Aristodemos is a young Athenian boy whose father Lycos was a singer and friend of the famous poet Pindar,and his mother Makaria was a Spartan runner. As the book opens, Lycus has died, so Makaria is taking her son and their slaves back to her native Sparta so that Aristodemos can become the adopted son of her brother Gylippos. There the boy is trained as a Spartan soldier, although his Athenian spirit chafes under the Stoic discipline. His squad leader is Leonidas, and the two become close friends as Aristodemos grows into manhood. During this time, Aristodemos buys a slave boy who appears to be of noble birth and adopts him as his son with the name Mendi.
Eventually, Leonidas becomes King, and Aristodemos is one of the famous 300 Spartan soldiers who follow Leonidas to hold the pass of Thermopylae when the Persians invade Greece. Leonidas sends Aristodemos on a spy mission to discern the strength of the Persian army. He is captured, and when he finally escapes, he is blinded by a contagious eye inflammation, thus being unable to participate in the tragic battle. When he returns to Sparta as the only survivor, he is unfairly branded as a coward. Not wishing his adopted son to share his curse, he goes to Delphi to see if the oracle can reveal who the boy's father is and then takes Mendi to Italy to find his real father. Relieved of this responsibility, he joins first the Athenian and then the Spartan units at the battle of Plataea in hopes of redeeming his honor. Will Aristodemos achieve his aim? What will happen to him?
Though based on the story of a real individual, at least so recorded by Greek historian Herodotus, much of the book is obviously fictionalized, yet it is packed with accurate historical facts about life in ancient Greece which make this period in Greek history come alive for the reader. One reviewer wrote, "The book does reference the homosexual culture of men in Ancient Greece, but it does so tactfully." That may or may not be so depending on "the eye of the beholder." If it is, it is done so tactfully that another reviewer wrote, "While there is no sexuality implied, it could be construed as sexual intimacy by today's standards when, for instance the word 'lover' is used for 'special friend.'" I tend to agree with the latter, but in any event, parents might want to be forewarned. There are several references to nudity and drinking wine, both common practices in that culture, and the "d" word is used a few times, not so much as a curse word as more of a description of extremely abhorrent things. All in all, it was a very beneficial book which we did as a family read aloud (with a little editing).show more
by Wayne S. Walker