The Golden Mean

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Overview

A startlingly original first novel by “this generation’s answer to Alice Munro” (The Vancouver Sun)—a bold reimagining of one of history’s most intriguing relationships: between legendary philosopher Aristotle and his most famous pupil, the young Alexander the Great.

342 BC: Aristotle is reluctant to set aside his own ambitions in order to tutor Alexander, the rebellious son of his boyhood friend Philip of Macedon. But the philosopher soon comes to realize that teaching this ...

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The Golden Mean

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Overview

A startlingly original first novel by “this generation’s answer to Alice Munro” (The Vancouver Sun)—a bold reimagining of one of history’s most intriguing relationships: between legendary philosopher Aristotle and his most famous pupil, the young Alexander the Great.

342 BC: Aristotle is reluctant to set aside his own ambitions in order to tutor Alexander, the rebellious son of his boyhood friend Philip of Macedon. But the philosopher soon comes to realize that teaching this charming, surprising, sometimes horrifying teenager—heir to the Macedonian throne, forced onto the battlefield before his time—is a necessity amid the ever more sinister intrigues of Philip’s court.

Told in the brilliantly rendered voice of Aristotle—keenly intelligent, often darkly funny—The Golden Mean brings ancient Greece to vivid life via the story of this remarkable friendship between two towering figures, innovator and conqueror, whose views of the world still resonate today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The bond between teacher and student occupies the center of Canadian Lyon's debut novel covering the three years during which Aristotle tutored the young Alexander the Great, before Alexander's accession to the throne of Macedonia. The philosopher narrates, recounting his arrival in the court of Philip of Macedon, Aristotle's upbringing, and his bond with the ruling family. The teenaged Alexander is headstrong and arrogant, but also insecure and vulnerable. "Every student is both a challenge and a laurel leaf," Aristotle says in an early, disputatious meeting. "I haven't seen anything in you that tells me you're extraordinary in any way." Alexander matures as he absorbs Aristotle's core principles. "You must look for the mean between extremes, the point of balance," Aristotle advises the future military genius. Lyon depicts Aristotle's desire to instill a sense of virtue in his royal pupil in clear, often earthy language, and brings 4th-century Greece to startling life. Lyon richly imagines Aristotle's stint as Macedon's royal academician, who gave Alexander the intellectual tools to not only rule but to civilize. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“It is testament to Lyon’s talent that she has shaped history into a narrative not only gripping, but also accessible and poignant, even tender . . . Beautifully researched and written . . . A novel that is brave enough to raise the universal questions about how a man should live his life [and] that describes with amazing authority the flaws and growth of one of our greatest philosophers as well as his famous student . . . What could be more relevant to our own troubled times?”
Boston Globe

“A splendidly intelligent and entertaining novel about the ancient world . . . Here’s a story that gives us the classical world with everyday liveliness and narrative force, without ever sacrificing intellectual integrity and historical accuracy.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR/All Things Considered

“A sensational first novel . . . Not to be missed . . . While The Golden Mean is beautifully written, its compressed prose both fleet and rhythmic, the novel’s pleasures are closer to those of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, or even the historical pot boilers of Ken Follett . . . [It] hooked me as a first novel should, carried me along, and left me determined to read whatever the author writes next.”
The Daily Beast (Must-Read Debuts)

The Golden Mean is more than a brilliant and beautifully told novel: it’s also a profound exploration of moral and philosophical issues that have troubled and perplexed us since Aristotle.”
 —Russell Banks, author of The Reserve

“It takes chutzpah to make your main characters Aristotle and Alexander the Great, but Lyon pulls it off; she has the gift of finding the pulse of the ancient world and bringing it back to glorious life . . . Gripping, with a powerful sense of time and place.”
 —The Times (UK)

“Ancient Greece, in all its gusto, gore, and glory, springs vividly to life in Lyon’s pitch-perfect paean to Aristotle and Alexander the Great . . . Lyon’s ability to penetrate the mind and convincingly articulate the thoughts and emotions of one of the greatest intellects of all time is absolutely astounding.”
Booklist

