The Athenianby Walter M. Ellis
Considered the handsomest man of his generation, Alcibiades was pursued by both women and men in an era where sexuality knew no boundaries. At one time or
Alcibiades was the most colorful character in one of history's most exciting periods. The Athenian is about Alcibiades, in love and war, and it touches on many aspects of Ancient Greece in her finest hour.
Considered the handsomest man of his generation, Alcibiades was pursued by both women and men in an era where sexuality knew no boundaries. At one time or another, throughout his extraordinary career, he was a leader in Athens, Sparta, and Persia. This is a novel in the tradition of Robert Graves and Mary Renault, but contemporary, fast-paced, sensuous, and funny.
Walter Ellis has already published the definitive biography on the subject: Alcibiades (1989) Routledge, but in this novel, he has told a story that will be interesting to a broad range of readers. Socrates, Plato, Pericles, and Thucydides are only some of the characters who populate this novel, scrupulously researched, but, nonetheless, full of imaginative, fictional detail.
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'The Athenian,' by Dr. Walter M. Ellis is an historical novel about ancient Greece and Alcibiades, a young aristocrat, who actually lived from 433 through 399 B.C.E. This novel gives good descriptions of the cultural life of Athens, and the war between Sparta and Athens. But I find it hard to recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good historical novel based, as much on fact as fiction. Of course, in writing any book of this 'genre,' an author must rely on using fictional characters, as well as factual ones, in order to carry the plot of his/her book. But when an historical novel leans more towards fiction, not backed up by facts, then it does not have the impact it could otherwise have! As an example, Socrates is described as a hedonistic, lecherous, buffon, who begged Alcibiades for his sexual favors, when the situation is entirely the opposite. If one has read Plato's 'Symposium,' one can see after all of the guests had left the banquet, Alcibides tried to get under the covers while Socrates was trying to sleep, and offered himself to the old philosopher, who would have none of it! Plato tells us that Socrates loved Alcibiades but only in a spiritual way. Also, I will never understand why any novel must rely so heavily on using profanity to describe the act of making love! I realize that it is any author's prerogative to do this, but by doing so, his/her book cuts deeply into generational lines. It is a shame that in order to sell a lot of books by using a lot of profanity, a novel is put off limits for being assigned by teachers to their students in order to write an essay on it. Many teachers, particularly at universities, look for historical novels to heighten the awareness of their students on various periods of history. Vulgar descriptions might be understood and forgiven, but not profanity. For these, and other reasons mentioned above, I can't in all honesty, recommend 'The Athenian,' by Dr. Ellis to anyone who truly wants to learn about Alcibiades and the period in which he lived. Bending the truth as much as he has done, makes his novel not as believable as it could be.
This book really brought the history of the ancient world alive for me. Not only did I enjoy the book and get very caught up in the story, I felt that I learned a lot about a number of important figures whose names I was familiar with, but I wasn't exacctly sure what they were famous for. Anyone who likes historical fiction will love this book and will also appreciate the factual basis (not just the wars, political victories and losses but also the fascinating details of dress, social custom, sexuality, class, etc in the ancient world).
The name Alcibiades (al-si-BYE-ah-deez in English, or al-kee-bee-AH-dace in classical Greek) is far from a household word, and may not even be remembered by history students. It has been a couple of generations, unfortunately, since our educational system has devoted much more than cursory comments about the impact classical Greece has had on western civilization. More novels like ¿The Athenian,¿ by Walter Ellis, could well rekindle public interest in this era of history. ¿The Athenian¿ brings the culture and characters of the classical world to vivid life. The fast-paced, often steamy story of a pampered boy who has a love-hate relationship with his city covers the years 433 through 399 B.C., based closely on key historical events and the actual personality of Alcibiades as recorded by those who knew him, with clever and wonderfully-plotted fictional encounters by Ellis to tie together the missing years and explain the motivations that cannot be deduced from historical documents. Ellis is a world-recognized authority on Alcibiades, having written the definitive English-language biography on this colorful historical figure in 1989. Although a professional historian, Ellis is also an effective novelist, able to interpolate and invent characters and events that are interesting and believable, foreshadowing what is to come and making the reader care. He skillfully works it all into a plot with romance, adventure, and excitement, rousing the reader to keep reading to find out what will happen¿even if already familiar with the basic historical events and people. The novel begins when the unusually physically attractive Alcibiades is 17, an orphan and ward of his older cousin, the influential politician Pericles. He is a student and intimate (very intimate) friend of the philosopher Socrates, but has just fallen head over heels in love with Medontis, a beautiful, intelligent, and feisty girl his own age, who happens to be a very expensive hetaira (high-class prostitute). Their passionate but volatile relationship becomes strained to the limit when his political ambitions motivate him to marry the sister of the richest man in Athens. The increasingly unstable political environment and the war with Sparta bring about further complications. ¿The Athenian¿ is a quick, fun read¿interesting, provocative, and informative, and always entertaining. It may well inspire readers to look up accounts of the real Alcibiades and Socrates as described by Plato in his ¿Alcibiades¿ and ¿Symposium¿ and by Thucydides in his history of the Peloponnesian War. All of these famous figures are key characters in ¿The Athenian,¿ lively and well-drawn individuals who live and breathe, love and hate. The novel makes them much, much more than the obscure names faintly remembered from a long-ago history class. Despite its historical accuracy and lively narrative, the novel¿s frank, sensuous, and downright raunchy (as well as frequent) sex scenes will likely keep it off of recommended reading lists for high school students, but on the other hand may actually induce them to read it. History becomes much more real and immediate when we feel we know the people involved, and ¿The Athenian¿ brings us right into the lives and minds of its participants.