Andrew J. Peters Interviews Cleito from Poseidon and Cleito
“He became a god. Her story was forgotten.”
So begins the backcover blurb from Poseidon and Cleito, a re-imagined portrait of the god who Plato claimed struck faults in the earth to create an island paradise that conquered the world, and the mortal woman who he chose as his queen.
Never thereafter has her story been explored. Cleito was relegated to the margins of classical mythology while for over two millennia the legend of her husband’s empire has captured the imagination of artists, archeologists, occultists, science fiction and fantasy authors, and not a few conspiracy theorists. Now, another conspiracy has been unearthed. Who was the woman Plato saw fit to give a name and nothing else?
The queen of Atlantis was gracious enough to sit down with me and share somewhat of her life and aspirations.
AP: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and allow me to introduce you to readers. Should I call you Your Royal Highness? Your clerical title: Adoratrice? Or is there another honorific you prefer?
C: (a mild grin) My time on earth has expired as all living things return to dust. I have no kingdom, no priesthood, nor people to command. Infinitudes of kingdoms succeed me. They have fallen one after the other, becoming no more than scorched earth upon which new kingdoms germinate and flourish and wither, an everlasting cycle. I watch from afar as a phantom, each year recognizing less and less of the world I knew. To the people of your era, I suspect I am at most a name which stirs a recollection, though weighted and ungraspable like a fragment of a dream. As such, I should be satisfied if you called me Cleito.
AP: Your father was a prophet. I’m wondering if I hear some of his influence on you. You sound some parts like a poet and some parts a philosopher. Tell me about your childhood and your family.
C: Yes, my father Evenor started out as a street crier. When my mother left us, his anguish was so great, he endeavored to throw himself to the teeth of our island shore from a seaside cliff. The martyred goddess appeared to him to turn him away from that desperate act, and she decreed that he share her ancient wisdom with the people. He was ridiculed for years. We lived no better than peasants in my childhood, on a meager inheritance from my grandfather, who was deposed by my father’s older brother, who was also the second husband of my mother.
To your modern sensibilities, that probably all sounds rather barbaric, but it is the life I knew as a child. My grandfather killed all six of his brothers to wrest the throne. His son, my uncle, murdered him in order to be king. He, and my mother, were killed in a conspiracy led by my great-uncle to install my half-brother on the throne. There was no safety in my family, nor loyalty for that matter. My father created a priesthood of good works and morality as a counterbalance to the crown’s corruption. When I was seventeen years of age, Evenor was assassinated by my half-brother’s regime.
AP: That is quite a complicated and frightening family history. I wonder: what was your relationship with your mother like?
C: (a drawn out silence) I suppose for many children, a mother is unknowable. Leucippe existed in my mind as somewhat of a fable, this beautiful, glamorous woman who won the heart of the most powerful man in the kingdom. I have images in my head from when I was a child. She would fill the tin tub we used for bathing with warm water from the hearth, and make it luscious with perfumes and rose petals, and wash my hair as though I was a princess. She would tell me that my hair was fairer and more beautiful than her own, though I never believed her. We would pretend we were noble ladies, imagining our coarse, farmhouse smocks as fancy gowns, our clay bead jewelry as precious gems, braiding and winding each other’s hair, and pinning colorful twigs and wildflowers to our hair like coronets. At supper times, we would lay out every tin and wooden goblet and plate from the larder as though we were preparing a splendid table.
That was in the fleeting seasons before she left. Afterwards, I was permitted to visit her in the king’s fortress once a season, sometimes just once a year. Those visits were much more formal and accompanied by her household of ladies and handmaidens, such that I wondered if we had ever shared the private bond I remembered, or if I had made up those shining moments of my girlhood in my head.
Leucippe was not one to confide her private thoughts, though I understood why she left my father, whose poverty was scarcely redeemed by kindness. He abandoned her in his own way before she left by spending day and night out of the house in what I later recognized as a rather desperate campaign to understand his place in the world. He spent weeks living with hermit mystics. Other times, he kept company with penniless street performers and musicians, and all form of malcontents, drunkards and derelicts. It was not the life my mother wanted. Above all else, I used to wish that she would send for me, and I too would live in a palace with fancy dresses and jewelry and servants, all the trappings. Naturally, with the benefit of time, I arbitrated those regrets.
AP: You have had a lot of time to reflect on your life, and I must say your attitude sounds much different from the woman we meet at the beginning of Poseidon and Cleito. After your father’s funeral, you commit yourself to avenging his assassination, and proving that you can do better than your parents did. Though an outsider to your father’s priesthood, you claim the title of high priestess. Without giving too much away, we see you set your sights on even bigger things. As an orphaned young woman, seventeen-years old, in a world where a woman’s place was in the home, where did such ambition come from? Would you say it was important to you to be recognized, or really beyond that, admired by the people around you?