“The 4th century BC and the youth of Alexander the Great are marvellously reimagined in Lyon’s justifiably garlanded novel . . . The daily intrigues of the court, the visceral aspects of battle, philosophical discussion, and Aristotle’s household are all evoked in measured, burnished prose, which combines thrilling immediacy with a stately timelessness. Aristotle’s black moods and Alexander’s probable latent psychosis in particular are fascinatingly drawn.”
Guardian (UK)
 
“Few writers would dare to employ Aristotle as their narrator but Annabel Lyon has done exactly this in her extraordinary novel The Golden Mean. In thoughtful and controlled prose that never fails to grip, Lyon presents an unexpected portrait of the young Alexander the Great, a fascinating recreation of Plato’s Academy and brings the ancient world back to life with a splendour I haven’t seen since I, Claudius. A triumph of erudition and story-telling.”
—John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
  
“A richly imagined and engrossing novel . . . In Lyon’s capable hands, the intense battle of wills between student and teacher, philosopher and ambitious warrior prince, is arresting and original . . . A flawlessly drawn world . . . A moving and illuminating historical novel that can stand proudly alongside the works of Mary Renault.”
Shelf Awareness

“The harsh light of the classical world is prone to bleach away all humanity and leave only the bare outline of myth. Not so in Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean, in which Aristotle is haunted by agonies of the flesh and spirit, and Alexander, his most famous pupil, struggles to be Olympian despite a murderous nature and merely human powers.”
—Zachary Mason, author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey

“The fourth century BCE comes eccentrically alive in this award-winning debut historical novel . . . Impressively researched and vividly detailed . . As authoritative and compelling as Mary Renault’s renowned novels set in the ancient world.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Lyon captures Aristotle’s voice so gracefully I sometimes thought I was reading a memoir rather than a work of fiction . . . Along with food for thought, The Golden Mean is filled with charming dialogue, colorful and dynamic characters, lush description, moments of deep sadness, love, sex, humor (often dark), and so much more, giving the book the chops to appeal to nearly any reader looking for a rich read.”
Bookpleasures.com

“Remarkable . . . Lyon explores and develops the relations between [Aristotle and Alexander] with uncommon sensitivity and skill . . . The Golden Mean does beautifully what the best historical novels do. It recreates a past time whose manners are different from ours; yet it shows what is permanent in human nature . . . This is an outstanding novel, admirably structured, economical and evocative, keenly intelligent, amusing and sad—a book in which imagination and intellect are yoked in harmony.”
The Scotsman (UK)

The Golden Mean is an extraordinary achievement . . . Lyon portrays the relationship between Aristotle and Alexander with great subtlety, carefully investing their characters with perfectly judged light and shade . . . With her sensuous prose, rich imagery and meticulous attention to detail, Lyon has brushed the cobwebs of ages from two of history’s most charismatic characters and brought them gloriously to life.”
Yorkshire Evening Post (UK)

“This is a pitch perfect, even dazzling debut novel . . . Historical fiction at its best . . . Lyon authoritatively evokes a fabled time and place in the urbane and dry voice of the man judged the smartest of his age.” 
MontrealGazette

“A wonderful book—an enthralling page-turner with deeply realized characters. [It] echoes right up to modern times, in spite of its ancient setting . . . A taut, polished novel that will hold your attention from start to finish . . . Funny, thought-provoking, sensual, and suspenseful.”  
Vancouver Sun 
 
“I absolutely loved The Golden Mean. Annabel Lyon brings the philosophers and warriors, artists and whores, princes and slaves of ancient Macedonia alive, with warmth, wit and poignancy. Impeccably researched and brilliantly told, this novel is utterly convincing.”  
—Marie Phillips, author of Gods Behaving Badly
 
