I started reading Ransom by David Malouf and I almost gave up by page 7. Not because it’s uninteresting or poorly written, it isn’t. It’s got lyrical but unshowy language and it’s about Achilles after Patroklus has been killed, good stuff. But he had to go and write this:
Days, years, season after season; an endless interim of keeping your weapons in good trim and your keener self taut as a bowstring through long stretches of idleness, of restless, patient waiting, and shameful quarrels and unmanly bragging and talk. [emphasis mine]
Unmanly? Hardly. You got your modern guilt in my Greek mythology!
Yes, the inscriptions at Delphi are γνώθι σαυτόν and μηδέν άγαν, “know thyself” and “nothing in excess” but that doesn’t rule out bragging… if it’s true. Just don’t lie, don’t claim you’re better than the gods, don’t claim to be a god, just try not to talk about the gods at all, they’re a vindictive bunch. But if you’re actually awesome, talk about it. The Greeks valued arete and time (tee-may, not like time on a clock), excellence and honor, and if you’re on a battlefield with hundreds of other men, you’re going to talk about it. They were hardly the only ones. The Germanic pagans included boasting in their rites.
Malouf is hardly the only writer out there who is misunderstanding the culture. And I hesitate to even go that far. I haven’t finished the book yet, maybe it was just poor word choice. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, it’s how I pushed past page 7. But it has come up, mostly in movies, with men treating women well or thinking of the gods as either loving or remote and uninterested in humans as playthings. While yes, these things are upgrades, I’m a big girl and I can take the nasty bits of history. As long as they’re true.