Top positive review
This gets you from Greek to Roman history via Sicily's struggle with Carthage
on 18 August 2015
As today's 3rd Greek bailout proves, democracy is meaningless when creditors are in charge. If unelected rulers bend a society to their will, who is to say they are wrong, if that society benefits? Lee Kwan Yew did Singaporeans a favour, didn't he? But can you say the same about Putin's Russia? This debate about democracy versus autocracy will never be resolved. Informed elites are better governors than lynch mob democracies, aren't they? But these very elites entrench social division, by rewarding themselves rather than distributing resources more favourably amongst commoners, and denying the talented poor access to power. This antagonism defines post-Periclean Greece and you will not find this story better told than by Steven Pressfield in his Tides of War, which will acquaint you with Alcibiades and the 431-404 (thrice nine years) period of the Peloponnesian War between an Athens obsessed with Alcibiades and a Sparta obsessed with Lysander. (It is hard to praise a book too highly.) To get a full understanding you have to read Robin Waterfield's Why Socrates Died at the same time. (Google Socrates and Alcibiades and wonder at the number of Renaissance paintings depicting the former's attempts to pull the latter away a from his hedonism, so that his powerful political talent can benefit his society.) And so you end up in 399 BC, wondering how to pursue the subsequent history, of life after Socrates.
Mary Renault provides a natural sequel, in The Mask of Apollo, which takes you to the Syracuse of Dion (Aristomache's brother and Dionysius's brother in law), who hoped to enlighten the despotism of Dionysius's son, Dionysius II, with advice from Plato, Socrates's most famous student. But you've got to have some idea about how we get from Athens in 399 to Syracuse thirty years later.
For me, this is the real value of Manfredi's Tyrant, which explains how a Syracuse established by Corinth moves the theatre of Greek history away from Sparta and Athens towards Sicily and it's North African enemy, Carthage (itself a satellite established by Phoenicians - the greatest sailors of the ancient world - from Tyre.) You can not get from Greek to Roman history without understanding Carthage in Sicily and Manfredi's Tryant gives you a rich understanding in a very accessibly told story. I agree with other reviews highlighting shallow characterisation, so this is not in the same league as Pressfield, but this absence is a small price to pay for those who, like me, want their history fed to them easily through historical fiction. It is well worth reading.