Friday, February 24, 2012


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The Golden Mean, Annabel Lyon, Alfred A Knopf, 2010, 288 pp

This was just great. A novel about Aristotle during his years as tutor of a teenaged Alexander the Great. Annabel Lyon is yet another wonderful Canadian author.

Finishing The Life of Greece by Will Durant just two weeks prior was the best preparation for a good deep reading experience. After all, these two characters loomed large in Greek history and had far reaching effects throughout the ancient Greek world.

Durant gave his signature balanced account of political, philosophical and social life in The Life of Greece, but Annabel Lyon brought the lens in even closer by including close ups of the women. Aristotle's wife was a former concubine gifted to him by a Persian ruler. The first paragraph of Chapter One, the first sentence:
"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."

Yes, first person. Aristotle tells the story from his scientific, philosophical Grecian mind. He married Pythias, he thirty-seven, she fifteen, and ravished her night after night. "I tried to make it up to her with kindness. I treated her with courtliness, gave her money, addressed her softly, spoke to her of my work." Alas, she is frigid but takes care of her husband with an insightful hand. He is prone to depression, a bit bipolar.

Alexander had close ties with his mother, who would have babied him into obscurity had it not been for his hard-fighting, ruthless father, King Philip of Macedon. Aristotle perceives the conflict laid in by the parents and does his best to prepare Alexander for the life ahead of him; to instill some wisdom and reasoning power as a balance to the young conqueror's intense physical energy and will to rule the world.

On it goes. Despite his intelligence and insatiable curiosity, the philosopher never quite achieved his dreams, which included teaching at Plato's school in Athens. But oh what exhilarating times he lived in, what out-sized historical figures he influenced!

Interesting that Mary Renault wrote Fire From Heaven (1969), a novel about Aristotle from Alexander's perspective. Now fifty years later Annabel Lyon turns the perspective around. I just love smart women.

(The Golden Mean is available in paperback and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)

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