“The best books are those that steal up on you, and lead you gently into a world made real, not by an abundance of detail, but by honestly rendered characters that, from the very first page, so completely captivate that before you know it, you’ve read half the book and there are but a few hours until dawn . . . The Golden Mean is such a book.”
MostlyFiction.com
 
 

Library Journal
This debut novel, a best seller in Canada and winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, chronicles the relationship between Greek philosopher Aristotle and the teenaged Alexander before he became Alexander the Great. As the book opens, Aristotle and his wife, Pythias, are taking the grueling trip to Macedon to visit King Philip, Aristotle's boyhood friend. Aristotle intends the trip to be a brief one, a stopover on the way back to Athens. When Philip unexpectedly asks Aristotle to tutor his son Alexander, the philosopher reluctantly accepts. Verdict Lyon depicts Aristotle as a complex combination of brilliance and melancholy. While the book's narrative thread is Aristotle's tutelage of Alexander, the most compelling part of the book is its wide-ranging portrayal of Greek civilization on the verge of the Hellenistic period. For historical fiction buffs, especially those who love to read about the ancient world, Lyons provides fascinating glimpses of the political struggles and battles, as well as the arts, culture, science, and medicine, of the period.—Douglas Southard, CRA International, Inc., Boston

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews

The fourth century BCE comes eccentrically alive in this award-winning debut historical novel from a Canadian short story writer (The Best Thing for You,2004,etc.).

Given the subtitle, it risks hubris from the outset, as the noted philosopher (who narrates) describes his journey from Athens (accompanied by his young wife Pythias and "apprentice" Callisthenes) to Macedon, at the imperious request of King Philip of Macedon. The two had been friends as boys, when Aristotle's father was physician to Philip's father the king, but have grown apart in every imaginable way. The philosopher's beloved Athens is only a pale shadow of the glory that was Greece, and Philip's royal city Pella is the base for an empire expanded by perpetual conquest. Aristotle has been enlisted to tutor Philip's younger son Alexander, the quick-witted, energetic and temperamental heir to his father's dream of unlimited aggrandizement. But before this impressively researched, vividly detailed novel settles into a contest of wits and wills between determined teacher and often unmanageable student, Lyon builds a fascinating portrait of the Athenian sage. While insisting that empirical evidence must be amassed and comprehended before theories can be formed, and preaching the need to find a middle ground (or "golden mean") between any and all extremes, this Aristotle is revealed as a sensualist gratified and enthralled by the world's often inexplicable plenitude, whether he's interpreting tragic drama or examining feces or pondering the movements of celestial bodies; demonstrating his emphatically earthbound affection for the bewitching Pythias; or awakening the potential for rationality in Alexander's seemingly retarded older brother Arrhidaeus (perhaps the novel's most sympathetic character). In her most daring leap, Lyon examines with perfect tact and logic infrequently scrutinized evidence that suggests that this master of analysis and reason may have been clinically bipolar.

As authoritative and compelling as Mary Renault's renowned novels set in the ancient world. One hopes we may learn more about Lyon's immeasurably brilliant, unflappably human Aristotle.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307593993
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/7/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 11.38 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Annabel Lyon’s story collection, Oxygen, and book of novellas, The Best Thing for You, were published in Canada to wide acclaim. The Golden Mean, her first novel, is a Canadian best seller and is being published in six languages. It won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Lyon lives in British Columbia with her husband and two children.
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Read an Excerpt

One

The rain falls in black cords, lashing my animals, my men, and my wife, Pythias, who last night lay with her legs spread while I took notes on the mouth of her sex, who weeps silent tears of exhaustion now, on this tenth day of our journey. On the ship she seemed comfortable enough, but this last overland stage is beyond all her experience and it shows. Her mare stumbles; she’s let the reins go loose again, allowing the animal to sleepwalk. She rides awkwardly, weighed down by her sodden finery. Earlier I suggested she remain on one of the carts but she resisted, such a rare occurrence that I smiled, and she, embarrassed, looked away. Callisthenes, my nephew, offered to walk the last distance, and with some difficulty we helped her onto his big bay. She clutched at the reins the first time the animal shifted beneath her.

