on 6 February 2014
While the genius of V.D. Hanson has no bigger fan than myself where the author's historical nonfiction and incisive political commentary is concerned. I was slightly disappointed by his venture into historical fiction. While the historical aspect is absolutely accurate and well-researched, the novel falls somewhat short with regard to the dialogue and fails to entertain as an engaging work of fiction should. As the author himself admits in the introduction, much of the difficulty here lies in putting lines into the mouths of his characters that can at once accurately reflect the idiom of ancient Greece and still manage to "click" with a modern audience. Hanson has, I fear, given a bit too much weight to the former - as one might expect of a trained classicist - and as a result, the dialogue, and overall story-telling has a rather ponderous feel about it. That limitation aside, the action is reasonably well-paced and the characters manage to be believable and multidimensional. Given the difficulty of keeping the many Greek names and terminologies straight, the glossary provided at the end of the volume has proved itself a useful addition.
on 9 November 2011
Told with the elegant literary grace of Homer's poetry and just as compelling as any Tom Clancy military thriller, "The End of Sparta" is Victor Davis Hanson's vividly rendered fictional portrait of Theban general Epaminondas as seen through the eyes of these fictional characters, the gentleman farmer Melon and his two most trustworthy slaves and friends, his personal servant Chion and the virgin seer Neto. Hanson recounts in spellbinding prose, the little known history of Epaminondas, his armies and their noble aims to free Messinian helots, enslaved for generations by the warlike Spartans, and thus, to weaken, perhaps forever, Sparta's paramount role as the preeminent military power in Hellas (ancient Classical Greece). In a narrative prose as memorable as Homer's epic poetry for both its lyricism and grace, Hanson starts with the battle of Leuktra itself, giving readers an intimate, yet quite cinematic, account of the fighting as seen through the eyes of both the outnumbered Spartan hoplites (armored foot soldiers) and their far more numerous Boiotian foe, who, under Epaminondas' able leadership, crush the invading Spartan army. He offers a relentless narrative in which we see not only the enthusiastic support, and occasional doubts, of Epaminondas' key lieutenants, but those of the Spartan military elite too, as Sparta reacts to Epaminondas' commitment toward waging an almost total war within Lakonia (Sparta and its surrounding countryside), as a means of achieving an ultimate victory against Sparta and freedom for the centuries-enslaved Messinian helots. Through Melon, his servants, his fellow Theban hopolites, and such notable historic figures as Alkidamas, Pelopidas, and Epaminondas himself, we are exposed to the rationalistic anti-polytheistic Pythagorean philosophy which compels Epaminondas' messianic quest to rid the Peloponnesos (rocky, mountainous southern Greece) of its generations-old Spartan political dominance and slavery, and to extend to Messinian helots, the virtues of self rule as practiced by Thebes' relatively nascent, yet quite vigorous, democracy. And yet, the most beguiling character is the young seer Neto, devoted adherent of Classical Greece's polytheistic faith, whose mystical dreams and visions compel Messinian helot fighters onward in their heroic struggle for freedom from Spartan tyranny and slavery. With "The End of Sparta", Hanson has rendered a most fascinating, quite absorbing, glimpse into Classical Hellenic civilization, and one that is certainly more realistic than Steven Pressfield's acclaimed novels of Classical Greece and its epic struggles against Persia. Victor Davis Hanson has made a most impressive fictional debut with a historical novel that should be viewed as among the year's best.