Synopsis from Amazon:
Macedon. 367 BC. Philip II is bringing war to Persia. Forged in the warrior culture of Macedonia, the time has come for his young son Alexander to take up his inheritance of blood and obedience to the sword. It is a training that has made the boy sadistic; fiercely brilliant, but unstable. A dangerous trait in a king fated to rule the vastest empire of the ancient world. Compelled to teach this startling, precocious, sometimes horrifying child, Aristotle soon realises that what the boy needs most to learn – thrown before his time onto his father’s battlefields – is the lesson of the golden mean, the elusive balance between extremes that Aristotle hopes will mitigate the boy’s will to conquer in this age of fighting heroes…
This fictional story about factual ancient history gripped me.
Annabel Lyon writes Aristotle’s story in the first person and we start our reading in the present time. Throughout the book we flashback to an earlier time and then we find ourselves in the present. At first I found this confusing but once I was into the story, it didn’t affect the flow of my reading.
In the past we find out about Aristotle’s relationship with his father. His father’s absences and lack of understanding about his character make him lonely and afraid. When his father spends time in the village before taking up post of King’s physician Aristotle accompanies him on his medical rounds. It is here that the gap between their different personalities is very evident.
When the family move to Pella and live in the royal household, Aristotle’s friendship with Philip develops. To escape becoming a possible hostage after his father’s death, he is sent to Plato in Athens by his brother-in-law.
During the present time, when Aristotle arrives back to Pella with his wife Pythias, he decides to help Philip’s first-born son Arrhidaeus. Arrhidaeus was a healthy boy until at age five he contracted, what to me, sounded like meningitis. Aristotle saw he could be much more and so instead of being neglected, spent time teaching him hygiene, how to eat, draw and play music. Aristotle becomes the tutor of Alexander and we find out the complete distaste Alexander feels for his brother Arrhidaeus.
It was interesting to read how the author fictionalised Aristotle’s relationship with Alexander – the philosophical discussions/sparring they had and the growing love and respect for each other. I liked the way the author has Aristotle dealing with another tutor who had the potential to become an enemy.
Being a lover of nature and the seasons I enjoyed when it snowed in Pella and Aristotle found his wife huddled in a room with her veil covering her head (she had never seen snow before). His wife wanted him to say the snow was a result of something a god had done in anger (the time the story is set in the gods were responsible for everything …………) but he gave a scientific explanation.
I think the author displayed Aristotle’s symptoms of bi-polar illness really well.
In this ancient historical novel there is philosophy, court intrigue, politics, love, family life and religion.
Fictional interpretations of history intrigue me and this was no exception.
You can read more about Aristotle on Wikipedia.
You can read more about Annabel Lyon on her blog.
I would like to thank Atlantic Books for sending me The Golden Mean to review.
About the author
Annabel Lyon is the author of two short story collections, Oxygen, and The Best Thing for You. She lives in British Columbia with her husband and two children. The Golden Mean is her first novel.
The Golden Mean is published in paperback by Atlantic Books 1 August 2011