Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Boy and His Horse

Some important characters in Dancing with the Lion have four legs. And Alexander didn’t enter the pages of history alone.

He rode there.

History has given us some pretty famous horses: Traveler. Secretariat. Trigger. Marengo.

But Bucephalas was first. (Or Boukephalas, in the novel, the Greek spelling.)

At the ripe old age of twelve, Alexander tamed a big, dark horse* that nobody else could handle. It’s a great story, if also likely exaggerated. Yet that’s where their legendary friendship began. Supposedly, the horse would let nobody else ride him. And when a hill tribe kidnapped Boukephals at one point during the campaign, Alexander threatened to lay waste to the entire countryside and butcher very person in the region unless they brought his horse back.

They brought his horse back.

When Boukephalas died in India, Alexander even founded a city and named it after him. Now, as much as Alexander loved Hephaistion, he didn’t get any cities named after him.

Macedonians adored their horses, and Boukephalas was a very special companion to Alexander. For those of us who’ve loved a special pet, we can empathize.

And it’s not just Alexander’s Boukephalas who plays a role in the book. If we don’t know the name of Hephaistion’s horse in history, in Dancing with the Lion, he’s Brephas, who was raised from birth by Hephaistion, and is just as precious to him as Boukephalas is to Alexander. Perhaps even more so, as Alexander has just acquired Boukephalas a few months before the novel opens, whereas Hephaistion has had Brephas for years. 

So it was fun to give some personality not just to the two-leggeds, but the four-leggeds. Horses play a significant role, as Hephaistion comes from a family that breeds and trains them.

I’d like to give a shout-out to well-known SFF novelist Judith (Judy) Tarr and Carolyn Willekes (The Horse in the Ancient World), who did their best at different points to keep my horse facts on track.

(*Boukephalas is often called “black,” but the word in Greek just means “dark,” and the Pompeii mosaic shows him as a brown bay, a very, very common coat shade. So that’s what he is in the novel. Hephaistion gets the cool horse colors. Brephas is a sandy-bay.)

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