C: After Evenor’s death, I had a choice. I could have attempted a quiet life making something of his land and stables. I could have married the son of a beekeeper, who sought to claim me. To me, those options were a thousand times more frightening than succeeding my father as the kingdom’s first high priestess and facing my brother’s court. I recall thinking to myself that even if I should be killed, I would have tread my own path. Perhaps I inherited that nature from my father. I could not live quietly, nor be ruled by another person.
AP: That provides a good segueway to another question I wanted to ask. Your relationship with Poseidon…what was your first impression of him?
C: I can be marvelously specific. The first time I met Poseidon was at my brother’s court, in his gloomy throne room where all manner of petitioners asked the king for such and such. That particular day, we had an intrigue. A naval ship had taken prisoner a band of foreigners who were said to have traveled across the sea to make embassy.
They were a strange and unappealing lot. Tall and broadly built in an ungainly fashion. With matted, overgrown hair and beards and faded war paints on their faces. They dressed in threadbare shifts and raggedy pelts, and they were ashy and wasted from their travel. Though my brother and his sycophants laughed at them, I can tell you we were one and all a bit terrified that such creatures had been pulled out of the sea within the boundary of the kingdom. They were like ogres dredged from another realm.
One of the men who introduced himself as a herald of sorts announced that Poseidon was their king, though Poseidon himself did not speak. The herald presented an outlandish claim that he was borne of a mountain titan. I saw the truth on his darkening face. I saw gentleness as well, and in his humility, I saw honor. At the same time, he was the strangest man I had ever seen. So overgrown, he stood a head, two heads above my countrymen; and he had a crooked tooth, like a fang, that showed when he smiled, giving him a wolfish aspect. It was not as they say in the fairytales: love sown at first sight, and I fear if you had told me that day he would be my husband, I would have laughed and said it would never be so.
AP: It is a complicated relationship between you two. Would you say that you believe in love? If so, how would you define it?
C: I always felt like a spectator to love, and in that role, a skeptic. I saw the crushing power wielded by women who were beloved, my mother being one example. I did not wish to be on the cruel end of that enchantment, the one whose heart is captured, hovering over a blade. Love is really a woman’s sole device to prosper in the world of men. I kept my heart well-defended. It was a bargain that likely saved my life, though I know now there were concessions that accompanied that bargain. I loved my sons, even those who turned away from me. They captured my heart. I would have done anything to defend them.
AP: What historical figure do you admire the most?
C: (a wry laugh) I suspect your readers might expect me to say Agrippina the Younger. Or Queen Mary I, or Lucretia Borgia. I suppose I do share a kinship with those women, if not their fame. It is easier for a woman to be remembered as a monster than a heroine; and the alternative is to be remembered as a martyr, like Joan of Arc or Mother Theresa.
I admire visionaries, whether men or women, though the men do have a tendency to demand more attention, don’t they? I admire the prophet Mohammed, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Catherine the Great.
AP: Cleito, thanks so much for a fascinating interview!
Andrew J. Peters writes fantasy for readers of all ages, with a particular penchant for retold myth. His début young adult novel The Seventh Pleaide received a 2014 Rainbow Awards Honorable Mention, and its follow-up Banished Sons of Poseidon was a Best of 2015 Editors Pick at All Our Worlds Diverse Fantastic Fiction. His Werecat series was a finalist in The Romance Reviews’ 2016 Readers’ Choice awards. He is also the author of Poseidon and Cleito and The City of Seven Gods. In 2016, Andrew was featured in Loop Magazine’s “Four Must-Read Authors with Buffalo Ties.” (That’s Buffalo the city, not ties with buffaloes).
Andrew grew up in Buffalo, New York, studied psychology at Cornell University, and has spent most of his career as a social worker and an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. While writing, he works as a faculty and an administrator at Adelphi University. He lives in New York City with his husband Genaro and their cat Chloë. For more about Andrew, visit: http://andrewjpeterswrites.com
Poseidon and Cleito Back Cover Blurb:
He became a god. Her story was forgotten.
From the shore of a frozen steppe, an outcast hunter embarks for the otherworld to ask his ancestors how to bring the mammoth back to the fields of sedge. In a shining, island kingdom of wonders, the daughter of a high priest fights for her claim to wealth and power after her father is assassinated by the king.
Together they will build an empire recalled as an ancient legend and a cautionary tale. But how did he become a god while she became a mere footnote in history?
From the publisher: Poseidon and Cleito is the engrossing first book of a fantasy trilogy of myth and legend exploring the rise of the lost civilization of Atlantis. In the best traditions of an epic journey, one man’s struggle to discover his place in the world takes him across perilous seas into the epicenter of political strife in a foreign land. But a legend is not made of deeds alone. Fans of Guy Gavriel Kay’s historical fantasy and David Gemmell’s Troy series will enjoy this fantasy novel as it sets out to reimagine the inception of a Greek myth.
Early release on Amazon Exclusive: https://www.amazon.com/Poseidon-Cleito-Andrew-J-Peters-ebook/dp/B01HNGGGTW