Saturday, 1 July 2017

A Book Review: "A Boy of the Agoge"


I received my books from Amazon yesterday afternoon, about 3 pm. I chose to start with "A Boy of the Agoge," by Professor Helena P. Schrader. I started reading about 6 pm, I finished at about 2:45 am. Yes, I grew sleepy, Yes, my eyes grew tired and red. No, I didn't want to "wait until tomorrow" to see what happened next.

Professor Schrader has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Hamburg. She has several blogs, but is most well known for her contributions to Real Crusades History, found here. At least, that's where I met her and where I "see" her most often. In that vein, she has written a trilogy of Balian of Ibelin; the real Balian, not the Ridley Scott Balian. But a discussion of that trilogy is for another review.

"A Boy of the Agoge" is the first book in a trilogy telling the story of Leonidas of Sparta. Yes, he of "the three hundred" fame, he of the Thermopylae fame. But as Professor Schrader points out in her book's Introduction, very little is known of his boyhood. There are, in her words, "tantalizing tidbits," but no detailed records.

Leonidas was the fourth son -- being the second born of twins -- of King Anaxandridas II. As such, he was little noteworthy to historians during his early life. Not surprising when one considers how unlikely it was that, as the fourth son, he would ever inherit the throne. Thus, not much attention was paid to him during this period by writers. Since he was not the heir apparent, the Agoge was his destination, as it was for all Spartan boys.

We do know about the tumultuous relationship he had with his brothers and they with each other. His eldest brother -- Cleomenes -- became king and his second brother -- Dorieus -- vied with Cleomenes for the throne. We have details like these and from these, Professor Schrader has postulated what Leonidas' early life might have been like and woven an enthralling story from it.

While the events of Leonidas' early life are the "fiction" part of the story, the rest of this "historical novel" is not. Professor Schrader gives us wonderful descriptions of what Sparta was like during this period and what life there would have been life; the temples, the government, the Agoge, the courses taught there, the dances and theater, a brief account of the wars with Messenia and the end relationship between Sparta and Messenia.

Not only an enjoyable read, but an educational one as well, especially for anyone interested int hat period of history, of which I am one. Her prose, spelling, punctuation? I found nothing that distracted me from the story itself. It flowed smoothly, without bumps, or hiccups and at a nice, steady pace. She did not race through the story, nor did she stumble upon any spots that might mire the reader down. As I said, I sat through it in one, non-stop, reading session.

A thoroughly good read, a thoroughly enjoyable read, that I would recommend to anyone.

If you want to learn more about Sparta, you might want to visit her blog, Sparta Reconsidered, found here.

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