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Creation by Gore Vidal
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Creation

by Gore Vidal

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
I finally admitted defeat after reading (in fits an starts) about 2/3 of this book and put it back on my TBR shelf. I've loved everything else I've read by Vidal and have no idea why this didn't grab me. I found it...boring. I took every opportunity to read something else, so I realized this book wasn't for me at this time. Maybe it was my mood. I don't know. Maybe I'll try again in a year or two and maybe I won't. I don't rate books that I don't finish, so readers should check out the reviews of those who did finish and judge their reactions. I feel unburdened already!
  MarysGirl | May 19, 2018 |
This is a well-informed and ambitious historical novel set in 5th century B.C. During the reign of Darius and Xerxes and the Persian-Greek wars. The book is in the form of a chronicle of the life of Cyrus Spitama, a grandson of the prophet Zoroaster. It takes the form of a narration of his life story to a young Democritus.

Starting with the death of Zoroaster and his early life at the persian court, the book then chronicles his travels to India where he meets Gosala, Mahavira and the Buddha and China where he meets the Taoist philosophers and Confucius.

With the narrator being a male associated with the ruling class of persia and also a grandson of Zoroaster, the focus is mainly on the political interactions and religious and philosophical ideas. The writer doesn't go deep into them but still manages to be thought provoking. I loved the humorous tone adopted in the narration. Even though rich in details, Vidal’s erudition for the most part doesn’t get too tedious.

The one downside is the name-dropping. I had a hard time keeping track of all the Greek, Persian and Chinese names. ( )
1 vote kasyapa | Oct 9, 2017 |
Gore Vidal

Creation: A Novel

Vintage, Paperback [2002].

8vo. [xiv]+574 pp. Foreword by Anthony Burgess [ix]. Author’s Note 1981 [x]. Author’s Note 2002 [xi]. Maps [xii-xiii].

First published, 1981 [mutilated].
First Vintage International edition, September 2002 [restored].
4th printing per number line, undated.

Contents

Foreword
Author’s Note 1981
Author’s Note 2002
Maps

Book One: Herodotus Gives a Reading at the Odeon in Athens
Book Two: In the Days of Darius the Great King
Book Three: The Greek Wars Begin
Book Four: The Burning of Sardis
Book Five: India
Book Six: The Passing of the Awesome Royal Glory
Book Seven: Cathay
Book Eight: Why the Ganges River Turned Red with Blood
Book Nine: The Golden Age of Xerxes the Great King
Book Ten: The Peace of Pericles

==================================================​

The historical novel is a strange animal. I am little surprised at its perennial vogue. It provides ready-made plots and characters that make most invented ones look dull; and it’s always nice to know that the fiction you’re reading is at least based on real events and people. I am still less surprised at the high mortality rate among historical novels. Very few of them have survived the harsh test of time. The ones I like best are those that recreate painstakingly the spirit if not the exact events of a certain historical period and aim their characters higher than mere plausibility. Gore Vidal’s Julian (1964) and Creation (1981) are at the top of my list because they choose unusual points of view and launch massive attacks on established holy cows. In the case of Creation, the point of view is harshly anti-Greek and pro-Persian.

Set mostly in the 5th century BC, surely some of the most fascinating times in the history of our so-called civilisation, Creation is told in the first person singular by Cyrus Spitama, the Persian ambassador in Athens. He is old and blind, but his mind and tongue are just as sharp as ever, and he seems to have total recall of times long past. He dictates the whole story to his nephew, the atomic Democritus, and freely indulges in scathing criticism of the greatest Greek inventions:

Democritus is studying philosophy here at Athens. This means that he delights in quarrels.

So much for philosophy.

No mob can govern a city, much less an empire.

So much for democracy.

Scylax was a dedicated explorer who took nothing on faith. He was always skeptical of hearsay. If he had not seen something himself, he did not report as a fact its existence – unlike those Dorian Greeks who write what they call histories.

So much for Herodotus.