“Are you steady?” I asked, as around us the caravan began to ?move.

“Of course.”

Touching. Men are good with horses where I come from, where we’re returning now, and she knows it. I spent yesterday on the carts myself so I could write, though now I ride bareback, in the manner of my countrymen, a ball-busting propos-ition for someone who’s been sedentary as long as I have. You can’t stay on a cart while a woman rides, though; and it occurs to me now that this was her intention.

I hardly noticed her at first, a pretty, vacant-eyed girl on the fringes of Hermias’s menagerie. Five years ago now. Atarneus was a long way from Athens, across the big sea, snug to the flank of the Persian Empire. Daughter, niece, ward, concubine—the truth slipped like ?silk.

“You like her,” Hermias said. “I see the way you look at her.” Fat, sly, rumoured a money-changer in his youth, later a butcher and a mercenary; a eunuch, now, supposedly, and a rich man. A politician, too, holding a stubborn satrapy against the barbarians: Hermias of Atarneus. “Bring me my thinkers!” he used to shout. “Great men surround themselves with thinkers! I wish to be surrounded!” And he would laugh and slap at himself while the girl Pythias watched without seeming to blink quite often ?enough. She became a gift, one of many, for I was a favourite. On our wedding night she arrayed herself in veils, assumed a pose on the bed, and whisked away the sheets before I could see if she had bled. I was thirty-seven then, she fifteen, and gods forgive me but I went at her like a stag in rut. Stag, hog.

“Eh? Eh?” Hermias said the next morning, and laughed.

Night after night after night. I tried to make it up to her with kindness. I treated her with great courtliness, gave her money, addressed her softly, spoke to her of my work. She wasn’t stupid; thoughts flickered in her eyes like fish in deep pools. Three years we spent in Atarneus, until the Persians breathed too close, too hot. Two years in the pretty town of Mytilene, on the island of Lesvos, where they cobbled the floor of the port so enemy ships couldn’t anchor. Now this journey. Through it all she has an untouchable dignity, even when she lies with her knees apart while I gently probe for my work on generation. Fish, too, I’m studying, field animals, and birds when I can get them. There’s a seed like a pomegranate seed in the centre of the folds, and the hole frilled like an oyster. Sometimes moisture, sometimes dryness. I’ve noted it all.

“Uncle.”

I follow my nephew’s finger and see the city on the marshy plain below us, bigger than I remember, more sprawling. The rain is thinning, spitting and spatting now, under a suddenly lucid gold-grey sky.

“Pella,” I announce, to rouse my dripping, dead-eyed wife. “The capital of Macedon. Temple there, market there, palace. You can just make it out. Bigger than you thought?”

She says nothing.

“You’ll have to get used to the dialect. It’s fast, but not so different really. A little rougher.”

“I’ll manage,” she says, not ?loudly.

I sidle my horse up to hers, lean over to take her reins to keep her near me while I talk. It’s good for her to have to listen, to think. Callisthenes walks beside us.

“The first king was from Argos. A Greek, though the people aren’t. Enormous wealth here: timber, wheat, corn, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, copper, iron, silver, gold. Virtually all they have to import is olives. Too cold for olives this far north, mostly; too mountainous. And did you know that most of the Athenian navy is built from Macedonian timber?”

“Did we bring olives?” Pythias asks.

“I assume you know your wars, my love?”

She picks at the reins, plucks at them like lyre strings, but I don’t let go. “I know them,” she says ?finally.

Utterly ignorant, of course. If I had to weave all day, I’d at least weave myself a battle scene or two. I remind her of the Athenian conquest of Persia under the great general Pericles, Athens at her seafaring mightiest, in my great-grandfather’s time. Then the decades of conflict in the Peloponnese, Athens bled and finally brought low by Sparta, with some extra Persian muscle, in my father’s youth; and Sparta itself defeated by Thebes, by then the ascendant power, in my own childhood. “I will set you a task. You’ll embroider Thermopylae for me. We’ll hang it over the bed.”

