I've just finished reading this, the most recent Discworld book. If you're spoilerphobic, be warned, thar be spoilers 'ere...
I was hoping for an excuse to blog about this book, and I wasn't disappointed - although the book doesn't have any particularly strong classical themes, there are classical references scattered throughout.
There's the 'orange and black' (i.e. either red figure or black figure, it doesn't specify) urn that reveals how ancient football is, featuring two nude men involved in a 'tackle' (it's not very Greek though - apparently, their masculinity is 'beyond doubt', but unless they're both manifestations of the god Pan, if it was really Greek, they'd be rather unimpressive in that department. Apart from vases actually showing people mid-doing-the-deed, but that's different). There's a description of ancient footballing traditions involving naiads dancing on the edge of the field, which the wizards confuse with Sirens (clearly, Unseen University does not have a Classics department). There's Pepe's description of the ancient combats that used to take place in the Hippo (i.e. the hippodrome - whcih is odd, since ancient hippodromes were for chariot racing, it was amphitheatres that hosted gladiatorial combats) which includes a reference to men with spears fighting men with nets (men with nets are retiarii, though they also had a trident and a dagger). All of these things remind us that, just as Discworld is a mirror of us, its past mirrors our past, that is, the classical past of Europe (there are many other influences from around the world on the Discworld, but Ankh-Morpork's history is essentially European. The Counterweight Continent, of course, is another matter all together).
Glenda, one of the protagonists, thoroughly disapproves of the Guild of Historians' attempt to reclaim the game of the streets for high culture, and it is implied that the discovery of the urn is rather excessively convenient. The idea is that it is easier to persuade people of the importance of something if it can be proved that it was done a long time ago. I hope no one tries this with some other ancient traditions... The goddess football was originally played for was Pedestriana. Tee hee. (From the Latin for feet).
The editor of The Times, William de Worde, also fancies himself as a classicist, and throws 'classical' (in this case, purely Discworldian, though throwaway references to random battles could come from anywhere really) references at will into his football report. Similarly, the University's Master of Music insists on composing football chants in 'Latatian', because it just isn't proper music if it isn't in Latin. All of these little snobberies on the part of the middle and upper class characters are totally lost on the protagonists (except Nutt) and on many of the wizards as well.
There are a few classical characters as well. There's a throwaway reference to there being a Medusa in the Watch. Of course, in ancient myth there was only one Medusa. By race, she was a Gorgon, but Pratchett names his awkward race, who must wear very thick sunglasses in public, by the name of the best-known example. More importantly for the story, Nutt is followed and harrassed by a group of Furies, employed by her Ladyship to keep an eye on him and protect those around him. In Greek myth, the Furies (or Erinyes) pursued their victims for the purpose of retribution, but in this case, the Furies are more like very loud, very irritating bodyguards. I'm not sure what inspired Pratchett to use Furies, but their apperance is nicely exotic and horrific (and I don't remember them being used in Discworld before) and - and perhaps this was the inspriation and the point - their birdlike voices keep squwking 'awk! awk!' when they mean 'orc! orc!'.
Erinyes, Apulian red figure krater, 4th century BC
Finally, a non-Classical reference, but one related to my work - when Nutt, in a moment that struck me as pure Movie!Gollum (and, to an extent, Book!Gollum as well, though it was the movie that came to mind) psychoanalyses himself, the pschyanalyst half of him speaks with a Germanic accent - a clear nod to Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis. (I look at Freud a lot in relation to dreams and to myth). Psychoanalyst!Nutt also has a distinct obsession with asking people about their relationship with their mother. I liked that bit!
There are lots of other things to talk about of course. 'Juliet' is so named because of a certain rather famous play, and her nickname is spelled 'Jools' most of the time, 'Jewels' when she's being a supermodel and, on one occasion where Pratchett's typist seems to have slipped up, 'Jules'. I spell it 'Juls', but that's a quirk of mine, from an old computer game that only gave you four letters for your name. 'Jules' is more common for girls and anyone who isn't Jools Holland.
Much as it doesn't seem very nice to point it out, this may be one of the last Discworld novels, so it was nice to see brief appearances by or mentions of lots of characters from Discworld history, even though the four chief protagonists of the novel were new characters. It was fun seeing Rincewind as a minor character as well - his books aren't among my favourites, but without him, there would be no Discworld so it's good to see him. I love books about the other wizards, too, and there are some very well-aimed jokes about academics, mostly revolving around big dinners and a reluctance to get involved in any actual lecturing. The attempt to create a football chant for Professor Macarona that include all his titles is very funny too.
I wasn't so keen on the new addition of Dr Hix, nor on the departure for pastures new of the Dean (though his rivalry with Ridcully is very funny), and this book contained quite possibly the worst-taste joke I've ever read, in Discworld or anything else (though I've seen worse on TV...). The use of an orc as a main character and major part of the plot is interesting - a bit cheeky, since I think Tolkien actually created orcs (though knowing Tolkien they come from some mythology somewhere) but very good, especially in its use for a nice story about nature and nurture. I'm not sure I'm quite on board with human/orc romance though...
I liked this book a lot - not up there with the absolute best of Discworld, but definitely one of the good 'uns. I especially loved how 'real' many of the characters felt - as if you expect to see them walking down the street before the next football match. Thoroughly recommended.