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The Gryphon's Skull (Hellenistic Seafaring Adventure) Mass Market Paperback – Dec 2003


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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (Dec 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076534503X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765345035
  • Product Dimensions: 17.7 x 10.8 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,343,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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SPRING. NEVER IN ALL HIS TWENTY-SIX years had Menedemos been so glad to see the sailing season come round again. Read the first page
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Format: Hardcover
This book continues where Over the Wine-Dark Sea left off. Menedemos and Sostratos have returned from a highly successful voyage to Magna Graecia and Syracuse and are about top set off again. This time however they have a special cargo: a gryphon's skull (actually a dinosaur fossil) which Sostratos is determined to bring to the Academy in Athens. As with the last one the entire book is taken up with day to day concerns as they go from city to city selling their cargo. Unlike the last one they do a bit of hobnobbing with the rich and powerful. We get to see Ptolemy, king of Egypt, and Polemios, Antigonos' nephew. The two traders even get themselves majorly involved in a minor historical event. The pattern is of course repetitive, so perhaps these books are better read over a period of time so that they seem more fresh.

Something that I really enjoy about these books is their look at a little-explored period in history: the Hellenistic world just after the death of Alexander the Great. And Turtledove takes the opportunity to explore this world to the fullest. This time we get to see western Asia Minor and parts of eastern Greece. As with last time this is explained partly through direct experience and partly through the explanations of Sostratos and his knowledge of obscure factoids. This does occasionally sound preachy and veer into historo-talk, but it usually feels like exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to hear out of a wanna-be philosopher.

I do have to say though that at two books in I am finding myself less and less convinced that the Greeks stored their coins in their cheeks.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Enjoyable Read that doesn't do Much 8 May 2005
By John A Lee III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I like Harry Turtledove's books (Turteltaub is a pen name), they are enjoyable to read. This one was as well but, unlike many of his novels, there does not seem to be much point to it. It is a simple narrative describing the exploits of a pair of cousins in the ancient Hellenic world. There is very little sense of excitement or accomplishment. Instead, it is a mildly pleasant meandering.

Mendemos and Sostratos are cousins who work together in the trade in luxury goods. They come from Rhodes and sail the Mediterranean hoping to make a profit. In the course of their journey, they have a few mild adventures and run into some interesting people. That's about all that does happen.

The title come from a fossil skull of a dinosaur procured by one the cousins. To both of them, it seems to suggest the mythical gryphon. The more philosophical of the two boys wants to take it to Athens to see what the scholars there make of it. The more adventurous one thinks that will be a waste of time (and investment capital) but agrees merely to keep peace within the family. The skull figures in the drives of the characters but has little other significance than to help demonstrate the differing outlooks each has.

Menedemos is the captain of the vessel and is the more hot headed of the two. His twin motivations are profit and the seduction of other men's wives. Sostratos is the more contemplative one who is a thinker. He serves as the supercargo and is no less interested in profit but to him, this includes profit of the mind as well.

The bothers wander around on their trading journey. Some things go better than hoped for, some go worse. Their exploits, however, do not seem to be the point. Instead, they are just the vehicle to introduce readers to a very different culure which did significantly influence our own. For me, this was interesting; others may find it less so.

Turtledove is eminently qualified to write on these matters. He is a Greek scholar although I do believe his area of specialization is significantly later in history. It was Byzantine, if I remember correctly. I like his science fiction and alternate history books much more; I can hardly put those down. I have no regrets in reading this one though.

