The Ancient Greeks and Holograms

Acropolis hologram

My novel Sword of Apollo comes out December 8th from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, thus completing my series The Warrior Trilogy. I started it twelve years ago at a coffee shop in Cambridge, MA, and I’ve written chapters all over the world, from the San Juan Islands of Washington State, to Vermont, to the actual ruins in Greece where the tale takes place. It’s been a long and amazing trip and I can’t wait to start on the second series (The Exiles Trilogy) someday. But I’ve been on a writing hiatus for about eighteen months, and here’s why.

About a week after I finished the final chapter of Sword of Apollo, I was hired by Microsoft to work on a secret project. That clandestine effort was for Microsoft’s proprietary mixed reality gear the HoloLens. So what does HoloLens do exactly? Quite simply it’s a visor that augments or adds to one’s reality by putting holograms in your real world space. You can see glimpses of a HoloLens project (recently made available to the public) that I participated in via this article from Tech Insider.

Holding the Sun

So what do the ancient Greeks have to do with holograms? Well, the word itself (coined by a Hungarian-born scientist nearly 70 years ago) is of Greek origin. It literally means a “whole something” namely a facsimile of life. When the Greeks wanted to create a replication of reality, they crafted marble and bronze statues in the likenesses of humans, animals, monsters and gods. But when they wanted to make stories come to life they would gather in a spot called “the seeing place” and watch the ancient world’s equivalent of a 3D movie.

I’m talking about plays. That’s right: the theatre. The word theatre literally means “a place for watching.” Here the Greeks would conjure epic tales of gods and mortals, as well as comedies and tragedies. They even had special effects. A lost work by the playwright Euripides called for a mechanical flying horse ridden by a god to swoop over the audience and rescue the young heroes trapped at the top of a high tower. The term deus ex machina (another Greek term) means “the god in the machine,” and these god-contraptions were created with complex wooden machinery, gears and cranes. The Greeks were pushing the limits of their technology to expand the human mind through visual means.

Just like modern-day augmented and mixed reality devices.

I’m pretty sure that the ancient Greeks would have loved holograms. Imagine the stories that they would have been able to tell. Someday I would love to make a hologram recreating the main setting for my tale: the city of Plataea. That place lies in ruins now and is inhabited by nothing more than grazing cows and tortoises. But I’ve walked around the entire circuit of the citadel’s walls, following the crumbling remnants of the 2,500-year-old foundations of the bastions and guard towers; and I’ve stumbled across marble columns, basins and sarcophagi hidden by the tall grass.

Zeus on Walls

Imagine being able to read my book, and then, through the magic of augmented reality, conjuring up a recreated model of the citadel as it appeared in its heyday. The possibilities for enhanced narratives are endless.

Visit’s The Warrior Trilogy page and start the series with Book 1: Sons of Zeus. (Holograms not included.)

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