraced the family by becoming pregnant by her lover and that he, her brother, is to kill them both on the spot.  They run but their executioner catches up with them and shoots them to death.  He stands trial for murder, but the clan tradition overrides the law.  Before the judge can render a verdict, his own mother stands up in court and shouts at him a reminder that he had once killed his own sister for the same reason.  And the accused is found not guilty.
     So early in the book, it is difficult even to speculate on all her motives. But in the context of comes later in Sons of Sparta, they appear quite complex.  In forcing her son to respect the traditions of the Mani, she may be expressing a long pent-up resentment that he had killed her daughter and be making him face his role in a family catastrophe. Or, because women have a large part to play in the Mani vendetta tradition, she may be asserting female power and influencing the trial’s outcomes.  Or she may be an avatar of the Furies, those fierce Greek mythological figures for whom revenge killing was justice and for whom the killing of a blood relative the most heinous of crimes.  At first thought, such a connection might seem weakened by the fact that in Aeschylus play, Eumenides, the Furies want Orestes, who had murdered his mother Clytemnestra as revenge for her part in the slaying of his father Agamemnon, whereas in Sons of Sparta the judge’s mother is agitating for an acquittal.  What she and the Furies have in common, however, is that both of them are on the side of personal revenge, which they affirm during a supposedly formal trial in a court of law.  The acquittal of Kouros’s grandfather is a reaffirmation of the Mani form of justice.  The judge’s mother supplies another instance in Sons of Sparta in which two forms of law conflict.
     Personal revenge exacts its own retribution.  In Greek tragedy, Orestes is pursued by the Furies, who in Euripides even more than in Aeschylus appear symbolic of guilt and remorse.  In Euripides’ play Electra, the sister who had urged Orestes to kill their mother, will remind him that that she had in a sense lain a hand on the sword he plunged into their mother.  Guilt and retribution are very explicit in Sons of Sparta. Kouros’s uncle tells him that Kouros’s grandfather had spent the rest of his life atoning for his murder of his sister, combating his personal furies by returning to the Mani to practice medicine, paying particular attention to the needs of his female patients.  He had himself been immune from a revenge killing because the Mani needed doctors.  Ironically, even vendettas were regulated by a counsel of Maniots who decided who might be murdered and by whom. At the heart of Sons of Sparta is, again, the conflict between blood feuds and an official system of law and order a conflict that in ancient Greece is exemplified by the crime and trial of Orestes, about whom more will be said in the discussion below.
     The acquittal of Kouros’s grandfather is followed by other events that can be seen as the fallout from his murder of his sister.  Yianni Kouros owes his very life to his grandfather’s decision to protect Kouros’s father and one of his sisters by sending them away from the Mani to Athens, away from any further revenge killings.  Kouros recalls his family history as he makes the drive from Athens to obey his uncle’s demand that he return “home” immediately.  His uncle too had survived, two of his brothers dyng in a revenge killing and Kouros’s father of natural causes.  Having recognized that it was the banditry for which the Mani was known that had financed his father’s medical education, Kouros’s uncle had skillfully neutralized his enemies by uniting them in a kind of crime empire from which all profited, perpetuating such criminal acts as piracy and smuggling.
     Kouros is puzzled by his uncle’s summons: he knows that he will not be asked to kill anyone, but he is still uneasy.  He worries that he will be asked for something that will compromise his position as an honest police officer.  He had crossed over to what his family would call the “other side,” having gone in Siger’s series from an audacious rookie who had to be put in his place in Murder in Mykonos to “right hand to Adreas Kaldis, feared chief of the Greek police’s national anticrime and political corruption division.  As it was, how to be both a policeman and also honest was pressure enough in Greece, a problem that Siger depicts throughout his series as a theme particularly pronounced in the first book, Murder in Mykonos. Would Kouros’s family add to those pressures?
     To add to his concern, Kouros feels that although he is part of a family that still lives or has roots in the Mani, returning home only for infrequent visits, he still remains an outsider.  And while he is treated as family in a country where family is paramount in importance despite the paradoxical Mani code of behavior that would sanction the killing of a sister by the brother who is defending the family’s honor, Kouros never throughout Sons of Sparta loses his sense of being both within and also outside the family circle. (The subject of family and personal identity in Sons of Sparta will be returned to.) But he is definitely inside the circle as he sits down to dine with his uncle and cousins and learns why he has been summoned.  His uncle has gathered his family around him to inform them that he is going to lease, not sell, some of his property to a developer who wants to build a resort with a golf course and an airstrip to bring in tourists.  All of those around the table, he assures them, will share equally in the profits of this venture.  While his cousins have various reactions to this news, Kouros is only surprised by hearing that he might have an independent income to add to his salary as a policeman.  He has not lived in the Mani and so the impact of his uncle’s decision is not the same as it is for his cousins. Only later will he realize that his windfall would have been ill-gotten gain. What Kouros does not expect is that his uncle will die before the deal he had put together is finalized.  And that he, Kouros, will investigate what he believes to be a murder in order to fend off the possibility that his hot-headed cousin Mangas will arrive qat the same conclusion and take personal revenge on those he only suspects were his father’s killer or killers.  Kouros envisions a full-scale blood-feud breaking out again in the Mani, a virtual if localized war.  He will later be astonished to realize that it is not Mangas but another member of their family who urges that such a war begin.
     Siger’s Andreas Kaldis series belongs to the genre of mystery writing known as the police procedural, whose opposite would be the single private investigator who alone is featured in a series: Philip Marlowe, for example. The procedural has many advantages, because an author can achieve variety by focusing on different members of an investigative team.  In the Kaldis series in particular this kind of change allows for many possibilities because Siger’s books are set in different parts of Greece: two in Mykonos, one each in Athens, Patmos, and Tinos, and now one in the Mani.  One of the major characters in the series, Tassos Stamatos, lives and works on the island of Syros, where he is the chief homicide investigator for the Cyclades islands.  If a member of Andreas’s team comes from the place his book is set in, the unique quality of the area in Greece can be highlighted.  This is certainly true of Kouros’s roots in the Mani, probably the least known  parts of Greece—if known at all—by Siger’s readers.  Those who have followed the series will remain curious about where Kaldis #7 is set.
     The Mani lies at the southern tip of the Pelopennese peninsula, itself the southern most part of mainland Greece and in fact all of mainland Europe.  A gas station in the area owned by someone with a sense of humor displays a small sign cautioning “Last Gas Station in Europe.”  Two seas, the Aegean and the Ionian, come together at the Mani, and according to Greek mythology that is where the gate to Hades can be found.  And to read of the blood feuds in the area that went on for generations, and the vast number of ensuing fatalities, is to think that those who lived in the Mani must have thought themselves always on the verge of death and the journey to hell.  The most famous city in the Pelopennese is Sparta, which is renowned for producing warriors, for emphasikzing military training and in this way was the opposite of Athens, famous for being the birthplace of democraqcy and the Western humanities.  After defeating Athens, Sparts reigned supreme for a time until it too went into a decline.  According to legend the city became deserted and its population disappeared.  For the Maniots, the Spartans left their city and settled in the Mani.  As he drives to his uncle’s home, Kouros “recalled his father blasting anyone who dared question the Mani’s claim to Spartan origins.”
     The Maniots were proud of their fierce history as “pirates, highwaymen,” and warriors who defeated every foreign country that tried to invade it. Kouros will have to reconcile being a cop with his roots in a place known for its brigands, where his family, made prosperous by crime, cannot be ignored by him. At the same time, back in Athens, Andreas is called on to battle a different form of invasion, the accessing of Greece by foreigners who profited from Greek corruption by buying from those who will sell to them—property; influence; a base for criminal operations such as selling drugs illegally smuggled into the country; a place from which to ship arms to the highest bidder without concern for why they are being bought; and a conduit for human trafficking, such as women forced into sex slavery.
     Because there is a call by Greek citizens to crack down on corruption, and because Greek officials are doing business with these outsiders, Andreas is called upon by Spiros Renatis, Minister of Public Order, who has been Andreas’s nemesis since the first book in the series, to investigate the claim concerning Greek corruption in Crete, where vast natural gas resources exist.  Spiros is being pressured by opposing parties in the matter favored the other.  Andreas is to investigate the matter and make recommendations that will get both sides off Spiros’s back.  Andreas therefore faces two problems, doing what Spiros asks would be as easy as finding the lost continent of Atlantis; and he has to protect himself from Spiros, who is capable of wriggling out of blame by passing it on to Andreas.
     At some point in the book, the investigations of Kouros and Andreas converge.  And another member of both family and team is introduced into the series—even if his role is completely inadvertent.  About the history of the Mani, it is said that no foreign invasion lasted long because “the Mani had a tendency to burn a dabbler’s finger.”  Andreas’s fingers are not burned but are smeared with finger paints while he is playing with his son Tassaki in a rare moment of one-on-one togetherness.  It is then that Andreas arrives at a critical insight concerning how Kouros’s uncle was murdered in such a way as to make it appear an accident.  The interaction between Andreas and Tassaki creates a charming interlude in Sons of Sparta, but its significance goes beyond the enjoyment readers will experience and even beyond an important plot device.  Tassaki enters the book not as just a child who unexpectedly supplies an important clue to a mystery, but one whose presence in the story can serve as a backdrop for less happy parent-child relationships, the most extreme example occurring when Kouros’s great-grandfather ordered his daughter be killed by her own brother.  Tassaki is family and importance of family relations in Sons of Sparta has already been discussed and will be so again in more detail.
