Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Review: The Wreckage of Agathon

John Gardner's 1970 novel The Wreckage of Agathon marks my sixth book of the "36 Best novels for a Survey of Ancient Greek History" over at as well as the first story set after the Bronze Age.

The novel takes place in Sparta during the reign of Lycurgus, who transformed the city state from an Athenian trade-based society into the warrior culture we connect Ancient Sparta to today. The novel focuses on a Seer, Agathon, who along with his apprentice, is imprisoned during the change of power and left to sit in a sort of limbo in prison while awaiting a trial for crimes that have never been made quite clear.

The novel takes the form of alternating narratives, by Agathon and his apprentice/cell mate Demokokos (who is called Peeker by Agathon and the Chapter headings). The two things I enjoyed most about the novel were the fact that the Spartans, as viewed by Agathon, are not evil, they are simply the new way and in his mind an all controlling way of any sort is evil, and the fact that the novel, taking place in roughly 700 BCE shows a man living at the end of his civilization, looking both backwards at what was and forwards at what might be.

Considering the almost fetishistic view of the Spartans as shown in the Frank Miller (and later Zack Snydor film adaption) story 300. It was kind of refreshing to read a story set at the dawn of that culture and viewing it as the death of something, rather than simply the beginning of one of the Ancient world's most formidable warriors.

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