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Flowers of Adonis –

Flowers of Adonis

Sunday , 3, April 2022 1 Comment

Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) is best remembered as a young adult writer. Sutcliff, Henry Treece, Roger Lancelyn Green, and Geoffrey Trease were all part of the same era bringing past historical periods to life for young readers.

Sutcliff is best remembered for The Eagle of the Ninth, The Lantern Bearers, and her historical Arthurian Sword at Sunset.

She is an interesting case of being stricken with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that confined her to a wheelchair. She was a real life version of Robert E. Howard’s James Allison, a cripple who remembers past lives.

One of her adult novels is The Flowers of Adonis. The hardback is from 1969. I have the paperback from 1971. It is a novel about Alcibiades or rather Alkibiades. I have read one other novel of Alcibiades, Tides of War by Steven Pressfield. I also read Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other, his history of the Peloponnesian War. So, I have a better grasp of the period than the usual television watcher.

Sutcliff’s novel is told in the first person by a rotating caste of people around Alkibiades. He is more immediate than portrayed in Pressfield’s novel. Alkibiades is clever, witty, and abrasive. In military matters, he is often brilliant but undone by pride. The down side of democracy is shown with how he is undone by jealous rivals.

The novel starts with the Athenian expedition, partway through the campaign, Alkibiades is recalled to Athens to face blasphemy charges for a stupid drunken act the night before leaving. He deserts on the way back and take refuge with the suspicious Spartans. Sutcliff does not present the Spartans in any romantic life. The narrator of this portion of the book bemoans life in Sparta. Alkibiades manages to cuckold the young wife of King Agis of Sparta.

Alkibiades escapes Sparta and then again appointed commander of Athenian forces. He manages a few victories to buoy Athenian fortunes. Political enemies again get Alkibiades exiled. He takes up residence near the Dardanelles dealing in horses with neighboring Thracians tribes. He warns the Athenian fleet beached at Aegospotami that it is a bad location. The Spartans surprise the Athenians and end the Peloponnesian War.

Alkibiades has plans of traveling to Persepolis to get take service with the Persian Shah. He is assassinated in Asia Minor and everyone breathes a sigh of relief he is gone.

Alcibiades is a difficult character to understand. Gifted, he is too vain to really like. The Athenians are not put in a great light either with their constant factionalism and petty jealousy bringing harm to the bigger causes.

This was an interesting excursion from my usual reading of Sutcliff who really excels in describing Roman and post-Roman Britain. I will be returning to her fields of heather and gorse in time.

One Comment
  • Cromagnon Man says:

    Another take on the life of Alcibiades can be found in Peter Green’s ACHILLES HIS ARMOUR.

    Can only endorse unequivocally your high regard for Sutcliff’s fiction: THE SILVER BRANCH, DAWN WIND, THE SHIELD RING et al. Happy to recommend them all. But THE LANTERN BEARERS especially should be considered essential reading for anyone with an interest in the post-Roman/Dark Ages period.

    I have always admired her refusal to patronise her – ostensibly – young adult audience but never anglicizing Roman place names in her narratives.

    When you do decide to return to the Sutclifftian heather may I recommend FRONTIER WOLF to you? It brazenly pinches the plot of Wallace Breem’s worthy but terminally slow novel of the NW Frontier THE LEOPARD AND THE CLIFF, transplants the action to the hinterlands of the Antonine Wall in the 4th Century and makes a thrilling read out of it.

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