     In the Kaldis series, Andreas has two of what in the vocabulary of crime fiction are often referred to as sidekicks (and a third one may have been introduced in Sons of Sparta, Siger’s readers perhaps meeting him again in later books). Again, in most police procedurals there will be a chief investigator and a varying number of others who take an active part in the investigation.  But usually the chief will retain the focus of the series’s interest, such as Steve Carella in Ed McBain’s 87th precinct books.  Sometimes the official member of the force will leave the police and one of his sidekicks will also leave and become his partner.  This can be exemplified in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux-Clete Purcell books; and Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole-Joe Pike series.  What Siger does can be distinguished from the latter books.  Andreas and his sidekicks, Tassos and Kouros, remain in the police department always under the threat of being fired and losing pensions if they cross some official who can make this happen. In Murder in Mykonos, Andreas’s main investigative partner is Tassos, whose useful connections are not always on the right side of the law.  He is two generations older than Kouros and when he reappears in Sons of Sparta, his connections are critical to solving the mystery at the heart of this book: why Kouros’s uncle was murdered rather than who killed him, which is discovered about midway in the book.  Again, Kouros was a young rookie policeman in Mykonos, whose first meeting with Andreas is that of an arrogant aned aggressive young man who does not realize he is being disrespectful to the person who will be his chief.  In Sons of Sparta Kouros has, as Tassos points out, “matured.”
     Perhaps because he is the youngest in the trio of Tassos, Andreas, and Kouros, the latter has not up to now had reason to probe his past, his roots if not his residence in the Mani.  But as he is drawn into his family’s history and drama, Kouros becomes more and more in psychological touch with his origins.  But because he has left the region and has become a policeman and thus opposed to vendettas as instruments of justice, he is also able to look at the Maniots with some distance and even some judgment.  But Maniots are also his family, and, again, family is the underpinning of Greek life. As a result, Kouros is caught between cultures and how he works out his own role and makes decisions about his actions is essential to his appearance in Sons of Sparta. It is the character in a story who experiences the greatest conflict who is ually held to be its focus of interest.  In that sense Sons of Sparta is Kouros’s book in the Andreas Kaldis series. This is not to say, however, that Andreas’s role is a minor one.
     Andreas has also matured since Murder in Mykonos, when pragmatism about how the justice system worked conflicted with the strong ethics he had inherited from his own father, who had committed suicide when he was set up to appear a corrupt cop.  Andreas knows that in a minute Spiros would make him a scapegoaqt to take whatever blame ensues from Spiros’s response to the popular cry to prosecute the corrupt.   Andreas too must protect himself, for his job is very important to him even though he is married to Lila, from one of the wealthiest and most socially prominent families in Athens.  This unexpected turn in his life is one he must still accommodate himself to.  His position in a crime-fighting unit of the police is his commitment to decency in the law, to doing what he can to prevent criminal foreigners from buying Greece, and—although this can be read in Sons of Sparta despite its not being spelled out—to preserving his own identity in Lila’s world.  For this reason he needs his job and extracts from Spiros a guarantee that he will not be held responsible for whatever he uncovers about Crete that is unwelcome for those in power in Greece.  And he makes it very clear to Spiros that he can enforce the guarantee he requires.  He does not yet realize how his inquiries concerning Crete as well as his attempts to protect himself will intersect with Kouros’s investigation into what Kouros believes is his uncle’s murder.
     Sons of Sparta then remains Andreas’s despite the space given to Kouros whose conflicts illuminate the themes of Siger’s book, family relations in Greek culture and competing forms of justice—and the interaction of these. It is Andreas who is able to establish without doubt how Kouros’s uncle was murdered.  It is he who with the help of Tassos is able to explain why the murder took place, for this is the mystery that persists after the murderer is identified.  It is Andreas with the help of /Tassos who identifies who engineered the death of Kouros’s uncle, and it is because of them that the culprit is located and is liable either to conviction in a court of law or a revenge killing.  To complicate matters, both Andreas and Tassos know that what they have learned will come as a blow to Kouros, whose conflicts throughout the book will reach their most intense point when what happened to Kouros’s uncle is disclosed.
     Kouros’s conflicts rest on the fact that the investigation into his uncle’s death is made necessary because of family ties.  To say this is to seem too obvious. Virtually all of Siger’s readers have families and to have a family is inevitably to confront situations that generate conflict.  But to read Sons of Sparta is to realize how culture-specific are family ties in the Mani.  And how often some aspect of family will be a double-edged sword that cuts two ways.  Families involve one ambiguity in Sons of Sparta as a book shot through with ambiguity concerning not only family ties but also the roles of women and mothers, the preservation and decline of cultures, the advantages and disadvantages of strong codes of behavior, and the way in which law serves or fails to serve justice.
     When Kouros is summoned peremptorily by his uncle to the Mani, he is given no hint of what he will face.  It is a “family matter” his uncle explains.  Readers may be well into the book before realizing that Kouros’s uncle has never been given a name in a book in which Siger’s choice of names proves thematically significant.  While the uncle, who becomes a murder victim early in the book, is a very individualized character, the lack of a name emphasizes his abstract role within the family and the abstract role of family itself. Family equals identity.  In Sons of Sparta it sets its members apart from, the the narrow sense, those in other families, and in a wider sense, those who are not Maniots.
     Like Kouros’s father, his uncle insists that the Maniots are sons of Sparta.  When Kouros sits down to eat with his uncle and cousins, the former reminds them, “Our ancestors have lived on this land for hundreds of years.  We are Mani.  No one can ever change that.  No government, no foreigners, no neighbors.”   Not that Kouros’s uncle embraces everything about ther Maniots; to the contrary, he repudiates one of its motable features: “I abhorred our Mani blood feud history and did whatever I could to prevent that plague from spreading.” He is known for having brought peace to the region—if in a morally questionable fashion—uniting otherwise warring families by the common pursuit of profits from criminal activities.
     After his uncle’s death, as Kouros begins to investigate it, he meets with his uncle’s “coffee buddies,” men his uncle met every morning before he started his day.  When Kouros, in part to ingratiate himself with these men who can perhaps clear up many mysteries, says, “I’m sure you were more like family to my uncle than I was,” they vehemently reject the compliment.” “We are not family. Family is one thing. Everything else is something else.”  At first they speak to Kouros as the nephew of the man who was their friend. He was not family but he was still a Maniot, one of them.  But when Kouros starts to question them and they recognize that they are being interrogated, the camaraderie ceases and they clam up.  They also shift the way they perceive Kouros’s identity as his uncle’s nephew with roots in the Mani: “End of story, detective.” Ironically, later, when Kouros violates some of the code that should regulate a police officer’s behavior, Andreas, his chief, remind him, “You had your fun last night. Now it’s back to work, Detective.”  This time the word is capitalized, emphasizing Kouros’s need to achieve some kind of self-identity that accommodates his defining work with other aspects of his life.
     In the fictional treatment of identity, self-identity is a central and very complex theme. The cliché that became a rallying cry some decades ago, “I have to find myself,” strongly applies to Kouros. It was a cry that in recent decades had to do with young people trying to distance themselves from the conservative conventions of family life.  Because in the Mani, family is such a complicated matter, Kouros’s ability to define himself is equally complicated.  At one point in their investigation, he tells Andras he will not lie to his family. But he cannot tell them the whole truth without compromising his and Andreas’s ability  to solve the full mystery of his uncle’s death, so he amends this declaration of family loyalty by deciding he will not lie but will only disclose some of what he has learned. Finally, he has to face the full truth and become the source of knowledge “who blew his happy family apart.”  Andreas and Tassos feel the pain of his predicament. “It’s your family. What do you want us to do?”
     As a Maniot and member of what in the Mani is a prominent family, Kouros finds his responsibility as a law enforcement officer in question.  As a cop, he remains outside the family circle, although his family actually takes pride in his achievements. Kouros’s uncle believes that his nephew and his own son, Mangas, have the same attitude towards family and therefore will never really be in conflict.  His uncle is mistaken, however. Kouros thinks his hot-headed cousin is quite capable of starting another blood feud over the death of his father, even without being sure of the killer’s identity, acting on suspicion alone.  Preventing this from happening is an ongoing concern for Kouros, who therefore must constantly be aware of sitting between two worlds, and in his roles as both family and also law enforcement officer, what is given to him with one hand, is taken away with the other.