But when it comes to fate, as the Athenians like to remind us in those tragedies that they are forever mounting so expensively at the theater, one cannot win. At the height of a bald man’s fame, an eagle is bound to drop a turtle on his head.

So much for drama. The last sentence refers to the fabled death of Aeschylus, of course. As for his most famous play:

“...The Persians, which I myself translated for the Great King, who found delightful the author’s Attic wit.” None of this was true, of course; Xerxes would have gone into a rage had he ever known to what extent he and his mother had been travestied for the amusement of the Athenian mob.

These are just a few instances of the anti-Greek propaganda that permeates the whole novel. It is mightily stimulating to entertain the notion that the ancient Greeks, the fathers of modern Europe, were little more than a bunch of squabbling city-states full of “corrupt or demented demagogues” who bathed seldom in summer and not at all in winter and whose “diet appears to consist entirely of onions and preserved fish – preserved from the time of Homer.” Even some of the most famous Greek achievements in architecture, the Odeon of Athens for example, are deemed to be no more than faulty copies of the Persian originals. “They affect to despise us; then they imitate us” is Cyrus Spitama’s tart summary. He is devastating about everything from the housing conditions in Athens to the character of the Greeks in general, all delivered with ambassadorial loftiness:

I have made it a policy never to show distress when insulted by barbarians. Fortunately, I am spared their worst insults. These they save for one another. It is a lucky thing for the rest of the world that Greeks dislike one another far more than they do us outlanders.

Democritus thinks that Athens is marvelous. But you have not seen the civilized world. I hope that one day you will travel, and transcend your Greekness.


The pro-Persian propaganda is almost as ardent. Cyrus Spitama retains his biting humour and though he doesn’t spare some failings of the Persian court (e.g. the inordinate power of the harem and the eunuchs), on the whole he is rather kinder to his compatriots. The Persians are not the conventional villainous barbarians who worship morons perched up as divine kings. They are, on the whole, smarter and nobler, more civilised and more refined, than their Western rivals. No Persian is ever known to defect to the Greeks. On the other hand, Greeks who defect to the Persians are legion – and usually some of the ablest men, for example the tyrants from pre-democratic times. “To ride, to draw the bow, to tell the truth” is the proverbial ideal of Persian education. “Democritus reminds me that Greek education is much the same – except for telling the truth.”

One has to be careful, of course. Like every great satirist, Vidal does tend to overdo it. There is no valid historical reason to believe, for example, that the battles of Marathon and Salamis were Greek defeats in disguise, or Persian victories but for bad luck if you like. I don’t think many art historians would agree that Greek architecture is quite so derivative, either. This is actually brutal: “Fortunately, I have seen the originals. Fortunately, I shall never see Phidias’ crude copies.” And, surely, the causes of the Greco-Persian Wars must have been a little more complicated than that:

Democedes turned to the former tyrant. “Perhaps you should speak to the Great King of islands. After all, Darius was happy to acquire Samos. He was even happier to gain possession of the Samian fleet. Well, once you have at your disposal a splendid fleet – ” Democedes stopped, looked at Histiaeus.
“When I was still at Miletus” – Histiaeus spoke almost dreamily – “I could very easily have conquered Naxos.”
Democedes nodded. “A beautiful island. Fertile soil. Vigorous people.”
The two men exchanged looks.
Thus the Greek wars began.


Nevertheless, Vidal’s unorthodox look at history is invigorating, thought-provoking and, on the whole, convincing. Creation may be a propaganda novel, for Vidal does seem to have an axe to grind, but it is certainly not speculative fiction of the “alternative history” type. For all we know – and we know distressingly little – it may be closer to the truth than the fanciful tales of Herodotus. Never underestimate the “meddling Greeks”, especially if they are people of the calibre of Hippias and Histiaeus. Nor the meddling Spartans for that matter, especially if they are like Demaratus.

