A Wink to Classical Mythology
Updated: Oct 3, 2021
From first glance one might assume that this novel is referencing to Olympus, Greece. Any classics enthusiast will be initially drawn to this novel but with further inspection of the title one could begin to question the context of this book.
The book under review is Stacey Swann’s debut novel ‘Olympus, Texas’. Having a keen interest in all thing’s classics, this book grabbed my attention when the synopsis stated that this novel is “a clever wink toward classical mythology”. What constitutes as a clever wink; is the author referring to the classical myths in homage or as inspiration?
The setting of Stacey’s novel does take place in Olympus but not the Olympus of antiquity. The readers find themselves immersed in a small town of Texas where rumors flow faster than the local river. We find ourselves following the trials and tribulations of the Briscoe Family.
This family is notoriously known in town for their dysfunctional tendencies. Each family member becomes victim to a deadly sin which leads them down a path of misery and heartache. The ringleader of the pack is Peter Briscoe, a father to six known children in town. He is the local realtor and husband to June who helps to tend the family farm. June has mothered three of Peter’s six children: Thea, Hap and March. The other three children are the products of Peter’s past affairs. June has grown resentful to her husband over the years due to his past infidelities. She has no choice but to accept his illegitimate children since it is inevitable to run into them in the small town of Olympus. June busies herself on the family farm, while Peter works in town. June takes care of her family, the herd of cows and a muster of peacocks that inhabit the land around the home. Peter is not the only cause of the Briscoe family flawed dynamics; the Briscoe sons seem to have picked up on their fathers’ lustful charms and their mothers blinding pride. The oldest of the two brothers Hap is married to a beautiful women named Vera and together they share a young son. March is a rage crazed young man who’s gets kicked out of the army and is the youngest of three Briscoe kids. March had a falling out with the family due to his affair with Vera which forced him to leave Olympus temporarily. Hap is a peaceful older brother who works in town as a respected mechanic but harbors an envious grudge against his brothers’ unethical actions. Both brothers are seemingly different aside from their taste in women.
March is friends with two of Peter’s illegitimate children Arlo & Artie. Arlo is a rising country musician, while his twin sister Artie is a local hunting guide. Arlo and Artie are the products of Peters’ second affair with a women named Lee. Lee started as a harmless client of Peter’s but their relationship eventually flourished into the birth of twins. Arlo has also been away from the hustle and bustle of small-town Olympus, touring America with his band. Due to mismanagement, he winds up unexpectedly back in town. Artie has been living her life carefree alongside an old high school bad boy named Ryan. Ryan is popular for being a player which is why he and Arlo never got along. Artie is not worried about her relationship with Ryan because she assumes her brother is away on tour. Arlo’s unexpected arrival throws Artie for a loop and she is left jumping through hoops to avoid the two boys crossing paths. Eventually Artie finds the strength to introduce the two during a friendly hunting excursion. Arlo and Ryan share a few words while Artie is preparing the gear. The two men in their pride agree to play a harmless game but it backfires and leads to Artie killing Ryan with the misfire of her gun.
This unforeseen tragedy forces all the Briscoes to come together to address their ongoing issues while dealing with a potential murder case. The Briscoes are once again the talk of the small town with a new scandal stained on the family name. This novel is a whirlwind of a modern drama, leaving readers scratching their heads wondering where the “wink to classical mythology” comes into play.
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Wink To Classical Mythology:
Just from the summary you kind of wonder how in the “name of Gaia” is this a wink to mythology. I remember taking this audiobook out of the library excited to read another mythology inspired novel. At first, I was annoyed because it felt like the synopsis was a complete farce. I had to take a breath and revaluate the premise of the book. One quarter into the book the pieces started to come together and now I would like to share my version of the bigger picture. Come and take a seat and gather in my digital agora as we break down the Greek and Roman mythology references.