     Two other aspects of family life depicted in Sons of Sparta are important to consider. One has to do with the downside to family relations in the Mani.  Families provide protection but they also require that their members avenge any offense against them, whether it be a matter of insult or murder. One of his uncle’s coffee buddies is identifiable in terms of how his family had “exchanged vendetta killings with Kouros’s family.” And death as vengeance exists not only from family to family but within a single family. For if the offense occurs within a family, such as a woman’s becoming pregnant when not married, it is a relative who becomes judge, jury, and executioner. Kouros’s grandfather had, after all, killed his own sister to protect the family’s honor and, perhaps equally significant, to obey his father’s command that he do so. How the person who enacts the revenge is chosen is a point that will be returned to, for it is extremely important in Mani culture and in Siger’s book. But there is a heavy price to be paid for a tradition that might horrify an outsider but at least on the surface be accepted by a Maniot. Kouros’s uncle is aware of the perpetual sorrow that descended on his family when his father killed his own sister over a point of honor.  His uncle seems to be musing more than portraying a family reality when he says, “They were all sad people.  Sad every day of their lives.” He himself had decided that he must dispose of his assets in such a way as to prevent one member of his family—whether it be son or nephew—from turning on another.  But as the worldly wise Tassos will remark, “Family members cutting each other’s throats over property isn’t unheard of. Not in Greece and certainly not in the Mani.”  It is obvious from the time that Kouros’s uncle describes his plans to lease the family land that his sons do not similarly view what he has in mind,  On one side, it is part of their family’s and the Mani’s tradition to make money where it can be made.  On the other, their piece of land is part of a history that defines who they are.
     It would be unfair to the Maniots to think that all families would have the daughters who shamed them killed without trying to find some other way to deal with their dishonor. The Greek-American anthropologist C. Nadia Seremetakis whose origins are in the Mani, reports on some families whose daughters have become pregnant without being married and who do what families all over the world have done in similar circumstances.  When the pregnancy becomes obvious, they find an excuse to take the pregnant woman to some other place where the baby could be born and, presumably, adopted.  Seremetakis recounts a very sad story that reveals, however, how deeply ingrained in Mani culture is the idea that such daughters should pay with their lives for shaming their families.  One set of parents, whose daughter was the only child whom they doted on, took her to a place reputed to cure the illness they claimed she had, to deliver her baby.  But some men in the village had their own ideas.  They cast lots to decide which of them would kill the daughter behind the backs of her parents. Still, after her death, her parents refrained from any revenge killing; it wouldn’t bring back their beloved child. Seremetakis’s example of family love also touches, as will be seen shortly, on the place of women in Mani culture about which she has written an entire book. But it also illustrates how deeply ingrained among many Maniots is the idea that some codes of behavior may not under any circumstances be violated. His uncle tells Kouros that his great-grandmother “never uttered a word to her husband about his decision to have their daughter killed, but he knew she never forgave him. He’d murdered her pride and joy.” And Kouros will be a Maniot who has to grapple with a similar if not identical situation, knowing that his family might never forgive him for being the messenger who brought them bad news.
     The aspect of family life that stands out very clearly in Sons of Sparta and casts a different light on family as some kind of abstract entity with its own codes and conventions, is the family united by bonds of affection.  It is here that Andreas’s toddler son Tassaki’s role in Sons of Sparta becomes more than a charming interlude in a book whose subject is grim. When Andreas has some unusual free time, he thinks of various ways to spend it and decides to go home to his family. Lila is out for the evening with, significantly, her mother, and Andreas has a chance to be alone with his son.  That this is not a frequent occasion is a theme to be found in many mysteries: it accounts for why so many members of the police, both men and women investigators, come into conflict with or lose their families.  In an earlier Kaldis book, Target Tinos, Andreas calls home while he is on a case and inquires after Tassaki, to which Lila sarcastically drawls, he is waiting for his father to come home.  In Sons of Sparta, Kouros’s uncle is not connected to his family so much by blood as by the fact that he loves them. Not only does he find it unthinkable that his father killed his own sister, but he is equally appalled by his grandfather’s issuing the order. “Until the day I die, I will never understand what drove my grandfather to have my father kill his sister. She was his daughter.” He goes on, “there is nothing more important to me than my children. Nothing.”  
     There are intimations in Sons of Sparta that the enormity of what he had done was finally driven home to Kouros’s great-grandfather. When he loses some of his own children to the blood feud he had unleashed, he commits a kind of suicide.  Contracting pneumonia, he chooses not to seek treatment, especially from the son whose medical education he had financed, and whom he had ordered to kill his sister.  He takes to his bed and allows himself to die with his wife sitting by, not taking any action of her own, such as summoning their son to heal his father. She would not, apparently, defy her husband but it was her daughter as well as his that died, driving her into a lifetime of pain she had few ways of venting. As will be seen, the funeral lament, the miralogia, will be a way for women to vent strong feelings, but nothing is said in Sons of Sparta about the miralogias after the death of Calliope, the sister killed by Kouros’s grandfather, nor is it told who recited them.
     Part of family traditions in the Mani has to do with the naming of a child.  Thus Kouros is known as Athens Yianni so as not to confuse him with cousins similarly named Yianni.  Some of the names in Sons of Sparta are very meaningful and are not likely to have been arbitrarily chosen by Siger.  Calliope and Orestes are obvious examples. Unlike the name Orestes, probably familiar to reads who have some knowledge of Greek mythology and tragedy, the name Calliope is unlikely to strike the same kind of chord. Calliope is one of the nine muses, indeed, the most important of the muses because she is the muse of epic poetry.  One scholar of Greek myth refers to her “powerful voice” and this would underscore the place of the epic among poetic genres.  In Sons of Sparta, Kouros’s cousin Calliope, named after the murdered sister of her grandfather, chants the miralogia over her father’s death, mesmerizing those other mourners who hear her.  First, it is not usual to chant the funeral lament at the funeral itself as Calliope does it. Second, her mirologia involves a powerful voice invoking a powerful revenge tradition.
     It goes without saying that it is Homer whom the Greeks would consider their most important writer, the symbol of high Greek culture.  The epic itself in Western literature was for centuries the most esteemed of poetic forms, to be reserved for the most serious and exalted of subjects.  In English literature, the folk epic Beowulf is taken to be an episode from England’s Anglo-Saxon history and its connection to Scandinavia, however fictitious its story elements.  John Milton had as his ambition to write an epic: his subject, the Fall of Man, came later.  And when Alexander Pope wrote his famous mock epic, “The Rape of the Lock,” it was not the epic form that he was mocking.  Instead, by using the epic form (very shortened), which was to be about serious events, he was reinforcing the triviality of an episode that occurred among his friends. A young woman carried on because a would-be suitor cut off and stole a lock of her hair.  In Sons of Sparta, the name Calliope, given to the daughter of a man she was believed was murdered and should be avenged, reinforces the significance of her mirologia because of its association with the epic.  And the funeral lament itself can be found in Greek tragedies that took their subjects from Homer’s two famous epics about the Trojan War, its beginning and its end.
     More can be said about Siger’s use of the name Calliope. According to one account of the muse, she was the mother of Orpheus.  Two aspects of the Orpheus story should be noted here.  Orpheus is famous as a singer, his lyre often part of visual images that portray him.   Calliope’s funeral lament is not just the chanting of words but an entire performance, even if not as subdued as what Orpheus’s lyre signifies.  As Calliope chanted, she “drew one hand down from pulling at her hair and began pounding on her chest in keeping with the slow rhythmic beat of her mirologia to her father.” She signs to other women mourners to join her, and Kouros’s mother is the first to do so.  Soon “one emotional outburst fed another as wailing women pulled at their hair, scratched their faces, and shouting blessings for the departed.
     The most popular story about Orpheus, however, is his descent into the otherworld, the realm of the dead, to reclaim his deceased wife Eurydice. In the Mani, according to Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose travels there resulted in a classic book about the region, Orpheus’s descent defines the Mani attitude toward death. “There is, in practice, little belief in a conventional after-life and the rewards and sanctions of Christian dogma. In spite of the orthodox formulae of the priest at the graveside, it is not for a Christian eternity in paradise above the sky that the dead are setting out, but the Underworld, the shadowy house of Hades and the dread region of Charon; and Charon has been promoted from the rank of ferryman of the dead to that of Death himself.”  
     The Mani rituals of death have strong gender significance, and gender also proves noteworthy in the Orpheus-Eurydice story.  Orpheus fails in his attempt to retrieve his wife from Hades, too weak to adhere to the conditions for getting Eurydice back. Although prohibited from doing so, he looks back to assure himself that she is indeed following him back to the world. But so too is Psyche driven to hold up a lamp to identify the mysterious lover who visits her only at night even though she has been warned not to try to know who he is.  Still, it is interesting that in the worldwide existence of a taboo whose violation means the loss of one’s spouse, women are more likely than men to get them back. Psyche and Cupid are reunited; Orpheus loses Eurydice forever. These gender distinctions are extremely complex in their meanings and cannot be reduced to simplistic explanations.  Much depends on who is telling a story and the character with whom the narrator identifies. In Sons of Sparta, Calliope’s brothers are embarrassed by their sister’s performance of the mirologia in which their sister exemplifies the unrestrained emotions associated with women.  But “there was nothing they could do.  This was their sister’s time.”  And, according to Seremetakis, their space.