Cyrus Spitama is, of course, an entirely fictional character. He is much too good to be true. Grandson of Zoroaster, no less, half-Greek and half-Persian, brought up precariously in the Persian court, blessed (or cursed) with a rare gift for diplomatic charade and lust for adventure and knowledge, he has travelled to Susa, Babylon, Ecbatana, Sardis, Halicarnassus, Athens – not to mention India and Cathay, the worlds “to the east of the east”. He has met Pericles, Thucydides, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Darius, Xerxes, Confucius, Gosala, Mahavira and Buddha, among countless others. In short, he has been anywhere worth going (except Egypt), he has met anybody worth meeting (except Cyrus the Great and Pythagoras, though they are mentioned often enough to amount to characters). He is full of epigrammatic wisdom:

No man ever knows when he is happy; he can only know when he was happy.

I looked for signs of age, and found them – always an easy thing to do, except in one’s own mirror.

Wear a mask too long and you will come to resemble it.

In these matters, leniency is usually a mistake, since the man who can forgive the man who forgives him is rare indeed.

I have found that there is no attitude so bizarre that one will not encounter it sooner or later if one travels far enough.

It is a general law that great men do not live long once they are separated from the people whom they ennobled.


(This is about Themistocles, the famous Athenian commander who won the Battle of Salamis, was later ostracised by his native city, and died a wealthy Persian landowner.)

It is always a mistake to act out of character.

(This last gem refers to Mardonius, one of the Persian commanders at Plataea (where he died), cousin and brother-in-law of Xerxes and one of our narrator’s close friends, who destroyed himself by “allowing his ruling passion, avarice, to be overruled by love of glory”.)

To Cyrus Spitama – and Gore Vidal – falls the awesome responsibility of bringing to life a whole galaxy of real historical figures. “I shall spare no one”, the narrator threatens in the beginning. And he doesn’t. It is really refreshing to have some of the most mythical rulers and wise men in history treated with casual irreverence. On the other hand, there are no caricatures here, not even among the Greeks. One of Cyrus Spitama’s – and Gore Vidal’s – most endearing qualities is profound empathy with a vast range of humanity.

The Persians are very curious creatures. Xerxes, the Great King and our narrator’s best friend, is a naughty boy who grows up into a man of rare charm and magnanimity. He is born to rule, but for that very reason, among others such as inordinate fondness of the harem, he is not a very good king. Darius, his father, was not born to rule, as every usurper of a hereditary throne isn’t by definition, he was too fond of court ceremony, again as typical for rulers unsure of their power because they were not born into it, and he never proved much of a military genius. Yet he did seize the throne with audacity almost too hard to imagine, held together the vast Persian Empire for more than three decades by the sheer effort of his will, and made it far richer if not bigger than Cyrus the Great and Cambyses ever imagined. Though “ill at ease with sovereignty” and barely able to read, Darius had an exceptional knowledge of war and trade, a grand vision about eastern expansion (hang the poor Greek wasteland in the west!), and “always preferred gold to glory – no doubt on the excellent ground that the first can always buy the second.”

The plot ingeniously contrives to present these mighty rulers in both public and private. As a result, they are rounded, full-fledged, lifelike characters, illuminating in both personal and historical sense. Vidal is not afraid of reasonable amount of speculation. No self-respected historical novelist, or historian for that matter, should be. There is one perceptive comparison (Book Three, Chapter 4) between Darius and his father, Hystaspes (a fascinating character of his own but never more than a satrap), which is what history (the official form of historical fiction) is all about:

Hystaspes was a truly noble soul. Except for him, I have never known a Persian – I do not count Zoroaster – who tried to live entirely in the way of the Truth. Since Hystaspes was also an excellent administrator and a crafty warrior, there were those who thought that he might have made a better ruler than his son. But I am not so sure. For one thing, as a Persian of the old school, Hystaspes disdained trade. He was a purer soul than Darius, but purity is not an entirely desirable trait in a ruler. The fact that Darius was something of a huckster made Persia rich as well as powerful. On the other hand, Darius allowed himself to become entangled with the Greeks, a mistake that Hystaspes would not have made.