Don't expect a rousing adventure. If you want a slice of Hellenistic culture from shortly after Alexander the Great, this might be a good choice.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
delightful ancient historical novel 8 Feb 2003
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
About three centuries BC, the merchants Menedemos and Sostratos sail the Aphrodite across the Aegean Sea from Rhodes to deliver cargo in Athens. Menedemos captains the vessel while his cousin Sostratos handles more of the scholarly side of the business. Of course the two bicker over everything with Sostratos being a back seat driver and Menedemos a pseudo intellect.
On this particular journey, the argumentative duo obtains the skull of a strange looking bird that Sostratos believes is a gryphon, which proves the existence of the mythical beast. Menedemos dreams of receiving plenty of loot at an auction as he figures the philosophy schools will compete to buy the gryphon skull. As the relatives argue, fuss, and fight over the bird, they must also deal with the typical hazards of the open sea ranging from pirates to warring countries to spoiled aristocratic relatives, but mostly they contend with one another.
THE GRYPHON'S SKULL is a delightful ancient historical novel that brings to life Greece through the eyes of a strong cast, especially the delightful lead characters. The story line is action-packed, filled with real tidbits and persona, but also contains much amusement especially when the cousins bicker, banter, and bother one another. Fans will relish this trek and want to read the combatant cousin's first novel, OVER THE WINE DARK SEA.
Harriet Klausner
A good book, better than the first 8 Dec 2006
By pspahn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I liked this book. This series is a refreshing change from a lot of historical/fantasy novels that seem to replay the same plot lines, the same heroes, the same tropes over and over again. The two main characters are extremely likeable and the setting is evocative enough for you to get a feel for the world they live in without your (my) own ignorance of the period being frustrating. That was my biggest gripe with the first book. It read so much like a history text book at times that I found myself skimming whole pages for the story parts.

The author has done a much better job this time around, although he still needs to disguise his expositional dialogue a bit better. There were several times one cousin said something aloud that should have been common knowledge to the other, which meant he was really saying it for our (the reader's) benefit. The quotation marks could easily have been dropped, making it internal dialgue rather than external. But, all in all, I really like this series. We'll see about the next two books.

Pete

PS - As a side note to something another reviewer mentioned, the anachronistic dialogue fits fairly seamlessly. Sure, I doubt a Hellene ever said 'you've got a bargain, pal' using those words, but I'm quite sure they said the equivalent using their own. Accurately recreating period slang and informal speech would leave most people saying "huh?" Just look at Shakespeare, and that's written in English. The way HNT wrote it is a lot simpler for the casual reader. I know I don't want to have to stop and think about the meaning of every conversation. I just want to read the story.
Get them all 4 Nov 2013
By Reginleif - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is part of a great series and my partner wanted them all. Straight historical fiction, and accurate in its history.
Don't Know Why But I Enjoy This Series 8 April 2013
By Arch Stanton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book continues where Over the Wine-Dark Sea left off. Menedemos and Sostratos have returned from a highly successful voyage to Magna Graecia and Syracuse and are about top set off again. This time however they have a special cargo: a gryphon's skull (actually a dinosaur fossil) which Sostratos is determined to bring to the Academy in Athens. As with the last one the entire book is taken up with day to day concerns as they go from city to city selling their cargo. Unlike the last one they do a bit of hobnobbing with the rich and powerful. We get to see Ptolemy, king of Egypt, and Polemios, Antigonos' nephew. The two traders even get themselves majorly involved in a minor historical event. The pattern is of course repetitive, so perhaps these books are better read over a period of time so that they seem more fresh.

Something that I really enjoy about these books is their look at a little-explored period in history: the Hellenistic world just after the death of Alexander the Great. And Turtledove takes the opportunity to explore this world to the fullest. This time we get to see western Asia Minor and parts of eastern Greece. As with last time this is explained partly through direct experience and partly through the explanations of Sostratos and his knowledge of obscure factoids. This does occasionally sound preachy and veer into historo-talk, but it usually feels like exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to hear out of a wanna-be philosopher.

I do have to say though that at two books in I am finding myself less and less convinced that the Greeks stored their coins in their cheeks. He's basing that mainly off one line in Aristophanes which can be interpreted several ways. But when reading them constantly pulling coins out of their mouths (do they have a whole bank in there) it seems less and less practical. I can certainly see someone hiding coins there to keep them hidden or if they're wallet is missing, but is it really reasonable to have coins in there at all times? These guys are well-off. Why don't they just buy a coin-pouch?

I still can't say why I find these books so enjoyable but they certainly are addicting. I look forward to reading the further adventures of Menedemos and Sostratus. This is book two in the Hellenic Traders series. The last two books consist of The Sacred Land and Owls to Athens.
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