     Because her family origins were in the Mani, Maniot women Seremetakis spoke to were willing to share with her their experiences and tell her things no outsider, much less a male outsider, would elicit from them.  Maniot women, she writes (although she is describing cultural phenomena that are fast disappearing), “move discreetly and swiftly in their towers and through the narrow streets between towers [the tall fortress-like structures described by Fermor in which families lived to protected them from enemies during blood feuds and which are a distinguishing feature of the Mani landscape]. They move close to walls and avoid public spaces defined as male.  They emerge from the low entrances and exits of their tower-houses of their tower-houses from underneath a heavy load of wood or water carried on their backs, only to bend again over a rocky terrain during agricultural work, over an open or covered grave in the cemetery, over the protected cisterns at the bottom of their towers.  When the ‘whisper’ of death comes, these bent women, creatures of the back alleys, stand up. They stretch their upper body and throw the head back, pulling out their loosened hair.  They raise fists against the sky, beating their chests in anger, scratching their faces, screaming.  It is then that one sees Maniot women in their full height.”
     Seremetakis has this to say about the kind of scene depicted by Siger, in which the mourning women and Calliope reinforce their relationship to death and to the dead by forms of self-mutilations.  In order to tear out their hair, they must first take off the scarves they wear, sometimes from childhood, covering their heads if not as completely as do women in other cultures: orthodox Jews or Muslims.  This is another sign of their casting off their roles as women subservient to men. “Women represent the violence of death through their own bodies,” says Seremetakis, noting that the “exposure of feminine flesh combined with screaming heightens the social presence of women . . . These bodies postures, which are linked to the advent of death and the death ritual proper, are in sharp contrast with the body imagery of women in everyday social life.
     Seremetakis stresses that the number of mourners at a funeral is very important because it demonstrates that the deceased was not alone. An isolated person has died a “bad death,” which Seremetakis says is depicted by the metaphor of nakedness.  It is striking that the inadvertently exposed nudity of one of the important female characters in Sons of Sparta can be read as a sign not only of the sexuality she exploits to survive as a foreigner in the Mani, but also of her isolation and vulnerability as an outsider who, without the protection of a man, has no strength, no status.  And without a family in the Mani she has no recourse when threatened with bodily harm or with deportation.  She is in her nakedness like one who may die a “bad death.”
     “Trees in winter without leaves or fruit are seen as naked and burnt,” continues Seremetakis. “The person who is left alone by death is [also] described as burnt.” Stories about a good death often have to do with a woman’s positive relationship to her mother, to motherhood itself—a sign of female bonding.  But not all women turn to other women for their sense of commonality.  In Sons of Sparta a widow maintains her hold on her son by symbolically castrating him, finding the fulfillment of her life through him, so that his role in the murder of Kouros’s uncle and its solution, which is revealed when Andreas and Kouros feel stymied by the mystery they are trying to solve, can be traced to someone who has been destroyed by the bad mother.  He is already like a tree without leaves, without hope of every being the source of leaves or fruit.
     In the Mani revenge tradition, the role of women as mothers will prove very ambiguous. The relationship of the funeral lament to epics has been traced back to the Iliad, in which the death of Hector elicits three, if brief mirologias. The first and longest is that of his wife Andromache, who addresses the son not yet killed to prevent his growing up to avenge his father’s death and to create a new Troy.  The third lament is particularly curious because it is recited by Helen, who in Greek tragedy certainly bears the onus of the Trojan War.  She willingly left her husband Menelaus to elope with Paris and was not physically abducted. That she mourns Hector probably indicates that she has been treated kindly by him despite the war that “launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium” (Christopher Marlowe).  It is the second lament that commentators trace to ancient Greek tragedy and it is uttered by Hector’s mother, Hecuba. And her misery has not yet ended, for, according to Euripides play Hecuba, the Trojan War will end as it had begun, with the sacrifice of a daughter. To look at this circularity is to contemplate how, in Sons of Sparta, vengeance killing and the sacrifice of a child are closely intertwined.
     At the end of Sons of Sparta, in a conclusion so unexpected that it appropriately marches the stunning opening of the book, a Christmas celebration takes place on a tiny island that is reputed to be the place Paris and Helen stopped to spend the night at the beginning of their journey to Troy. When the thousand launched ships got ready to set out to reclaim Helen and punish Paris, the winds would not blow until Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis. The reference to the Trojan War allows Siger’s readers to add to rethink the story of why the first Calliope was killed, a murder that not only caused another kind of war, a long-lasting blood feud in the Mani, but also suggests the sacrifice of a young daughter to a male-dominated code of behavior.  Seremetakis’s recounting of the men of a village who killed an unwed pregnant woman behind the backs of the parents who wanted their daughter to live and put their combined shame behind her supplies another example of how gender distinctions are a major part of the underpinning of the Mani culture.
     To read the first Calliope’s death this way is to see that Sons of Sparta is also circular in its structure.  Perhaps this is generally true of mysteries in which a murderer is finally identified and the aftermath of the crime made specific.  If the mystery assures the reader that the social order that has been disrupted by the crime has been restored (a narrative pattern that some argue is the source of the genre’s popularity), the whole concept of restoration is circular and not linear.  In Sons of Sparta as in the other Andreas Kaldis books, this comforting assurance is not offered, for the entire Greek society and culture speaks to a seemingly permanent state of disarray.  But a circular structure is still in place because of the late evocation of the Trojan War.  And there is not just one circle in the book but a series of them, as if a pebble were thrown into a body of water, the ripples spreading out to expand the thematic areas at the heart of Siger’s book.
     In running away with Helen while her husband was conveniently out of town, Menelaus had also violated the host:guest relationship that was so important an element of Greek codes of approved behavior.  That Paris must be punished indicates vengeance, which is linked to sacrifice because the punishment is too remote a goal until Iphigenia is sacrificed.  At the beginning of Sons of Sparta, when Kouros’s great-grandfather decides that not only his daughter but her lover must die, it becomes clear that vengeance plays a large part in that decision and is therefore a major element in his sense of justice. It can  also be argued that Calliope is being sacrificed by her father in a way similar to Agamemnon’s willingness to have a daughter die so that his own intentions—to wage a war--might be carried out. To repeat, vengeance and sacrifice are but two sides of the same coin in these instances.
     The story with which Siger begins his book has an analogue Siger is familiar with, a renowned work of short fiction, Matteo Falcone, by the Corsican writer Prosper Merimee, who wrote the novel upon which the opera Carmen is based. Patrick Leigh Fermor mentions Merimee in his discussion of the links between the Mani and Corsica and the emigration of many Maniots to Corsica.  In the story Fortunato, the ten year old son of Falcone, commits an act which is a serious breach of the codes according to which the Corsicans lived.  He accepts a gold coin from the police, the Carbonieri, in return for telling them where an escaped prisoner is.  Falcone is going to punish his son as all are punished for this offense, with death.  Merimee must have been critical of the vengeance killing, especially of a child by its parent, for there is something terrible about the young boy’s terror.  His pledge to his father is the promise most children make when they have done something seriously wrong, that they will never do it again.  But the father is implacable and shoots his son to death.  The point being made now, however, has to do with Fortunato’s mother, who knows what her husband is going to do.  She pleads with him, reminding him that this is his son, words that echo Kouros’s uncle, who looks back at what his grandfather had ordered and repeats to Kouros what he must have said to himself many times, Calliope was his daughter. Fortunato’s helpless mother goes indoors to pray and when she hears gunshots and comes out to ask Falcone what he has done, he utters one word, “justice.”
    Kouros’s uncle in harkening back to Calliope’s death affirms what should be the true bond that unites a family, love. “I could never bring myself to cause someone to kill my child.  Or my sister or my brother. I am not a fool.  I know it happens, it is part of our culture, but for me . . . no . . . never.  Not after all that I saw in this house.”  Aside from the obvious similarities between Merimee’s story and the incident that begins Sons of Sparta, what emerges from a comparison is that each executed family member had been sacrificed to a code, and that the code itself took precedence over the bonds of affection that should unite a family.  Perhaps the code itself had in its history the matter of group survival, such as instances in which infanticide is a form of population control, but by the time Calliope is murdered by her brother, the tradition had become its own raison d’etre and a different kind of group survival, group identity, becomes the more problematic issue. But to pursue this point would be to spoil for readers the discoveries they will make when they actually read Siger’s book. In any event, it was to protect Kouros’s father from the possibility of a revenge killing by the family of Calliope’s lover that he was sent away from the Mani and Kouros was born and grew up in Athens.
