The Golden Lyre by Noel B Gerson 1963

Recommend, or otherwise, books on Alexander (fiction or non-fiction). Promote your novel here!

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Hetairos (companion)
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The Golden Lyre by Noel B Gerson 1963

Post by Alexias »

This is principally a novel of the love affair between Ptolemy and Thais, although not exclusively and there isn't much lovey-dovey stuff. It is not what could be called a romance, but it is too historically inaccurate to be called a historical novel.

Thais is an ambitious Macedonian serving wench raped by a young Ptolemy, who conceives the notion of becoming Alexander's consort. She heads to Athens to acquire the polish of a hetaerae, goes to Egypt where she becomes wealthy and, when the Macedonians arrive, strikes up a bargain with Ptolemy to accompany them eastwards. When Alexander finally shows some interest in her at the burning of Persepolis, she realises she doesn't want him as she loves Ptolemy. Her next aim is to become the wife of Ptolemy, which involves making him realise he loves her and persuading him to put aside Eurydike, his Macedonian wife, who is also the daughter of Antipater. She achieves her aim, steals Alexander's sarcophagus, and heads off to become Empress of Egypt at Ptolemy's side.

It is a reasonable read if you can ignore the wildly historical inaccuracies, from saddles, stirrups and artillery guns (ie catapults) used in battle, to Bessus becoming Alexander's ally and joining the battle against Porus at the Hydaspes, and Cassander joining Ptolemy as his idolizing younger brother-in-law, helping Thais abduct Alexander's sarcophagus and heading off to Egypt with them. You can see why the author has made some of these historical changes, such as making Ptolemy's marriage to Antipater's daughter much earlier than it actually happened, but no apology or explanation is given (despite an author's note on the sources) and you are left wondering if they have been made through ignorance or deliberately.

There are some incidents which seem to have influenced Oliver Stones' movie such as Cassander's presence on the expedition and Ptolemy and Alexander's chat on top of the mountains.

This Alexander is something of a cypher, we never really get to grips with his character as he spends much of the novel in the background only occasionally moving into the foreground with dramatic force. In youth he is a priggish dreamer, refusing to touch alcohol or have sex. It is difficult to understands how he inspires loyalty. He enjoys battle and is unfazed by problems, but at Persepolis he becomes drunk and seems insane.

Later he increasingly loses contact with reality, over extending himself and then retiring to spend time with Roxanna. On the return from India he is a broken man, exhausted from overwork and his lung wound. After Hephaestion's death, he spends 3 months in seclusion while the ruling of the empire falls on the remaining 4 of the 'Band of Seven' his closest friends, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Peucestas and Seleucus. Of the others, Nearchus is only interested in maritime exploration, Antigonus (the artillery expert) has returned westwards in command of the veterans (with Craterus as his deputy), and Hephaistion is dead.

Hephaestion gets a good press. He is urbane, sophisticated, and Athenian educated, so the Athenian connection pre-dates Heckel by a long-way. He is Alexander's principal cavalry commander, while Ptolemy, Alexander's deputy commander, is the infantry commander, and they are good friends. Ptolemy is shown as something of a rough diamond, who has long since set his mind on holding Egypt. Cassander also gets a good press and is Ptolemy's deputy commander.

In summary, it's a reasonable story but don't take it too seriously as accuracy is not its aim.
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