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".