     A striking difference between Merimee’s story and the opening of Sons of Sparta is the silence of Kouros’s great-grandmother as her husband orders her daughter killed. When Kouros asks his uncle how he knows Calliope’s mother never forgave her husband for her loss of her “pride and joy,” the latter describes one of the most touching scenes in Sons of Sparta.  Kouros’s uncle was the baby of the family when Calliope died and his grandmother was an important caretaker, freeing her daughter to perform other tasks. “Like all grandmothers,” relates his uncle, “she liked talking to babies.  She had much she wanted to tell, but dared not tell an adult, so she opened up to me” She was so used to doing so that as he grew older, she continued confiding in him her feelings. Given the group bonding of women during their chanting of a mirologia, the question can be raised of why she could not bring for consolation her grief to other women, even women who had also lost children and were helpless to prevent the deaths that had to do with their violating a code or being slain in a blood feud,
     It may be so that in death rituals Maniot women claimed their time and their space, the emotions of the mirologias an outlet for what in their day-to-day lives they cannot admit to.  They are caught in what is virtually a universal paradox (although some have argued that Spartan women were free of this problem).  They are depended on by their husbands and sons to keep the family’s domestic space orderly, a place of refuge for the men, but at the same time the uncontrollable emotions attributed to women, such as those that made the brothers of the second Calliope uncomfortable during her mirologia, are viewed as a reason for keeping women under tight control. That she then keeps them under control is treated as something of a joke.  When Kouros sits down with his family to eat after he obeys his uncle’s summons, there is some facetious disrespect shown to his uncle, not to be taken seriously.  It will be up to the infrequent visitor to put up with his uncle as they have to put up with their father all the time.  Kouros’s cousin Mangas adds to the hilarity by adding that it is a good thing their mother, Kouros’s late aunt, were not present to prevent her children from talking like that. “She’d whip us all,” he says, as the rest continue to laugh and then bless their departed mother’s soul.
     Because women, mothers, socialize the young of the family, it is assumed that they possess great power. But to socialize their daughters, they have to accept their own roles as obedient to their husbands, the masters of the house who represent patriarchal society. As good mothers, they would do their daughters great disservice if they were to express to them feelings that would subvert the young girls’ ability to accept similar roles when they got married.  The girls would then be unfit for the lives they had to live.  And what good mother would deliberately do that to her daughter? Mothers entrusted with their daughters’ eventual well-being would have either to significantly repress feelings or to so completely internalize patriarchy that the mirologia or talking to babies would be the only safe place they could allow what Freud called the return of the repressed.
     When the funeral is over, Maniot women would return to their ordinary lives and repress once again what had been released in the mirologia.  It would therefore be unlikely that they could expect sympathy from other women when they blame their husbands for killing their children or allowing them to be killed.  It is not their place to forgive or not to forgive men. Other women would find what they said almost blasphemous, or at least an expressed refusal to accept reality if they had a vocabulary for this psychological truth among them.
     One supposed sign of woman’s power within the limited domestic sphere is rather horrifying. When a feud breaks out, it is a mother who chooses among her sons the avenger, knowing full well that she is virtually condemning him to death. A woman’s major role in the Mani is to produce sons, known as “guns,” to defend the family’s honor. Again, as Kouros thinks about his father, he remembers that aside from the uncle who has called him to the Mani, only his father among his own brothers died a natural death. No wonder  the first Calliope’s mother knows only too well that--like Clytemnestra and Hecuba, to invoke here similar mothers in Greek tragedy who cannot prevent the sacrifice of a child—she cannot stand in the way of what is essentially a sacrificial ritual. One of the questions in the several Greek tragedies that dramatize the slaying of Agamemnon is whether Clytemnestra is sincere when she says she killed him to avenge his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia or whether she is using the sacrifice as an excuse for taking a lover while Agamemnon is away, conspiring with that lover to kill Agamemnon when he returns from Troy.  This episode comes at the end of a series of atrocities about the House of Atreus and is about a family embroiled in blood feuds.
     The acceptance by women of their culturally assigned role, however, should not be taken for granted, and a woman’s role in the Mani family and society can lead to serious mental and emotional dysfunction. This is exemplified in Sons of Sparta by the character of Kouros’s cousin, the second Calliope.  Close to forty, she had assumed the duty of taking care of her mother and father and now that they are dead, she is adrift, without focus or direction.  Calliope has never married because family disapproval had separated her from her boyfriend.  She therefore has not had children to nurture—or to sacrifice—and as in most societies, as neither wife nor mother, her status among her people is not high.   When toward the end of the book Kouros and his cousin Mangas meet to discuss the present situation involving the murder of Kouros’s uncle, Mangas  orders his sister Calliope to make them coffee and then leave them alone.  This is hardly a parallel to what happens to the first Calliope when her brother asserted his gender-based power over her and kills her, but there is a faint echo of the earlier brother-sister relationship in what transpires between Mangas and his sister.  Ironically, Calliope, refusing to leave the room, inverts what had happened when her grandfather ordered his daughter slain.  “I am the Maniot woman of this family. Not my aunt or sister who live in Athens. I am responsible for deciding who risks death to save our family.” It is a rather pathetic cry for importance.
     Clearly, this assertion of power is not going to sustain her through the crisis of her father’s death and the ensuing investigation.  Kouros, whose infrequent visits to the Mani keep him from assessing Calliope’s condition but nonetheless perceives someone who evidences signs of mental disturbance. “He watched his cousin labor off into the kitchen.  She showed no sign of energy in her walk.  Perhaps she was medicated?” Given the present condition of her life, this would make sense to Kouros, who decides that if she weren’t on medication, she should be.  Even here there is in Sons of Sparta of a major change in its culture.  It was Calliope’s mirologia that allowed her to vent her fury at her father’s death and call upon her male relatives to exact revenge.  But if the lament was supposed to have a healing function, it was not working too well.  Now anti-depressant or anti-anxiety pills would start to replace rituals, another example of how the underpinnings of a culture would give way to change and supposed progress.  Residents of the Mani would start to experience another ambiguous situation, the conflicting uses, misuse, and overuse of psychiatric medications.  Calliope’s physician grandfather who focused his care on the treatment of women, perhaps intuiting the uncertain place they had in society, would not have predicted such a development in prescription medicine. And would he out of sympathy be too prone to prescribe such drugs.
      It is interesting to wonder whether the ambiguous role of Maniot women, especially mothers, was influenced by an old Greek idea concerning whether a mother could claim to be a blood relative.  The Maniot mothers who gave birth to “guns” they have nurtured first inside their bodies and then after birth, only to decide which of these sons will be sent off to almost certain death in a feud, faced a terrible situation to which the culture may have paid too little heed. Their grief at having to make such choices may not have been considered then as “natural” as it might ordinarily have been perceived elsewhere. In Aeschylus’s Eumenides, Orestes stands trial for killing his mother, a reversal of the Mani woman who must choose which son to sacrifice.  For the Furies, murdering a blood relative would be the worst possible crime, but the defense calls into question whether Orestes had indeed slain someone he was tied to by blood. A child, argues Apollo for the defense, was the offspring only of its father.  A mother was merely the vessel that protected and nurtured the seed until the baby was born. 
     That the judge at Orestes’ trial is Athena reinforces such an idea—and she casts the tie-breaking vote that sets Orestes free.  Athena is the only Greek goddess who is only her father’s child, having sprung full-grown and fully-armored from Zeus’s head. She would have no soft spot for mothers who were killed by their children because she had never herself had a mother.  In short, how wide was the split between a Maniot mother’s misery at having to sacrifice a child and perceptions of how her situation defied nature. Among the Maniots there was a ritual at which which a feud could be brought to an end if one side petitioned the other and begged its pardon.  At such ceremonies, the symbolism of giving birth is obvious. Women, says Seremetakis, were very important at such forgiveness rituals, in which the offending young man was adopted to replace the one he has killed. Was the idea that children were interchangeable another version of a mother having no essentially natural tie to the child she gave birth to.
      Kouros’s bond with his mother is mentioned several times in Sons of Sparta. He is able to guide Andreas and Tassos to Kranae when they didn’t know anything about it or where it was. Kouros informs them of the island connection with the origins of the Trojan War.  He explains that his mother “makes” him take her to a museum n Kranae virtually everytime they are together in the Mani. The tower on the Mani had been turned into the Historical and Cultural Museum of the Mani, and presumably Kouros’s mother, who had lived her life in Athens, wanted to touch base once more with her origins. Or perhaps she hoped that she was instill in Kouros the understanding that he was a Maniot and hoped the museum would inspire his awareness of the connection.  His mother had also drummed into hius head that he must marry a Greek woman, although she had backed off the demand that the woman come from the Mani.
     Still, his mother’s influence is clearly evident and Kouros thinks of her when he has to decide whether to spend the night with an Arab woman with whom he has a very brief but intense affair.  True, the object of his lust is also a potential witness in the case he is investigating and the affair itself is a breach in his responsibility as a police officer.  But when Lila overhears Andreas take Kouros to task for his actions,, she tells him to back off, to treat Kouros in his capacity as Kouros’s boss not as an angry parent. Lila understands that Kouros would chafe against parental authority as he would not against that of his superior at work. But Kouros does not see his mother as an authority figure; “she was different; she was his mother.”
