by Gary Corby
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 began.
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? That’s because our civilization is based on this one crucial moment in history. This is the period we know today as the Golden Age of Athens, fifty years of astounding invention.
At that moment in 461BC, Aeschylus was inventing drama; two young men called Sophocles and Euripides followed him with their own plays. 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 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.
There’s a good reason to begin a murder mystery series at this auspicious date: The Pericles Commission is based on the real, historical murder of a statesman called Ephialtes. He’s largely forgotten today, but this man created the democracy, and mere days later was assassinated for his trouble. The men behind the historical killing were never found.
But if Ephialtes was murdered to stifle the new system, then the plot failed, because when they killed Ephialtes they replaced a great statesman with a political genius. Ephialtes had a lieutenant, a rising young politician by the name of Pericles. And of course, today it’s Pericles we remember as the great statesman of the age.
Pericles held it together. Somehow. It must have been a challenge even for him, but Athens kept its shiny new democracy. One of the things Pericles did to save Athens in its moment of crisis was to commission a young man named Nicolaos to uncover the killers, and that’s the point where my fiction emerges from reality.
I had enormous fun weaving fiction into the fabric of truth. I wrote The Pericles Commission from the viewpoint of Nicolaos, the ambitious son of a minor sculptor. Nicolaos didn’t exist, but his irritiating younger brother did: a lad by the name of Socrates. The series opens when Socrates was twelve. Socrates had no known full siblings, and yet, Nicolaos would not be not impossible. The fact that Nicolaos doesn’t show up in the historical record is no objection. The period is poorly documented and even some quite prominent men have only a few lines in the histories. When you throw in the fact that Nicolaos is doing discreet investigation…of course no one has heard of him until now.
Nicolaos begins his adventures right at the start of the Golden Age. It was a period 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 founding of western civilization.
This is what I love about historical mysteries, and inspired me to write my own. The fun of solving the mystery, plus an exotic locale so strange it could come from an epic fantasy, plus the knowledge that it really happened. All right, maybe it didn’t happen exactly as I wrote it, and I supplied my own devious solution, but even so, in how many other genres can you get all this wrapped into one?
Gary Corby has long been fascinated by ancient history, finding it more exciting and bizarre than any modern thriller. He’s combined the ancient world with his love of whodunits, to create an historical mystery series set in classical Greece. 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 GaryCorby.com.