The Greeks are treated with much greater levity, of course, but that doesn’t seem to preclude a long gallery of incisive portraits. One of the most minor yet most memorable is Anaxagoras, a philosopher much admired by the narrator for his insatiable scientific curiosity and spirit of free inquiry. Democritus himself is vividly brought to life in a brief but poignant afterword when he recalls the old man’s dictation, now some forty years in the past, and his own extensive travels since. He even shares his epochal discovery that the universe is only “atoms and empty space; everything else is merely human thought”. (The young Socrates appears briefly in the guise of a nagging “splitter of hairs”.) As for the sophists, they “are simply sly with words and it is hard to determine what, specifically, they mean to teach, since they question all things, except money.”

The alleged instigators of the Wars, Hippias, son of Pisistratus and former tyrant of Athens, and Histiaeus, the scheming tyrant of Miletus, are presented with tolerant understanding of their ambitious and avaricious selves. So is Democedes, the famous physician from Croton, whose greatest pleasure in life is to spun endless intrigues in decadent courts. The great Pericles? “Since everyone agrees that he is a great man, he is bound to end badly.” Certainly, his glib talking is no match for the worldly wisdom of one who “has seen more of this world than he ever intended – much less wanted – to see”. Remembering Cimon and Themistocles, both ostracised by the ungrateful Athenians, Cyrus Spitama wistfully remarks that “Ephialtes and Pericles are poor substitutes for such heroes.”

The Far East is even richer in colourful characters. The two great kingdoms of India, Magadha and Koshala on both sides of the Ganges, form a classic study of contrasts, not least in their kings: the blunt, worldly and ruthless Bimbisara has really nothing in common with the holy, hedonistic and goofy Pasenadi. I have met few persons on paper more sinister than Ajatashatru, the heir to the throne of Magadha, and his chamberlain, Varshakara; the former’s effusive cordiality is chilling in its profound insincerity and self-interest, to joke with the latter is “rather like poking a stick at a tiger in a flimsy cage.” You don’t want to have such people for enemies. You certainly won’t forget them once you meet them here. Cyrus Spitama is constantly surprised how different everything is at the end of the world, yet how much it remains the same. If there is a difference, it is one of degree, not of kind: “I have never attended a court so ridden with intrigue, and I was at Susa with Xerxes to the end.”

As for Confucius, Buddha and the other wise men of the Far East, they are treated with respect, even admiration, but that is never fawning, much less does it extend to their disciples. To our narrator it seems the ultimate blasphemy that people like Buddha and Mahavira should be considered to be higher than all gods that are, ever were or ever will be. “This is titanism, as the Greeks would say. This is madness.” Confucius is by far the most interesting of these legendary teachers, and that is only because, significantly, “I have never known a man with such a clear idea of how public and private affairs should be conducted.” Confucius was, of course, an atheist, and Cyrus Spitama, a somewhat zealous follower of the Truth, the Wise Lord and all that Persian jazz, detested atheism. But our narrator’s intellectual honesty is nothing if not impressive:

If one is going to eliminate the creator of all things, then it is a good idea to replace the creator with a very clear idea of what constitutes goodness in the human scale.

Nor is this an entirely male world. There are several wonderfully depicted female characters, all treated with affectionate cynicism by the narrator. Lais is his Greek mother (an Ionian Greek, mind you), a very clever woman and something of a witch – a Thracian witch, mind you (a native of Abdera). She is unforgettably described as “easily the most plausible liar that I have ever known; and my life has been spent at courts and with Greeks”. She could charm anyone and would ascribe this to her magical powers, but her son thought she was “simply more intelligent than most people – the ultimate magic.” A relatively minor but unforgettable character is Elpinice, an Athenian socialite, daughter of late great Cimon (one of the very few Greeks Cyrus Spitama thinks highly of) and wife of the rich and pompous Callias (held in perfect contempt by her and everyone else). She dines with men and talks as she pleases – an audacious thing for a woman to do in ancient Athens.