     In Sons of Sparta, there is something vaguely mysterious about the mother-son bond.  This mystery is revealed in the scene in which Andreas is playing alone with his son.  Tassaki had received the gift of ten pots of finger paint, After preparing for the mess he knew was coming by changing clothing and protecting the laundry room with sheets of plastic, Andreas opens one of the pots for Tassaki, who with great deliberation paints a picture he says is of his daddy.  Pleased but not knowing what was coming, Andreas suggests that Tassaki paint a picture of Lila.  Tassaki indicates that he will need more colors for his portrait of his mother, so Andreas, although unsure “how to take that,” opens two more pots.  This proves inadequate for the little boy. “You want all of them open?” asks Andreas in surprise, and Tassaki responds cryptically, “Yes, it’s for mommy.”  And good mommies, Sons of Sparta makes clear, endear themselves to their children. In the Mani as in other cultures they often do this with the meals they prepare for their families. When Kouros’s mother (once again, a character is unnamed and it is her role as generalized mother that is therefore stressed) gets ready to accompany her son to her brother-in-law’s funeral, she prepares “enough food to feed all of the Mani for a week.”  Kouros thinks, “God bless mothers.”  Tassaki could not have explained verbally why he needed so many colors to draw his mother but in his own way, he is blessing Lila.
     It should hardly be necessary to puzzle over the special bond between mothers and sons in the country that gave the world the Oedipus story and, because of Freud, the so-called universal Oedipus complex.  But the psychologist’s theories concerning mothers and sons will only apply to one such pairing in Sons of Sparta. In fact, a significant theme in Sophocles play Oedipus Rex tends to get overlooked in commentaries.  Oedipus is horrified to learn that he has been in an incestuous relationship with his own mother, but he is also stricken that Jocasta was ready to sacrifice him, expose him to almost certain death to thwart the Delphic prophesy that he would some day kill his father. “She was so hard—its mother?,” he asks.  There is an uncomfortable similarity between Jocasta and the Maniot mother who chooses which of her sons will likely die when he fights for his family in a blood feud.  But Greek myths also tell another tale, another side of the coin. Collectors of Oedipus stories around the world who want to determine if such universality confirms Freud’s theory see the myth of the birth of the Olympian gods as a part of the Oedipus narrative.
     When Kouros blesses his mother for the preparation of food and for the coffee that that keeps him awake as he drives from Athens to his uncle’s funeral, he also thinks of another feature of a mother’s love for her son. “Heaven help the person who crosses a Mani mother’s son.”  The mother who will sacrifice her son and the one who will fight for him stand in opposition to each other but their relationships to their sons are complementary.  Part of Greek mythology is the birth of the gods and the subsequent fate of some, the Titans.  In Mykonos after Midnight, Andreas Kaldis muses on what often seems to him the futility of his work as criminals he identifies and arrests are freed in courts of law.  He likens himself to Sisyphus, the Titan who through eternity must roll a heavy stone up a steep hill only to see it roll down again, after which he starts over.
     The central myth about the birth of the Greek gods include the story of the earth mother Gaea, who in that sense is the protypical mother.  One of her daughters, Rhea,  marries Cronos, who had heard the prophesy that one of his sons would overthrow him and take his place.  Rhea watches Cronos devour one of their children after another as it is born, until in desperation she devises a scheme to save the next one.  When she delivers Zeus, Rhea secrets him away in a cave and wraps in swaddling clothes a large stone that Cronos swallows, unaware that his son and eventual successor still lives.  What one authority on Rhea’s story says about it bears out Kouros’s perception of a mother’s role: “Rhea . . . is a mother, attached to her children and ready to defend them even against the father who engendered them.”  This is how Kouros sees mothers, especially his own mother, and perhaps he has been too distanced from his Mani origins to recognize the other side, the mother who sacrifices rather than protects her male child
     The son who secretly wishes to overthrow his rival father and sleep with his mother—according to Freud—is not a character to be found in Sons of Sparta. The only and aforementioned pair of dysfunctional mother and son suggests the opposite, that the mother secretly wishes to sleep with her son.  This suggests a different Freudian paradigm that appears in the character of an alcoholic priest Carlos, who lives with his mother and under her thumb.
     In Freud’s essay On Femininity, which perhaps more than anything he has written has infuriated feminists, the psychologist explains his view of why girls eventually turn away from their first caretakers, their mothers, to their fathers.  Electra is in Greek tragedy the most extreme example of the ensuing mother-daughter pair.  In his essay, Freud introduces the idea of penis envy the girl blames her mother for what she shares with her-or more accurately what she and her mother both lack, the penis that the daughter associates with male dominance and power. Freud argues that therefore the most ideal relationship within the nuclear family is that of mother and son, for in a society in which marrying and passing from her father’s to her husband’s authority, which is a young woman’s most desirable life trajectory, it is through her son’s achievements that she can vicariously experience her own.  The priest Carlos knows this first-hand for he bitterly relates that his mother lives her life through him.  And in this way, although he does not say it but seems to know it, she has virtually destroyed him, emasculating him so that he appears to have no will of his own.  At one point Tassos sarcastically asks him how old he is.  He wants to break down Carlos’s attempts to hide a crucial truth in the investigation, for although the priest and his mother come late into the story, Carlos holds a critical piece of the puzzle that is the murder of Kouros’s uncle. also provides Siger’s reader with a very different view of mothers and sons in the Mani than the more idealized relationship held by Kouros.
     One very interesting point about Freud’s theory, however, is that it suggests still another ambiguity to be found in Sons of Sparta. Although women may internalize patriarchy in order to socialize their daughter to accept and expect their subordinate role in a patriarchal society, daughters will nonetheless find in their mothers’ lives a foreshadowing of their own and may experience anger at their mothers.  Their weddings may also be a two-edged sword as they experience joy but also apprehension.  It is beyond the scope of this discussion to explore another significant lament common in Greece and neighboring countries and indeed throughout the world, and that is the marriage lament.  In short, this lament expresses the awareness of a young woman—especially in exogamous cultures—that she is passing into a stage of her life which will be harsher than the one she lived under the relative indulgence of her parents. The second Calliope never marries but she experiences the pain of a woman who is, first, in love, who is then denied marriage to her boyfriend, who later takes care of aging parents until they die, and then seems to have lost her identity within her society.  The distress she feels is, again, the other side of the coin that brides express in their marriage laments.
     Readers of the Andreas Kaldis series will learn a great deal about Greek culture, a major feature being its mythology, which has had an impact on the entire Western world, whose thinkers and authors draw heavily on it.  Siger weaves Greek myths into his mysteries, sometimes unobtrusively, sometimes overtly.  Mykonos after Midnight draws on the story of Medea although even those familiar with Euripides’ play might not pick up the subtle connection.  The name of the woman reputed to have murdered her children as revenge against her unfaithful husband only appears at the end of the story, and it is at that point that Siger’s reader who wishes to explore this evocation of a well-known myth can recognize how central to the novel Medea is.
     In Sons of Sparta, however, the name Orestes is like a green light inviting readers to pay attention to a story that is very well-known among those with even a partial knowledge of Greek mythology.  Two families dominate the few tragedies that have survived since antiquities and even those tragedies that classicists are aware once existed but that no longer exist as written texts. One of these families is sometimes called the House of Laius and the Oedipus story in Sons of Sparta has already been discussed.  Closer to Siger’s book is the House of Atreus and a family whose revenge crimes only cease—according to Aeschylus—when Orestes is formally brought to a court of law. As a result, in a word association quiz or game, the name Orestes is likely to be paired with law and order,and/or private vengeance. And if one aspect of myth is that it’s a piece of fictionalized history, it wouldn’t matter which side of the law Orestes stood on.  It is not, therefore, anachronistic that in Sons of Sparta the character Orestes is an obnoxious small-time criminal with ambition to rise to the status of a big-time one.  There is, moreover, another Greek tragedy by Euripides entitled Orestes. It is relative to Aeschylus Eumenides a seriously flawed play in which there seem to be no major characters whom the audience or reader can like. Scholar and professor of classical literature, Elizabeth Vandervir, calls Euripides’ Orestes a “thug,” her informal language an indication of how far Orestes has fallen in Euripides’ play.  Orestes  is a dramatic presentation that can be read as a challenge to Aeschylus.  For if as Siger has it in Mykonos after Midnight an honest criminal investigator in Greece is Sisyphus, futilely rolling a stone uphill only to see it roll down again, then whether or not a legal justice system will work is a question  Siger shares with Euripides. And if it cannot, will society revert to private vengeance?    
     The House of Atreus epitomizes what happens when personal judgment and revenge crimes equate with justice.  In Sons of Sparta, Kouros constantly worries that his cousin Mangas will go ofter the person he thinks—perhaps mistakenly—killed his father and will thereby start another ongoing blood feud in the Mani.  That this might happen is plausible because the murder victim himself is a Maniot who had fought the tradition of private vendettas.  In Greek mythology, a feud began when Atreus, rival of his twin brother Thyestes for the rule of Argos, savagely murdered Thyestes’ sons and served them cooked in a stew to their father.  The twins’ rivalry and feud passes on to their sons, Agamemnon and Aegisthus, the latter born when Thyestes tried to start another family. It was while Agamemnon was away fighting the Trojan War that Clytemnestra took Aegisthus as her lover and the two conspired to murder her husband when he returned. Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, egged on by his sister Electra, murders his mother and Aegisthus as retaliation for their crime.  In both Sophocles’ well-known Eumenides and Euripides less-known Orestes, Clytemnestra’s son stands trial.  But the situation in each play is markedly different.  In Aeschylus, Orestes’ crime leads to a trial system intended to replace personal vendettas; in Euripides such a system is already in place when the matricide occurs. Euripides’ portrayal of that trial allows him to reveal the weaknesses of such a justice system.
