Spartan

Published October 27, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

Review of Spartan by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Overview from www.bn.com:

According to Herodotus, not all of the three hundred Spartan warriors perished during the Battle of Thermopylae: Two were spared. Spartan is their story.

This is the epic tale of a noble Spartan family shattered by the law of the land, which forces them to abandon one of their two sons — Talos, who was born crippled — to the elements. Brithos, the strong and healthy son, is raised in the caste of the warriors, while Talos is saved by a Helot shepherd and raised among peasants. They live out their story in a world dominated by the brutal, relentless clash between the Persian empire and the city-states of Greece — until the voice of their blood and of human solidarity unites them in a thrilling, singular enterprise.

Full of passion, courage and magic, Spartan is an enthralling novel of the ancient world.

My Review:

I don’t often agree with the critics. They seem to be a different species from me and therefore when I read a review that suggests that I might not like something because Mr. or Ms. Critic didn’t like it I tend to ignore it. Sometimes I ever think that it is a good sign.

Lately however I have noticed that I have watched a movie or read a book that I ended up liking and found that the majority of the critics have agreed. This scares me. It makes me think that I am starting to lose my touch, my edge, or whatever it is that makes me, well me.

Luckily it seems that the old me might be back because I found that I totally disagreed with many of the reviews I read about this book. Most people hated it, it seems. I loved it.

Spartan is one of the most well-written novels that I have had the privilege to read recently. This somewhat surprised me because although the Historical Fiction genre is my favorite, the Spartan period is not.

I had recently rediscovered this period however and was actively looking for a novel that takes place then. This one is the first one I found and it sounded promising.

Add to that the fact that the author is not only a historian but an Italian and it was a no-brainer for me. I also am always on the lookout for a new Italian author that I haven’t read before and who can tell a good story. I hit the jackpot on this one for not only is this story engaging but for the most part the author seems to factually accurate. I imagine that some parts are of the Spartan culture remain unknown and these are the parts that the author plays with, keeping the reader on the edge of his/her seat.

The main character enters the reader’s imagination as a baby who is left out in the open to die because his handicap, a bad leg, will prevent him from being a warrior. This is a real Spartan law that his parents feel they are forced to obey even though they may not agree with it.

A Helot, or a member of the Spartan serving class, takes the boy in and adopts him as his grandson, enlisting his own childless daughter to raise him. Feeling that the boy is destined for greatness, he later takes it upon himself to train him secretly in the ways of war which are forbidden to him as a Helot.

The Helot boy later becomes a Spartan man, a man with two names. As a Helot he is called Talos but as a Spartan he is Kleidemos. Along the way he witnesses the Spartan slaughter at Thermopylae as well as Pausanias’s betrayal of the city to the enemy Persians. He is driven by the desire to discover his own true identity while still realizing his dream of marrying the woman that he loves and becoming a great warrior.

One of the best parts of the book for me was when Kleidemos confronts his mother about the Spartan custom of leaving “weak” children to the “pity” of the gods.

“”My father?’ murmured Kleidemos vacantly. ‘My father abandoned me to the wolves.’

“Ismene fell to her knees. ‘No, no! No, my son, your father entrusted you…to the pity of the gods. He sacrificed all of the lambs of his flock so that the gods would take pity. His anguish had no rest, his torture no end. He had to choke back his tears. And when the pain was too much for him, he fled from this house, wrapped in a cloak.’” P. 171

Of course this explanation seems hallow to modern ears or at least it did to me. However it does make Kleidemos’s mother seem less cold. In fact, by the end of this scene I actually found myself feeling sorry for her. I never thought I could ever feel sorry for a woman who agreed to abandon her own son but good writing can make you feel that. In the expert writer’s hand, a villain can become an angel to the reader’s eye and vice-versa.

I am thankful that I found this novel. I am also glad to prove the critics wrong once again. I hope you well agree with me that this book is well worth your time. I think you will.

Contains: some sensuality and violence

Below are too videos about the Spartan lifestyle which mention the custom of leaving weak children to the mercy of the gods and the elements. I thought it might be interesting for some of you. Plus, I love this show. Too bad we can’t get it here in the states.

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