Still not looking at me.

“Thermopylae,” I say. “Gods, woman. The pass. The pass where the Spartans held off the Persians for three days, a force ten times their own. Greatest stand in the history of warfare.”

“Lots of pink and red,” Callisthenes suggests.

She looks straight at me for a moment. I read, Don’t patronize me. And, Continue.

Now, I tell her, young Macedon is in the ascendant, under five-wived Philip. A marriage to cement every settlement and seal every victory: Phila from Elimea, in the North; Audata the Illyrian princess; Olympias of Epirus, first among wives, the only one called queen; Philinna from Thessaly; and Nikesipolis of Pherae, a beauty who died in childbirth. Philip invaded Thrace, too, after Thessaly, but hasn’t yet taken a Thracian wife. I rifle the library in my skull for an interesting factling. “They like to tattoo their women, the Thracians.”

“Mmm.” Callisthenes closes his eyes like he’s just bitten into something tasty.

We’re descending the hillside now, our horses scuffling in the rocky scree as we make our way down to the muddy plain. Pythias is shifting in the saddle, straightening her clothes, smoothing her eyebrows, touching a fingertip to each corner of her mouth, preparing for the city.

“Love.” I put my hand on hers to still her grooming and claim back her attention. My nephew I ignore. A Thracian woman would eat him alive, tender morsel that he is, and spit out the little bones. “You should know a little more. They don’t keep slaves like we do, even in the palace. Everyone works. And they don’t have priests. The king performs that function for his people. He begins every day with sacrifices, and if anyone needs to speak to a god, it’s done through him.” Sacrilege: she doesn’t like this. I read her body. “Pella will not be like Hermias’s court. Women are not a part of public life here.”

“What does that mean?”

I shrug. “Men and women don’t attend entertainments together, or even eat together. Women of your rank aren’t seen. They don’t go out.”

“It’s too cold to go out,” Pythias says. “What does it matter, anyway? This time next week we’ll be in Athens.”

“That’s right.” I’ve explained to her that this detour is just a favour to Hermias. I’m needed in Pella for just a day or two, a week at most. Clean up, dry out, rest the animals, deliver Hermias’s mail, move on. “There isn’t much you’d want to do in public anyway.” The arts are imported sparingly. Pig-hunting is big; drinking is big. “You’ve never tasted beer, have you? You’ll have to try some before we leave.”

She ignores me.

“Beer!” Callisthenes says. “I’ll drink yours, Auntie.”

“Remember yourself,” I tell the young man, who has a tendency to giggle when he gets excited. “We are diplomats now.”

The caravan steps up its pace, and my wife’s back straightens. We’re on.

Despite the rain and ankle-sucking mud, we pick up a reti?nue as we pass through the city’s outskirts, men and women who come out of their houses to stare, and children who run after us, pulling at the skins covering the bulging carts, trying to dislodge some souvenir. They’re particularly drawn to the cart that carries the cages—a few bedraggled birds and small animals—which they dart at, only to retreat, screaming in pleasure and shaking their hands as though they’ve been nipped. They’re tall children, for the most part, and well formed. My men kick idly at a clutch of little beggars to fend them off, while my nephew genially turns out his pockets to them to prove his poverty. Pythias, veiled, draws the most ?stares.

At the palace, my nephew speaks to the guard and we are admitted. As the gates close behind us and we begin to dismount, I notice a boy—thirteen, maybe—wandering amongst the carts. Rain-plastered hair, ruddy skin, eyes big as a calf’s.

“Get away from there,” I call when the boy tries to help with one of the cages, a chameleon as it happens, and more gently, when the boy turns to look at me in amazement: “He’ll bite you.”

The boy smiles. “Me?”

The chameleon, on closer inspection, is ?shit-?smelling and lethargic, and dangerously pale; I hope it will survive until I can prepare a proper dissection.