     When a messenger brings to the waiting Electra the verdict of the tribunal made up of citizens that they are guilty of murder and must die, he summarizes for her the arguments for and against their conviction. Readers of the Andreas Kaldis series will be able to connect these characters from ancient Greek drama to characters Siger portrays in present-day Greece. The messenger describes how someone who had fought with Agamemnon in Troy got up and “spoke like the toady he always was, a two-faced speech, compliments for your father in contrast to Orestes, cheap malicious stuff puffed up with rolling phrases. And the gist? Orestes’ example was dangerous for parents. But needless to say, he was all smiles and sweetness for Aegisthus’ cronies.”  The messenger adds his own commentary, “But that’s your herald for you—always jumping for the winning side, the friend of any man with influence and power.”  Some, relates the messenger, spoke on the side of Orestes and Electra, one expressing his opinion that “both of you should be banished, not killed, since, by so doing, Argos would be guiltless of your blood.”  The response to this suggestion was mixed: “some applauded, others booed.”  The next person to urge the death of Orestes was “one of those cocky loudmouths, an Argive but not from Argos—if you take my meaning—anybody’s man—for a price of course—sure of himself and reckless in his bluster, but glib enough to take his hearers in.”
     Euripides puts the argument in favor of Orestes’ revenge crime in the words of an honorable citizen, “a real man,” not the sort “one sees loafing in the market or public places.”  He is a farmer, “part of that class on which our country depends; an honest, decent, and god-fearing man.”  He thought Orestes should be awarded a prize for killing a “godless, worthless, adulterous woman.”  If he were convicted, men would be afraid to go to war, wondering what their wives were up to when they were away, destroying their homes and families. Orestes then got up to testify in his own defense, claiming that it was as much for Argos as for his father that he murdered his mother. His argument is a strongly anti-feminist one added to the farmer’s warning, which also casts women in a very poor light: “if you sanction this murder of husbands by wives,” says Orestes “you might as well go kill yourselves right now or accept the domination of your women.”  In a fiercely patriarchal society, Orestes’ argument would be a strong one, and added to the good reputation of the farmer, his acquittal (which he receives in Aeschylus’s version of the trial) seems fairly assured.  But while Euripides is suggesting that the court system doesn’t work, he undercuts his own position when Orestes and Electra in absentia are convicted and sentenced to die.  Why at the end Euripides decided to rescue them from their fate is a question.  The playwright had become a bitter man, disillusioned with Athens, about to go into self-exile.  It is almost as if had shrugged his shoulders and announced that the verdict and outcome hardly mattered. In essence, to participate in the court system would to be to become another Sisyphus.
     In her lecture on this late Euripides play, Elizabeth Vandervir makes the point that the original Greek in which the messenger delivers his news is very garbled, almost incoherent.  Why this would be raises an interesting question.  To go back to the response of the assembly to the suggestion that Orestes and Electra be convicted but exiled rather than executed, in William Arrowsmith’s translation both boos and applause followed this proposal. And there was no judge to pound a gavel and bring order to the court.  Here the court is literally depicted as cacophonous. Symbolically, given that few arguments were free of the speaker’s blatant self-interest, this would be another form of cacophony. Garbled Greek would reflect what was happening in the court.
     Both Aeschylus and Euripides opposed revenge killing, but it is Euripides who demonstrates that courts of law are at best fallible and at worse subject to the personal vagaries of those who can pass judgment on an accused.  His skepticism is very much alive today, in writings on trials by jury and in Siger’s Andreas Kaldis series. In the United States, the wealthy pay for the jury advisors hired by their lawyers, and those who cannot afford such services are at a disadvantage in a system that ideally is supposed to assure that all are innocent before the law until proven guilty. Obviously in Greece the wealthy could use their money to buy similar benefits or even acquittals. Euripides seems to have stopped short of saying that the ideal of a disinterested judge or jury would rarely be achieved, although he comes very close to it.  And in the words of Clytemnestra’s father, he reveals what is only implied by Aeschylus and the myth of the House of Atreus, that there can be no end to the chain of revenge killings. Perhaps his strange ending in which thugs are rewarded not punished, speaks to a final indifference. Either way, Euripides reveals why legal trials might not and often do not work. He would be issuing a strong challenge to Aeschylus’s optimism.  
     If there is one character in Euripides’ play who would be expected to favor revenge killings it is Tyndareus, Clytemnestra’s father. What he says, however, is striking in the context of the strong family theme in Sons of Sparta. Tyndareus is Orestes’ grandfather and Orestes recalls how Tyndareus would when Orestes was a child play with him, and cover him with caresses.  He was also for Tyndareus Agamemnon’s boy. It is striking that for his maternal grandfather he was not Clytemnestra’s boy. Perhaps Tyndareus was among those who held the blood bond between parents and children came from the father.  Or perhaps he did not sufficiently value daughters.  By the death of Clytemnestra, he had realized that his two daughters, Helen and Clytemnestra, were instruments of destruction in whom he could hardly take pride. At this point in his life and in the play, he has to admit that his daughter Clytemnestra had committed “an atrocious crime which I do not condone and never shall.”  But, he insists, what Orestes should have done was to have brought his mother into court, “charged her formally with murder, and made her pay the penalty prescribed.”
     Given the importance of family in Greece, this penalty would not necessarily have been death but “expulsion” from her husband’s house—that is, she would be ostracized by her family, including her father.  And it is the family theme as well as the clash between two systems of justice that link Euripides’ play to Sons of Sparta. When Tyndareus first appears on the stage, he has an angry exchange with Menelaus.  By now Orestes is no longer Tyndareus’s beloved grandson, but a snake, a loathsome sight. He asks Menelaus how he can bear even to speak to a “thing” like Orestes.  Menelaus reminds him that Orestes is the son of the brother he loved and that “it is a Greek custom, I think, to honor your kin,” to which Tyndareus replies, “but not to put yourself above the laws.”
      In Sons of Sparta, family cannot be separated from the clash between two forms of justice. It is in Euripides rather than in Aeschylus that the sequence of murders that has destroyed so many Maniots is spelled out. Tyndareus asks, “Suppose a wife murders her husband. Her son then follows suit by killing her, and his son then must have his murder too and so on.” Where, Tyndareus wants to know, “can this chain of murder end?  Can it ever end in fact, since the last to kill is doomed to stand under permanent sentence of death by revenge?” It is Kouros’s uncle who understood this and tried to prevent revenge killings.  But he is dead and in any event he would have had little if any reason to be more optimistic than Andreas, Kouros, and Tassos about the effectiveness of the Greek courts. But he was an effective negotiator between opposing armies of feuding families.
     What both Aeschylus and Euripides make obvious to the modern reader is that the clash between two systems of justice and how this clash affects individual families, the combined subject at the heart of Sons of Sparta, has a long history in Greece connected to traditions still alive in the Mani.  And because Jeffrey Siger was a successful lawyer, although not a criminal attorney, before he decided to write fiction full-time, and because he was the Counsel to a citizen’s group that monitored conditions in New York City jails, he must have when writing Sons of Sparta been very familiar with and sensitive to the conditions under which accused criminals were tried and punished.  He would bring to Sons of Sparta his knowledge that in New York and not only in the Mani did revenge killings go on; they would be committed by gang members and their imprisonment reflected not only on the gangs but on the effectiveness of the courts.  In addition, one unfortunate aspect of Greek culture is its widespread corruption, which according to Siger’s books has spread to everything, including the courts and those who should work to achieve justice. The stunning opening of Sons of Sparta, with the the woman standing up in court to shout instructions at her son, the judge concerning why he must acquit the man who killed his sister can be a reminder to readers of the Andreas Kaldis series of how the justice system worked—or more accurately did not work—in the five earlier books and make them wonder how it might fare in this recent one. That is, how justice is achieved or not in Sons of Sparta provides much of the book’s suspense and delivers a surprising conclusion as startling as its opening.
     I have done some research into the Mani to write this analysis of Sons of Sparta.  Not because the book requires it for enjoyment or for understanding.  By itself it is a very exciting mystery and Jeffrey Siger tells you all you absolutely need to know to understand the culture of this little-known section of Greece. But besides being a lover of fiction, particularly mysteries, I am, however, a writer of critical essays on literature, and my attempt at any kind of in-depth analysis of a book benefits from knowledge I can bring to the book.  Details that might not otherwise stand out can take on enhanced meanings; ways of looking at what seems ordinary to discover that is in fact not ordinary at all can result in my recognizing a broader set of meanings present in a work of fiction, whether they are consciously or unconsciously included by an author.