Above all, in every sense of the phrase, is Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great, wife of Darius the Great, mother of Xerxes, and a formidable ruler behind the scenes. She “represented in her own diminutive person the entire house of Achaemenid.” She is the Persian Empire personified. This astonishing creature can only be compared to the likes of Livia Augusta from I, Claudius (1934) as one of those characters from historical fiction that ought to have existed just as described.

“Physically, human variety is quite as startling as is the sameness of human character.” So remarks, with infinite wisdom, our narrator. But his powers of characterisation makes this “sameness” look like an infinite variety. Few works of fiction may boast as wide a range of convincing characters based on historical evidence.

This is a rather schizophrenic book. It flows in two different streams, political intrigue and philosophical speculation, that hardly ever cross. I don’t really know how Vidal achieves that, but the novel never feels disjointed. The worst that can be said about it is that it does drag occasionally, especially the religious parts in India and Cathay, but it’s nothing terrible. In between, there is a great deal of local colour and period detail – anything from exotic cuisine and travelling hardships to bizarre sexual customs and religious ceremonies – that make the complete picture supremely real and believable. Indeed, if the book has any defect at all, this is its obsessive-compulsive readability. Be careful: once you start reading, it’s very hard to stop. I warn you in all seriousness.

The political intrigue covers a wide range of topics from the amazing duplicity of the Greeks and their conspiratorial genius to the complex machinations of the Persian court (“a supremely dangerous place: one misstep – and death, or worse”) to the blood-drenched kingdoms of India. Vidal’s ability to unravel these tricky matters is nothing short of miraculous. If you want a glorious example of this, have a look at the violent usurpation of the Persian throne by Darius (Book Three, Chapters 2 and 3; Book Six, Chapter 6). So far as I can tell, it accords very well with the facts – so far as we know them. Herodotus was obviously Vidal’s major source, but he is creatively reworked rather than slavishly followed. The story would make for a great screenplay that should be filmed on an epic scale. It ends, however, on a surprisingly personal and poignant note, turning Xerxes into something very much like tragic character:

I have revealed these matters, Democritus, not just to confound the man from Halicarnassus. Quite the contrary: his version is a fine tale for children and Darius is its shining hero. The actual story is darker and reflects no credit on our royal house. But I think it necessary to know the truth in order to explain the nature of my beloved Xerxes. From the first moment that he knew the true story of his father's rise, he saw with perfect clarity his own bloody end. This foreknowledge explains why he was who he was, and did what he did.

The recollections Cyrus Spitama dictates to Democritus actually start as what is supposed to be a true account of the foundations of the “Persian wars”, as the Greeks call them, or the “Greek wars”, as the Persians call them, and they, needless to say, are no longer the simplistic clash between democracy and despotism paraded by superficial textbooks. The crucial role of the Ionian Revolt (Book Four) has seldom been explained with such brevity, lucidity and plausibility. And let’s face it: Vidal is so much more fun than Herodotus, and probably even more accurate than him. Regrettably or not, you won’t find here anything from the Wars themselves, our narrator being at that time on diplomatic missions in “the east of the east” or roaming the Empire as a “king’s eye”. Personally, I would have liked to see Herodotus debunked on these matters as well (he is not spared a few darts anyway), but I do appreciate Vidal’s idea to expand the scope of his novel beyond the somewhat parochial “Western civilisation”.

The philosophical speculation is concerned with deep questions like the origin and meaning of the world. It is fascinating, and at the same time depressing, to observe how the finest minds twenty-five centuries ago reflected on these matters of eternal speculation. Ever since it developed something like consciousness, our species has been haunted by its own insecurity and insignificance, and has tried to fill the void with all sorts of fantasies. Cyrus Spitama’s blend of healthy scepticism and delicious cynicism is quite evident even here (“Hereditary priests usually tend to atheism. They know too much.”), but on the whole he is more in earnest than on social or political questions.

