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An Elephant for Aristotle [Hardcover]

L. Sprague De Camp
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Garden City N. Y. Doubleday; First Edition edition (1958)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007DQ5S6
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 16.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,087,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the money. 1 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A great adventure, and love story, a very good read. I can almost smell the elephant, and walk the distance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A superb classic novel 1 Jun 2013
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This is a novel about a put-upon soldier (Leon of Atrax) in the army of Alexander in India who is commissioned to take an elephant to Aristotle. One of Alexander's less deadly whims: the novel covers the trip across many miles to Athens and then in Athens and a little of Leon's later life.

The novel includes sufficient action to keep teenagers happy, as I was when I read it fifty odd years ago, but the pleasure to be derived from it really lies in two other areas.

It provides an easy run through many of the philosophies current in the Empire of Alexander, particularly the Greek ones, and some of the technologies also.

However, the best thing about the novel is the panorama of peoples and societies across the empire, which is visibly falling apart even while Alexander is still alive. Every society is characterized not only by language and customs, but by its fixed prejudices and its enmities with its neighbours.

De Camp was a science fiction and fantasy novelist who specialised in distant planets which were medieval rather than advanced. Most of the novels are journeys so this work is only a short distance from them. He was very learned in history and engineering and a range of other subjects.

I loved this as a boy and do so now. One feature that I enjoy is that it has none of the almost inevitable echoes of the British Empire which afflict the novels of almost all English authors, not only Kipling. In addition it has a matter of fact tone which avoids the exoticism of writers like Flaubert.

One minor complaint. I was brought up amongst Ulster Scots speakers and De Camp has chosen to make Leon and his northern Greek comrades speak a version of Lallands which lacks authenticity. However, this hardly is likely to bother most readers.

A superb wise book. Read it
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Herding an elephant thousands of miles across a newly conquered empire. 3 Jun 2013
By JFM Portland - Published on
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Leon of Atrax, a young officer of the Thessalian calvalry, has followed the all conquering Alexander the Great across the world to the fabled land of India. Now, at last, he has been given permission to go home to Greece. But King Alexander has one last mission for him. A simple thing really; just delivering a few chests of natural curiosities to Alexander's old tutor the philosopher Aristotle in Athens. Oh and one other thing...there is also an elephant for Aristotle.

So Leon has to figure out how to get an elephant the thousands of miles from India to Athens. While coping with such little problems as getting an elephant over snow bound mountains, searingly hot deserts and the salt sea. And fending off various threats from bandits, rebels and a choice assortment of corrupt and treacherous imperial officials.

All in all, Leon would rather have declined the honor. However, he realizes that saying "No" to a conquerer who has come to think of himself as a god incarnate is even more dangerous than herding an elephant across half of Asia. And so his adventure begins...

De Camp got the idea for this story when he read a comment by a historian that Aristotle described an elephant accurately and in enough detail that he must have examined a live specimen. But how would he have seen one? De Camp suggests that he might have been sent one by Alexander the Great, his former pupil. And actually getting an elephant from India to Greece in the 4th Century B.C. would have been an epic undertaking now lost to history. So, he told the story as he imagined it. And he imagined it with marvelous color and splendid detail.

L. Sprague de Camp is best remembered nowadays for his fantasy and science fiction works but he also did a number of first rate historical novels in the 1960s. He combined a through knowledge of the eras he wrote about with a realism of a trained engineer and a sardonic sense of humor. I hope "An Elephant for Aristotle" is only the first of his historicals to be made available in an ebook format. Other titles to look for include "The Arrows of Hercules", "The Bronze God of Rhodes" and "The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An old fashioned historically based novel surprisingly written by a highly regarded Science Fiction writer. 2 July 2013
By larsodin - Published on
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This is not Science Fiction in any form.
This is a well researched and thoughtful historically based story of what could have been actual events, real historical people and realistic non historical characters who had the strengths and weaknesses of their own as well as those of their clashing cultural values in the raw conquered kingdoms by Alexander the great.
A wonderful and fun read.
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine, high historical adventure 15 Oct 2013
By Rick Cook - Published on
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When Alexander the Great decides to play a royal joke on his old tutor Aristotle he chooses a Greek cavalryman to deliver the surprise package from India to Athens. Since said package is a very live elephant, our hero has his work cut out for him. Humor, adventure and a fascinating travelogue through Alexander's new empire.
5.0 out of 5 stars L. Sprague de Camp's little known treasure 14 Sep 2013
By Charles Ardinger - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is truly a lost, or nearly lost, gem. Well thought out. Well articulated. Beautifully presented. An adventure story, a love story and a history lesson. So much those and more. I recommend this to anyone even slightly interested in Alexander the Great or ancient Greece or even the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic historic adventure 12 July 2013
By Storyteller7 - Published on
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DeCamp presented the reader with an engrossing, well-researched account of how Alexander might have gone about dispatching an elephant to his old tutor. Enlisting a group of newly-discharged, mostly Macedonian soldiers, he gives them the funds & lets them tackle the transport problems: fodder, weather, route, and so forth. Fans of Thucydides, Mary Renault, Turtledove and David Drake should have fun with this.
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