     When I wrote an essay on the first of the Andreas Kaldis series, Murder in Mykonos, I only had to learn more about Egyptian mythology; for the rest of what I discussed, I already was fairly secure in my knowledge and only needed some brushing-up in it.  But although I have done some travel in Greece, enough to distinguish different places I have visited, the Mani was a totally foreign place to me.  I had never even heard of it. About its history of blood feuds between families that could go on almost indefinitely, and of personal vendettas that replaced legal recourse to justice, all I could at first bring to Sons of Sparta was the short story Matteo Falcone by Prosper Merimee, a writer from Corsica to which many Maniots emigrated; my reading of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and the three films that followed it; my professional specialization in British romantic literature in which one finds the outlaw-hero; and my more recent focus on vigilante justice in contemporary crime fiction. What I have learned about the Mani both inside Sons of Sparta and in secondary sources have fascinated me.  It led me to think about how a revenge killing was also a kind of sacrifice, not to a god, but to a code that would take precedence over the individual being sacrificed.  A family story about such a sacrifice starts the compelling story in Sons of Sparta.
     I also brought to this essay my general knowledge of Greek mythology. Even as a child, I owned a volume of myths written to be understandable to young readers.  Later my education led me to a more complicated understanding of these myths as I was trained to analyze literary works, so many of which drew on or alluded to them. Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, for example, combines the Oedipus story with those associated with the House of Atreus.  When, years later, I decided to write a study of the influence of Greek tragedy on the mystery writer Ruth Rendell, aka Barbara Vine, I immersed myself in scholarly studies of the plays that helped me recognize elements in her novels I might not have otherwise picked up.  And because there is a character named Orestes in Sons of Sparta, I read for the first time a tragedy by Euripides to discover that his play sheds light on Siger’s book and at the same time that book illuminates the play.
     Finally, for many years and for my most ambitious book, I collected a group of folktales told throughout the world. They were largely about stories of human mortals who mated with or were married to supernatural beings or shape-shifting animals. That project focused my attention on gender and how it was treated in folktales, legends, and myths. Many of these tales belong to the same story group as the descent of Orpheus into the underworld and proved important to my understanding of how death and an afterlife was perceived in the Mani.  The core story of my study was the tale of the swan maiden, and a retelling of the Mani version by Patrick Leigh Fermor in his Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloppenese, as well as his description of the Maniot informant who told him the tale, reveals changes in Mani culture. At the time that Fermor wrote, the Mani was even more and unknown than it is today, when tourism has come to the region.  How the attraction of the Mani for tourists and how the development of resorts and hotels were a boon to criminals who would exploit its growing popularity is intrinsic to the mystery in Sons of Sparta.
     The swan maiden’s story is told around the world—or rather exists in the folklore archives of countries around the world.  She is forced to marry, keep house for, and bear the children of a man because he has in his possession something that belongs to her—often her animal skin or an item of clothing.  In Scandinavia she is the seal maiden; in Scotland the seal maiden is known as the selkie. In other places it is the swan’s feather robe that the man must steal to retain his hold over her.  When Henrik Ibsen who knew the Norwegian seal maiden very well wrote his famous (and at the time infamous) play, The Doll House, it was Nora’s retrieval of the dress in which she occasionally danced at parties the Italian tarantella that led to her turnaround as Torvold Helmer’s subservient, frightened wife. As most swan maiden tales relate the story, the forced domestic servant and reluctant wife finds her stolen possession and flees her confinement in a domestic prison, leaving behind, as does Nora, both husband and children. In Nora’s case, she probably would have taken her children if she could, but in Norway at the time, men retained custody of their offspring.
     In the Mani according to Fermor’s account, the swan maiden is the nereid, the lady of the fountain.  Like the ondines and other folkloric water nymphs, nereids are not immortal but live a long time during which their beauty remains intact and they occupy themselves with seducing mortal men.  They are, writes Fermor, “feminine, volatile and wanton, seldom capable of lasting passion.  But most of the harm they do is involuntary, due to a congenital inaptitude for fidelity and the tamer domestic virtues.”  On the rare occasions when the nereid resists the advances of a young man, “the secret of success,” explains Fermor’s storyteller, is “to seize her kerchief.”
     As a woman’s story, the nereid as swan maiden speaks to a fantasy of female domination, of possible escape from the domesticity she finds unbearable and her subjection to a man who has no thought for her needs or happiness. When, in this fantasy, her husband tries to get her back, he usually fails.  This part of the story overlaps with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice whose significance for Sons of Sparta I discuss above. As a man’s story, it becomes a cautionary tale as Fermor’s informant intimates. Men in love with nereids become “melancholy and ill and prone to strokes and seizures.” There are “nereid-doctors” who can cure men suffering this malady. But Fermor had no reason to separate the man’s story from the woman’s and his folktale informant was clearly looking at the nereid from a man’s point of view.  His bottom line is inferred in the story he tells:  nereids as women are too close to nature and are therefore potentially dangerous and must be controlled. And this can only happen if they are confined in their domestic space.  As discussed above, Seremetakis describes how the mirologia or funeral lament supply Maniot women with an opportunity to leave that space, to vent emotions ordinarily kept in check before they return to their day-to-day lives.  In my study of the swan maiden I argue that women telling this story find a similar outlet in portraying what must remain for them only a fantasy.
     It is noteworthy that Fermor relates how the man who tells this story comments that Mani men do not have much trouble with the nereids anymore.  I have been pondering this enigmatic statement and all of the possibilities I have arrived at speak to changes in the Mani culture, or in one case the effects of natural cycles.  It may be that as the modern world affects remote part of that world, as it inevitably will, the folk tradition that is part of its culture will recede and the folktales will become parts of archives rather than being told among the people.  And if they are not told, they will not make an impression on the imagination and become part of a personal or collective reality.  Another possibility is that a large number of young men had left the village for the larger cities, as happens throughout the world (“how do you keep them down on the farm after they see Par—ee?).  In Sons of Sparta, as Kouros drives from Athens to the Mani, he contemplates the crowding of cities like Athens by persons such as himself when there were beautiful un-crowded areas of Greece to live in. If there were an exodus of young men from the village, the nereids would have fewer of them to seduce and would move on to other places.  Which is to say that in leaving their villages for large cities, Greek men would not ordinarily take their folktales with them and—again—these would just fill archives.  Finally, Fermor’s informant may be admitting it is not such as he who would attract the nereids, the wanton ladies of the fountain.  By growing old, he has been replaced, as were Laius and Cronos, by younger men.
     Jeffrey Siger’s readers would probably find it fascinating if every copy of Sons of Sparta came with a taped interview in which he described his stay in the Mani and the people who were his informants. Did they tell him everything in answer to what he might have asked or were they guarded because he was not himself a Maniot.  As noted above, Seremetakis, writing about the women of the Mani, was privileged to be a woman whose roots were in that region.  In the late 1950s, Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote in a passage that forms an epigraph in Sons of Sparta, that hardly a “word has been written on the remote and astonishing region of the Mani.” More than sixty years later this is no longer true, but Seremetakis starts from the position that although studies of Maniot men exist, too little and too little she fully agrees with have been written about the women of the Mani.  She quotes an old woman she talked to: “We Maniots, as you know, have the inside and the outside face.”
     However Jeffrey Siger had access to both faces, they both exist in Sons of Sparta. His mystery, in its accuracy and in its fictional power, is a genuine contribution to an understanding of that remote area of Greece known as the Mani.   
                                                                                SELECTED  SOURCES
     Because I have claimed that Sons of Sparta is not contradicted by any scholarly studies of its subjects that I know, and because I argue that Siger’s book is a contribution to these discourses on the Mani and on the Greek lament tradition, I thought it useful to list some of the sources I have consulted and/or I am familiar with. 
Jeffrey Siger, Sons of Sparta, Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press, 2014.
Patrick Lee Fermor, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, 1958, rpt. New York
   Review Book, Introduced by Michael Gorra, 2006.
C. Nadis Seremetakis, The Last Word: Women, Death, and Divination in Inner Mani,
   Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991.
David Grene and Richard Lattimore, The Complete Greek Tragedies, 4 vols., Chicago:      
    University of Chicago Press,  1958-60.  Euripides Orestes, trans. William Arrowsmith.
Paul Vellacott, “Introduction,” The Oresteian Trilogy, Hammondsworth: Penguin
    Books, 1956; rpt. 1959.
Paul Gewirtz, “Aeschylus’ Law,” Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository, 1988.    
Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, London, Cambridge University
     Press, 1974.  Alexiou studies the different poetic forms of the mirologia in Greece and 
     their formal origins and Seremetakis refers to her as she, Seremetakis, compares the
     the wider Greek traditions with the lament in the Mani.
Olga Levaniouk, Sky-Blue Flower: Songs of the Bride in Modern Russia and Ancient
     Greece, Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies. The entire text can be found
     on the internet.
Note: Classicists often study the mirologia, the funeral lament, in concert with the marriage lament, for both have to do with the role of women in ancient (and modern) Greece.  I have not read Andromache Karanaka’s book, Voices at Work: Women, Performance, and Labor in Ancient Greece, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, but I found an abstract of her work on the internet.  My book on swan maidens and related folklore characters has in it a brief discussion of marriage laments and the subject has always interested me.  Among the Bulgarian-Turks, the Mani nereid is known as the samodiva, and when she leaves her husband, the samodiva taunts him with the fact that he should have known samodivas do not make good wives.
     Sons of Sparta has reawakened in me interest in the marriage lament because, once again, the funeral and marriage laments seem to be treated by classicists and ethnologists as two sides of the same coin and that “coin” is important in Siger’s book. 
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