Ironically, the Greeks are presented mostly as atheists and come off better, from a modern point of view, than the corrupt hereditary priesthood of the Persians. Cyrus Spitama, always frank almost to a fault, is the first to recognise this: “for once, the Greeks are wiser or luckier than we.” On the other hand, paradoxically, you can be denounced for impiety much more easily in Athens than in Susa. The numerous religions in the vast Persian Empire are paid much lip service to but never taken very seriously. Cyrus Spitama may criticise Darius for this religious opportunism, but he is smart enough to recognise the importance of such attitude. Moreover, he himself is far from a fanatic. He likes to pretend so on official missions, but his private recollections are shot through with scepticism rare even today, twenty-five centuries later:

I think that I might have done well at banking had I not been so carefully trained to be neither a priest nor a warrior. Although I have the Persian noble’s contempt for trade, I lack his passion for war and hunting and drinking wine to excess. Although I have a priest’s deep knowledge of religion, I am not certain what is true. Although I once heard the voice of the Wise Lord, I confess now in my old age that to hear and to listen are two different things. I am puzzled by creation.

As for the reflections of Anaxagoras, Gosala, Confucius, Mahavira and Buddha on “creation” and other “first things”, the most remarkable thing about them is their extreme inanity. The Persian “creation of fire” by priests drugged with “haoma” (not unlike Huxley’s “soma”) is no great improvement. On the whole, Zoroastrianism in many ways anticipates Christianity, and that is as good a reason as any for Vidal to have some subtle fun at the expense of his narrator. This is most evident when he is confronted (Book Five, Chapter 10) on the logical inconsistencies of his religion by Sariputra, Buddha’s best friend. On the other hand, the Buddhist doctrines are simply the ultimate form of escapism – like death. It is Xerxes, of all people, who makes this connection and, by the way, makes the most devastating fun of Buddha:

Doesn’t he know that wanting not to want is still wanting? His truths aren’t noble. They aren't even true. He has no answer to anything. There is no way not to be human except through death.

Creation is not a book from which a complacent and optimistic view of human nature can be derived. If the nasty worlds of Greek and Persian (not to mention Indian!) thirst for wealth and power confirm the essential depravity of the human race, its religious delusions confirm its deeply seated desire to impose order and attach significance where there are none.

All the same, this is a great tribute to Gore Vidal’s mighty powers as a historical novelist. Bold, frank, vigorous and fantastically readable, the grand and sweeping narrative roams throughout the whole known world of the 5th century BC and is handled with impeccable craftsmanship. Cyrus Spitama is one of the greatest first-person narrators if not one of the greatest characters in fiction – ever. Even his frequent digressions, ostensibly a side effect of his age, are perfectly timed and full of information that later turns out to be quite relevant indeed.

In short, an indispensable read for anyone interested in ancient history – or simply human nature. Who isn’t?

Note on the edition

The introduction by Anthony Burgess, reprinted from 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 (1984), is indifferent, but the author’s notes are important. The one from 1981 clarifies the mixed usage of names (e.g. modern ones like Mediterranean or Confucius and ancient ones like Cathay, Bactria and Persia) and sets the exact date of the narrative to 20 December 445 BC. The note from 2002 is more interesting. Here Vidal states that all editions of Creation between the first in 1981 and this one in 2002 were mutilated by an “overly busy editor who mistakenly thought that he understood the public taste.” This worthy decided, amazingly, that the scenes of our narrator’s upbringing at the Persian court were irrelevant and worth cutting. Editors have their inscrutable ways. For this edition the omissions were restored. ( )
3 vote Waldstein | May 19, 2016 |
A grand historical novel in which we meet Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and Li Tzu (among others). A novel of ideas and their intermixing. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Interesting book, life of the fictional Cyrus Spitama, grandson of Zoroaster, the religious teacher, as told to his grandson. Set in Persia right before, during and after the Greco-Persian War. Cyrus gives a completely different version of that war than we're used to, describes his boyhood years growing up with Xerxes, who later becomes Great King. Then Cyrus is appointed ambassador to several countries, most notably India and Cathay. Darius, at that time king, wants to invade. Much of the book recounts Cyrus' travels, customs of people he meets and always the religious Cyrus is searching for alternate theories of Creation and the problem of evil. We get a quick overview of Eastern religions, of course, through Cyrus' eyes, always comparing with Zoroastrianism. Cyrus meets such figures as Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, famous Greeks of that period. Cyrus finally dies, but his grandson, after many years of travel and living in many countries, finally figures out what he feels must be the answer to Cyrus' questions. The book was quite witty, sometimes even 'snarky'. The politics bored me. ( )
  janerawoof | Jun 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Mr. Vidal clearly enjoys discovering illustrious men in unlikely postures, and never more than in this novel. ''No other man alive has traveled in as many lands as I,'' Spitama says. He has been a friend to kings, philosophers, emperors, generals and sages; a school chum of Xerxes, employer of Socrates (''I hired him to repair the front wall of the house''), and has sat at the feet of both the Buddha and Confucius. To put it mildly, Spitama is like the ultimate performer in that old Skippy Peanut Butter television show ''You Are There.'' He is even as breezy and priggish as the historical narrators who figured on that program...

