The other day I got an email from the Greek translator of my novel Sons of Zeus that made me sick to my stomach. The translator, a wonderful woman named Eleni, told me (in a very polite way) that I had given the wrong name to a famous historical personage—the warrior-king who led the 300 Spartans at a place called Thermopylae (The Gates of Fire) and stalled the Persian advance into Greece.
Now anyone who knows even a little about ancient Greek history (or has seen the movie 300!) knows that this king was named Leonidas. I first learned the significance of his name when I read Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire when it came out fifteen years ago. It’s a great name and I wanted to use it as a character in my book when I first started writing Sons of Zeus ten years ago. I ended up giving the name Leonidas to the brother of my hero’s love interest.
This brother, Leonidas, was a prick of a character. A total bastard. And the more I thought about him I just couldn’t see him having this cool and heroic-sounding name. So I decided to change his name to Lysander, which is kind of a jerky sounding name, at least in English. It brings to mind the word “lie.” Lysander was a scoundrel and he got a scoundrel’s name (my apologies to any Lysanders out there).
So right before I sent in the first draft of Sons of Zeus to my publisher, I changed the name of Leonidas to the less appealing Lysander. And I did this using the Find and Replace function in Microsoft Word.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I had used the name Leonidas in the book in a totally different context.
You see, one of the main characters, a man named Menesarkus, has a flashback to his youth when he journeyed to Sparta soon after the Persian Wars and took part in the Funeral Games of Leonidas—in honor of that aforementioned Spartan king who sacrificed his life to save Greece. Find and Replace does not have a brain. And sometimes the human using this function doesn’t either. So the reference to the Funeral Games of Leonidas got changed to the Funeral Games of Lysander throughout the book.
Somehow I failed to notice this mistake. And neither did any of the people who read the first three drafts (and there were a lot of readers). The copy-editor, who thoroughly researched all the names in the book as well as historical references, missed it too. And so now, in the hardcover of my book (and on the unabridged audio recording, and all of the ebook versions) this paragraph reads:
He had been chosen to go along with a contingent of Plataean warriors, invited as honored guests of one of the royal families to participate in funeral games for Lysander, leader of the “Three Hundred” who had held off the passes of Thermopylae. . . .
Now believe me. I pored over the proofs of Sons of Zeus with a fine tooth comb. I nearly went blind looking for typos and mistakes. But somehow, this Leonidas/Lysander blunder kept slipping by me. My brain just glided over it every time I saw it. For a historical fiction writer like me who prides himself on being totally accurate, this mistake was devastating. It would be like a guy who fancies himself a Shakespeare scholar referring to King Lear as King Larry…or King Lysander!
Happily the Greek version will not have this mistake, thanks to the eagle eye of Eleni the translator. I don’t think that Greek readers would have forgiven me for making this epic blunder in the Greek version of my novel. The first thing that I’ll correct for the US paperback will be to restore King Leonidas to his rightful place of honor in Sons of Zeus.
Use Find and Replace at your peril, dear authors. Otherwise you might make the same stupid mistake that I did. Technology eventually makes fools of us all.