“See its ribs?” I say to the boy. “They aren’t like ours. They extend all the way down and meet at the belly, like a fish’s. The legs flex opposite to a man’s. Can you see his toes? He has five, like you, but with talons like a bird of prey. When he’s healthy he changes colours.”

“I want to see that,” the boy says.

Together we study the monster, the never-closing eye and the tail coiled like a strap.

“Sometimes he goes dark, almost like a crocodile,” I say. “Or spotted, like a leopard. You won’t see it today, I’m afraid. He’s about dead.”

The boy’s eyes rove across the carts.

“Birds,” he says.

I nod.

“Are they dying, too?”

I nod.

“And what’s in here?”

The boy points at a cart of large amphora with wood and stones wedged around them to keep them upright.

“Get me a stick.”

Again that look of ?amazement.

“There.” I point at the ground some feet away, then turn away deliberately to prise the lid off one of the jars. When I turn back, the boy is holding out the stick. I take it and reach into the jar with it, prodding gently once or twice.

“Smells,” the boy says, and indeed the smell of sea water, creamy and rank, is mingling with the smell of horse dung in the courtyard.

I pull out the stick. Clinging to its end is a small ?crab.

“That’s just a crab.”

“Can you swim?” I ask.

When the boy doesn’t reply, I describe the lagoon where I used to go diving, the flashing sunlight and then the plunge. This crab, I explain, came from there. I recall going out past the reef with the fishermen and helping with their nets so I could study the catch. There, too, I swam, where the water was deeper and colder and the currents ran like striations in rock, and more than once I had to be rescued, hauled hacking into a boat. Back on shore the fishermen would build fires, make their offerings, and cook what they couldn’t sell. Once I went out with them to hunt dolphin. In their log canoes they would encircle a pod and slap the water with their oars, making a great noise. The animals would beach themselves as they tried to flee. I leapt from the canoe as it reached shore and splashed through the shallows to claim one of them for myself. The fishermen were bemused by my fascination with the viscera, which was inedible and therefore waste to them. They marvelled at my drawings of dissections, pointing in wonder at birds and mice and snakes and beetles, cheering when they recognized a fish. But as orange dims to blue in a few sunset moments, so in most people wonder dims as quickly to horror. A pretty metaphor for a hard lesson I learned long ago. The larger ?drawings—?cow, sheep, goat, deer, dog, cat, child—I left at home.

I can imagine the frosty incomprehension of my colleagues back in Athens. Science is the work of the mind, they will say, and here I am wasting my time swimming and grubbing.

“We cannot ascertain causes until we have facts,” I say. “That above all must be understood. We must observe the world, you see? From the facts we move to the principles, not the other way round.”

“Tell me some more facts,” the boy says.

“Octopuses lay as many eggs as poisonous spiders. There is no blood in the brain, and elsewhere in the body blood can only be contained in blood vessels. Bear cubs are born without articulation and their limbs must be licked into shape by their mothers. Some insects are generated by the dew, and some worms generate spontaneously in manure. There is a passage in your head from your ear to the roof of your mouth. Also, your windpipe enters your mouth quite close to the opening of the back of the nostrils. That’s why when you drink too fast, the drink comes out your nose.”

I wink, and the boy smiles faintly for the first time.

“I think you know more about some things than my tutor.” The boy pauses, as though awaiting my response to this significant remark.

“Possibly,” I say.

“My tutor, Leonidas.”

I shrug as though the name means nothing to me. I wait for him to speak again, to help or make a nuisance of himself, but he darts back into the palace, just a boy running out of the rain.

Now here comes our guide, a grand-gutted flunky who leads us to a suite of rooms in the palace. He runs with sweat, even in this rain, and smiles with satisfaction when I offer him a chair and water. I think he is moulded from pure fat. He says he knows me, remembers me from my childhood. Maybe. When he drinks, his mouth leaves little crumbs on the inner lip of the cup, though we aren’t ?eating.

“Oh, yes, I remember you,” he says. “The doctor’s boy. Very serious, very serious. Has he changed?” He winks at Pythias, who doesn’t react. “And that’s your son?”