Let’s start with the most obvious similarity, the location of the story. Although it is different locations both the Olympian Gods and the Briscoe family live in or near Olympus. The patriarchal figures in the parallel Olympus families are both adulators who have control of the land and people around them. Peter portrays similar tendencies to the Greek god Zeus who is married to Hera. Hera in Roman mythology was known as Juno which mimics the name of Peter’s wife June. In Greek mythology Hera is the goddess of marriage and was often associated with peacocks and cows. A popular Hera myth is when she caught her husband Zeus in one of his many affaires and inflicted her wrath on Zeus current ‘main squeeze’ Io. Io was transformed into a cow for having relations with Hera’s husband, that is how cows became sacred to the Queen of the gods. June can be often found tending the animals on the family farm which include cows and peacocks. Like Hera, June is too prideful to leave her husband after his countless affairs, she keeps her composure for the family but has little to no respect for her lust crazed husband.
Peter and June’s children all resemble a divine Olympian. Thea the oldest and only daughter of the Briscoes is known for her intelligence. She is an obvious daddy’s girl and has resentment towards her mother June for not sticking up to their fathers sins. Unlike others in the story Thea finds the courage to leave Olympus to live in a city of her own means. Thea is the equivalent to Greek goddess Athena who was born from the head of Zeus and was known for her wisdom. Athena was the patron goddess of Athens making that city her unintentional home away from home. This comparison is similar to Thea’s motives on moving away from Olympus, Texas to live in a metropolis better suited for her needs.
The Briscoe sons are spitting images of Zeus and Hera’s sons, Hephaestus and Ares. Aside from sharing a similar name with Hephaestus, Hap is known for being good with his hands and works as a respected mechanic. Hephaestus was known as the respectable black smith of the gods and his creations were famous throughout the mythological Greek world. In modern times I guess a mechanic is a close comparison to the black smiths of times past. Both Hap and his Greek god counterpart are married to a beautiful woman who they helped woo by creating artistic accessories for her to wear. Hap’s wife, Vera is like the Roman goddess Venus (also known in Greek myth as Aphrodite). The gorgeous Venus got sought after by many men including Mars the brother of Vulcan (Hephaestus). Venus and Mars ended up having an illegitimate son called Cupid. In the novel Vera hinted to March that the son she shares with Hap could potentially be March’s biological son since her and Hap were not intimate during the time his conception. As you probably have caught on March is equivalent to the god of war, Mars (known in Greek mythology as Ares). Being the counterpart to Mars connects an individual with an insatiable thirst for blood lust, which explains why March is portrayed as having so much rage that it got him removed from the army. March is also the father of two dogs named Romulus and Remus. In Roman mythology Romulus and Remus where the demigod twin sons of Mars and the founders of modern-day Rome. I find it very clever that the author made Vera and March more like their Roman counterparts opposed to Hap who references a Greek god. This foreshadows the connection between these three characters. Vera and March have a better chemistry and Hap is related but not on the same playing field as the other two.
Let’s not forget about the other Briscoe children Arlo and Artie. Peter’s illegitimate twin children with Lee are a copy & paste version of the Leto and Zeus relationship. Lee is the essence Leto as they both give birth to illegitimate twins. Arlo mirrors the characteristics of Apollo by pursuing music and has connection with the nine Muses. In one scene Arlo visits a burlesque club called Terpsichore, which is also the same name as the patron Muse of lyric poetry and dancing. Arlo tomboy sister Artie takes pleasure in hunting like her counterpart Artemis goddess of the hunt. Artemis was known for having one mortal weakness and that was with Orion a renowned mortal hunter. To make a long story short, Orion was killed, and Artemis lamented over the death of a good friend just like how Artie grieved over Ryan’s sudden death. Ryan was provoked before his death by Arlo’s actions like that of Orion and Apollo. While Ryan’s body was getting prepared for his funeral the man in charge of the Olympus funeral home was none other then Peter’s brother, Hayden. What are the possibilities that Hayden like Hades (god of the dead) is related to Peter the novels equivalent to Zeus?
Just like how the ‘Olympus’ title misguides you at first glance and forces you the read the fine print, the context of the book does the same with identifying the connection with classical mythology. This book synopsis could not have been worded in a more perfect style. Stacey’s Swann debut novel was very clever with merging classical mythology into a modern-day small-town Texas drama. This book was not as obvious as other modern mythology retellings but if you want to play a fun game and identifying classical connections, this book will take you for a spin.