As a novel of ideas, its ambition and its cast of characters could not possibly be bolder, but I for one would have found the going easier if I had been admitted to anything like plain vulgar domesticity. Banquets, perorations and sanctimonious chat cannot entirely displace one's craving for so much of what Mr. Vidal, speaking through Spitama, has ignored: a sense of place and the uneven texture of common humanity. ''The journey from Lu to Magadha over the silk road took nearly one year. Much of the time, I was ill ... I no longer remember, in any detail, the exact route that we took. ...'' This sort of elision is fairly frequent in the novel, and I tend to think that if Spitama had remembered the more ordinary and perhaps more sensual occurences that lay between his meetings with the sages of the century, it would have been a far richer novel - a great one, instead of a good one that all too often fails to avoid the sort of patrician name-dropping that mars so many historical epics.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vidal, Goreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burgess, AnthonyForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthieussent, BriceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Panske, GünterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peralta, CarlosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tummolini, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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FOR THOMAS PRYOR GORE

(1870–1949)
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I am blind.
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I looked for signs of age, and found them – always an easy thing to do, except in one’s own mirror.
Although I have the Persian noble’s contempt for trade, I lack his passion for war and hunting and drinking wine to excess. Although I have a priest’s deep knowledge of religion, I am not certain what is true. Although I once heard the voice of the Wise Lord, I confess now in my old age that to hear and to listen are two different things. I am puzzled by creation.
The young mason is called Socrates. Uncommonly ugly, according to Democritus, he is uncommonly intelligent. Last summer, as a favor to Democritus, I hired him to repair the front wall of the house. He made such a botch of it that we now have a dozen new chinks through which the icy wind can whistle.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375727051, Paperback)

In 445 B.C., Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of the prophet Zoroaster, is the Persian ambassador to the city of Athens. He has a rather caustic appreciation of his situation: "I am blind. But I am not deaf. Because of the incompleteness of my misfortune, I was obliged yesterday to listen for nearly six hours to a self-styled historian whose account of what the Athenians like to call 'the Persian Wars' was nonsense of a sort that were I less old and more privileged, I would have risen to my seat at the Odeon and scandalized all Athens by answering him." Having thus dismissed Herodotus, Cyrus then dictates his life story to his nephew, Democritus, with similar disdain for the Greeks--whom we in the modern world have come to view as the progenitors of civilization, but whom Cyrus considers to be bad-smelling rabble.

Of course, Cyrus Spitama speaks with a very modern, ironic voice supplied to him by Gore Vidal--and the political intrigues in which Cyrus finds himself immersed are likewise familiar territory for fans of Vidal's historical fiction. But the narrator's delightfully wicked observations are the icing on a narrative of truly epic scope--out of his desire to understand the origins of the world, Cyrus undertakes journeys to India, where he encounters disciples of the Buddha, and China, where he engages Confucius in philosophical conversation while the great sage fishes by the riverside. Creation offers insights into classical history laced with scintillating wit and narrative brio.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:19 -0400)

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Cyrus, a fifth century Persian, relates the story of his travels and encounters as an ambassador.

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