He means Callisthenes. My cousin’s son, I explain, whom I call nephew for simplicity; he travels with me as my ?apprentice.

Pythias and her maids withdraw to an inner room; my slaves I’ve sent to the stables. We’re too many people for the rooms we’ve been allotted, and they’ll be warm there. Out of sight, too. Slavery is known here but not common, and I don’t want to appear ostentatious. We overlook a small courtyard with a blabbing fountain and some potted trees, almond and fig. My nephew has retreated there to the shelter of a colonnade, and is arguing some choice point or other with himself, his fine brows wrinkled and darkened like walnut meats by the knottiness of his thoughts. I hope he’s working on the reality of numbers, a problem I’m lately interested in.

“You’re back for the good times,” the flunky says. “War, waah!” He beats his fat fists on his chest and laughs. “Come to help us rule the world?”

“It’ll happen,” I say. “It’s our time.”

The fat man laughs again, claps his hands. “Very good, doctor’s son,” he says. “You’re a quick study. Say, ‘I spit on Athens.’”

I spit, just to make him laugh again, to set off all that wobbling.

When he’s gone, I look back to the courtyard.

“Go to him,” Pythias says, passing behind me with her maids, lighting lamps against the coming ?darkness.

In other windows I can see lights, little prickings, and hear the voices of men and women returning to their rooms for the evening, public duties done. Palace life is the same everywhere. I was happy enough to get away from it for a time, though I know Hermias was disappointed when we left him. Powerful men never like you to leave.

“I’m fine here,” Pythias says. “We’ll see to the unpacking. Go.”

“He hasn’t been able to get away from us for ten days. He probably wants a break.”

A soldier arrives to tell me the king will see me in the morning. Then a page comes with plates of food: fresh and dried fruit, small fish, and wine.

“Eat,” Pythias is saying. Some time has passed; I’m not sure how much. I’m in a chair, wrapped in a blanket, and she is setting a black plate and cup by my foot. “You know it helps you to eat.”

I’m weeping: something about Callisthenes, and nightfall, and the distressing disarray of our lives just now. She pats my face with the sleeve of her dress, a green one I like. She’s found time to change into something dry. Wet things are draped and swagged everywhere; I’m in the only chair that hasn’t been ?tented.

“He’s so young,” she says. “He wants a look at the city, that’s all. He’ll come back.”

“I know.”

“Eat, then.”

I let her put a bite of fish in my mouth. Oil, salt tang. I realize I’m hungry.

“You see?” she ?says.

There’s no name for this sickness, no diagnosis, no treatment mentioned in my father’s medical books. You could stand next to me and never guess my symptoms. Metaphor: I am afflicted by colours—grey, hot red, maw-black, gold. I can’t always see how to go on, how best to live with an affliction I can’t explain and can’t cure.

I let her put me to bed. I lie in the sheets she has warmed with stones from the hearth, listening to the surf-sounds of her undressing. “You took care of me today,” I say. My eyes are closed, but I can hear her shrug. “Making me ride. You didn’t want them laughing at me.”

Redness flares behind my closed eyelids; she’s brought a candle to the bedside.

“Not tonight,” I say.

Before we were married, I gave her many fine gifts: sheep, jewellery, perfume, pottery, excellent clothes. I taught her to read and write because I was besotted and wanted to give her something no lover had ever thought of before.

The next morning I see the note she’s left for me, the mouse-scratching I thought I heard as I slipped into sleep: warm, dry.

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  • Posted September 25, 2011

    Pretty good book

    I'm dumbfounded as to why this book has such low rating. I found this book to be interesting, insightful, philisophical (of course), educational and did i mention interesting. The poetic writing of this book screams BESTS SELLER; the characters are so genuine and true to their roles; whether it's Aristodles impatience and intelligence or alexandre's sarcasm and wittiness, the characters are so believeable. Definately something that I would recommend to someone that likes intellectual readings...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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