A Sparkling Linguistic Diamond
Socrates languishes in a stinking prison cell awaiting execution: death by drinking hemlock. Having been given a 28-day reprieve (not by his vile accusers or the Council of Five Hundred, but due to the observation of a festival period), he scribbles an account of his life on scrolls smuggled in by a kind jailer. In it, he reveals himself to his sons (and to the reader) not as the haughty Greek philosopher we have come to believe he was, but as a fallible human being. His humble beginnings as a stonemason surprised me (bringing into focus the book’s cover: even a hard block of stone cannot suppress new life sprouting from it).
I never knew Socrates was drafted into several military campaigns – albeit without much enthusiasm on his part. He is an outwardly gruff sort of man, but his long internal struggles with himself and toward his family, friends and foes at last expose him as quite vulnerable and deeply caring; not that he admitted this to anyone until the end of his life.
The author injects conversations and philosophical arguments as they might have taken place during those heady days of Athenian dominance; not an easy read, mind you, but so well executed I never skipped a single paragraph. What a joy to read such brilliant and intelligent use of language. While this novel is a literary gem, it is by no means devoid of action, intrigue, and surprises with plenty human fallacies and insights.
I also appreciated the appended glossary of Greek names, places and gods. It made me realize those times were real, as were most of the people, their beliefs, continual wars and personal struggles. Having buried myself too long perhaps in the hot sands of Ancient Egypt, I am ashamed to say that the little I knew about Ancient Greece I had almost forgotten. I am now inspired to re-acquaint myself with another great ancient civilization, alas also brought to its knees by Man’s forever impetus to wage war.