Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mysterious Deaths, and the Birth of Western Civilization by Gary Corby

Gary Corby is the debut author of The Pericles Commission.  It's the first of a mystery series set in Classical Athens starring Nicolaos, the elder brother of Socrates.  Gary lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. He blogs at A Dead Man Fell from the Sky, on all things ancient, Athenian, and mysterious. More information is at

Mysterious deaths, and the birth of western civilization
by Gary Corby

Birth and death so often go hand in hand.

Back in 461BC, in a city called Athens, the people decided that they could do a better job of running things than any group of privileged wealthy.  So they started a system where everyone got a vote.  It was the world's first democracy, and at that moment, western civilization was born.

There are other dates you could argue for, but it’s hard to go past this one: a sovereign state with one man one vote, free speech for every citizen, written laws and equality before the law, with open courts and trial by jury.  

It all sounds terribly modern, doesn't it?  More was happening too.  Modern drama was being invented at the same time as democracy.  Aeschylus was writing his plays; two young men called Sophocles and Euripides were beginning to write their own.  A philosopher called Anaxagoras developed a theory of matter in which everything was made of infinitesimal particles.  That was the birth of atomic theory.  Herodotus was traveling the world, writing his book called The Histories, and in the process founding both history and anthropology.  A young kid called Socrates was outside somewhere, playing in the street, and on the island of Kos, a baby called Hippocrates was born to a doctor and his wife.  

A lot of people don't realize all these great advances happened in a period of only 50 years.  It's the blink of an eye, historically.  The intensity of the time must have been incredible, and incredibly exciting.

The democracy didn't happen by accident.  It was pushed for, constantly over many years, by a statesman called Ephialtes.  

Then, within days of the birth of democracy, it all went horribly wrong.  Ephialtes was murdered.  
The world’s first political assassination in a democracy happened within days of the birth of democracy, and the victim was the man who created it.  This is the sort of thing you expect to read in a modern thriller.  But this is what truly happened, 2,500 years ago.

And that's the point at which my first book,  The Pericles Commission begins.  My detective Nicolaos is commissioned by the up and coming young politician Pericles to find the murderer.  It's a real, historical murder, solved by a fictional character.

Nicolaos begins his adventures right at the birth of what we know today as the Golden Age of Greece.  The Golden Age was 50 years packed with tales of adventure, war, conspiracy, lust, love, corruption, power politics, assassination . . . you name it and it happened.  If Nicolaos can survive his highly hazardous missions, he'll live to see the first years of western civilization, when politics, drama, medicine, science, philosophy, and even sport became as we know it today. 
This is what I love about historical mysteries, and which drove me to write my own.  The fun of solving the mystery, plus an exotic locale so strange it could be from epic fantasy, plus the knowledge that it really happened.  All right, maybe it didn't happen exactly as I wrote it.  We don't know who killed the real Ephialtes so I supplied my own devious solution.   But even so, in how many other genres can you get all that wrapped into one?  


Gary Corby said...

Thanks Kaye for having me on Meanderings and Muses! It's an honour to be among all those great writer's who've been before.

Vicki Lane said...

My favorite way to learn a little history -- in a good story! Sounds fascinating, Gary!

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Vicki, I'm glad you like the idea. I did have loads of fun weaving fiction into the reality. It's like a game!

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Fancy meeting you here, Gary!

You mentioned 461BC - but you forgot to mention a more important date: October 12, AD 2010.

My wife's birthday is the 15th. October 12th is the date that her gift is available for purchase...

Gary Corby said...

Ha, my friend! I have you to thank for introducing me to Kaye and her excellent blog.

I do hope you'll allow me to sign that birthday present. Unless of course it's actually a new toaster.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Gary - this sounds just wonderful! Can't wait to read it, and thank you for being here.

Gary Corby said...

My pleasure, Kaye!