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The End of Sparta: A Novel by Victor Davis…
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The End of Sparta: A Novel

by Victor Davis Hanson

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This is an historical fiction, not an easy read, but a very accurate historical account, owing to the writer’s background. Dr. Victor Davis Hanson holds a Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University. Among many other things, he is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno. Two major facts appealed to me about this book. First and foremost, it was written by Dr. Hanson, of impeccable character. Second, among my family there was an Epaminondas! ;-) ( )
  MrsRK | Nov 21, 2016 |
I didn't know what to expect with this novel written by a historian, but I was not disappointed. It was utterly compelling and it was hard to pry myself away from it. The 400+ pages flew by and certainly didn't feel that long. I was sorry when it ended. The conclusion was bittersweet.

A fictional yeoman farmer, Mêlon of Thespiae, is our eyes and ears and represents the soldier-farmers who lived at that time [4th century B.C.]. His slave, Nêto, is a seer and prophetess. In fact, her master's presence at Leuctra will guarantee victory according to one of her prophecies about an apple [meaning of Mêlon]; afterwards, his fame follows him.

The novel tells the story of the beginning of the end of Spartan power and dominance through the 371 B.C. Battle of Leuctra ["White Creek"] when Sparta was badly defeated by the Thebans and the subsequent first invasion of Laconia by Epaminondas, commander of forces from several city-states of Hellas, aided by Pelopidas and the Sacred Band of Thebes. Three new Messenian towns are then established, with the helots setting up their own government. The men return to their homes. The generals and Mêlon all have the feeling they will have to go back several times to complete what they have started. In fact, Mêlon promises Epiminondas that he will be ready "when the red is on the grapes" in summer to march south with him again. Ainias the Tactician [famous military writer of the 4th century B.C.] is a main figure. The architect, Proxenos, is probably a fictional composite of the men who designed the towns.

The writing style was epic and larger-than-life: Homeric or Virgilian, but for modern readers. Hanson says he tried to strike the right balance between a bygone stuffy style and that of today's casual English usage. I had my doubts about his slipping in Greek phrases. It took me awhile to get used to his practice. He did make it easy for the most part to figure out the meaning from context or he did translate into English right near the Greek. I felt it was an affectation, but he probably meant it to add "atmosphere." I think he could have inserted only those for which there is no exact English equivalent--e.g., lochoi, syssitia, bibasis, then added a glossary.

In the first half, I felt characterization could have been improved. We see only hatred or anger and then we witness Ainias's devotion to his friend, Proxenos and deep sorrow at his death at the icy Eurotas. Friendship develops between some of the main characters. There is complete loyalty between Mêlon, Mêto and Chion and a certain fondness [love?] between Mêlon and Nêto, so much so that besides joining with the army, he is marching into the Peloponnese to rescue her from his traitorous and guileful helot slave, Gorgos, or as the Spartans term him, Kuniskos. They admit their feelings for each other only to themselves; they never express them to the other.

The section on Leuctra was amazing! Ainias plans unorthodox tactics, then a heated discussion follows. We see the battle from the perspectives of participants AND of Mêlon's slaves waiting on a hillside observing. Fighting all through the novel was bloody and graphic but not gratuitous. The description of the frightening hoplite warfare at Leuctra was the best I've ever read. I felt as though I was right in the front rank, terrified and pushing against the Spartan onslaught with my colleagues and trying to avoid injury. Also, I had my heart in my mouth at the final confrontation in the mountainside hut of which several characters had dreamt from the beginning of the story, not knowing why they had had these dreams or where the hut might be.

Although never boring, the middle of the novel did bog down somewhat; I felt there was repetition and the argument over whether or not to invade the Peloponnese was prolonged too much. The chapter on Phrynê and her brothel could have been cut way down. On the katabasis south into Laconia and at the Eurotas River there was too much conversation, too much repetition, too much drawing out of events. Mêlon was quite a different protagonist than the usual: an ordinary man of fifty, bald, and lame from a previous war wound [an intended hamstring] inflicted by a Spartan ephor. He was not the usual handsome young soldier we might have expected in military fiction. I wish there had been at least one sympathetic Spartan; all were negative stereotypes and odious. Not light reading, this novel takes concentration; but the story flows and overall I was pleased with the pacing. The author brought the period to life for me. I liked the presentation of the Pythagorean ethical system: equality of all men. I learned Pythagoras is more than mathematics.

I feel this book is a "must-read" about a little-known historical figure, Epaminondas and this whole period. ( )
  janerawoof | Dec 19, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is an intriguing concept somewhat hampered by excessive historical detail at the beginning. It was, as others have pointed out, hard to get into, but I did enjoy it by the end. I'll confess that, once I discovered Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, it's hard not to compare works of historical fiction to it. This one isn't that interesting, but it's worth a read if you like the period. ( )
  BasilBlue | Jul 25, 2014 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for several reasons. The main being the style of prose! Hanson emulates the epic style found in the Iliad and Beowulf. It's a refreshing way to read of daily life and battles from ancient times, immersing one self into his story (and history). This is not a fast read and some will find the language difficult at first. However, reading this over several days allows one to approach it with a fresh appreciation for the effort and skill used to write in this language. The End of Sparta is for both history lovers and lovers of literature. ( )
  KarenRinn | Nov 2, 2013 |
Despite the fact that this book is written about a classical historical even, it is extremely interesting. However, it is very difficult to get into as it bombards the reader with details that are not exactly pertinent to the reader or the story. The plot is good, the writing is superb (despite some of the questionable word choices i.e. using the "poke" to describe a sexual desire toward a slave - unsure if the author meant sex or rape).

It is a daunting book, but if you can make it through you will be rewarded with a great story. ( )
  onenita | Jun 20, 2013 |
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Book description
In this sweeping and deeply imagined historical novel, acclaimed classicist Victor Davis Hanson re-creates the battles of one of the greatest generals of ancient Greece, Epaminondas. At the Battle of Leuktra, his Thebans crushed the fearsome army of Sparta that had enslaved its neighbors for two centuries.

We follow these epic historical events through the eyes of Mêlon, a farmer who has left his fields to serve with Epaminondas—swept up, against his better judgment, in the fever to spread democracy even as he yearns to return to his pastoral hillside.

With a scholar's depth of knowledge and a novelist's vivid imagination, Hanson re-creates the ancient world down to its intimate details—from the weight of a spear in a soldier's hand to the peculiar camaraderie of a slave and master who go into battle side by side. The End of Sparta is a stirring drama and a rich, absorbing reading experience.
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In this sweeping and deeply imagined historical novel, acclaimed classicist Victor Davis Hanson re-creates the battles of one of the greatest generals of ancient Greece, Epaminondas. At the Battle of Leuktra, his Thebans crushed the fearsome army of Sparta that had enslaved its neighbors for two centuries. We follow these epic historical events through the eyes of Mêlon, a farmer who has left his fields to serve with Epaminondas-swept up, against his better judgment, in the fever to spread democracy even as he yearns to return to his pastoral hillside. With a scholar's depth of knowledge and a novelist's vivid imagination, Hanson re-creates the ancient world down to its intimate details-from the weight of a spear in a soldier's hand to the peculiar camaraderie of a slave and master who go into battle side by side.

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