|Publication Date||June 18, 2013|
The Goat Song is a two volume historical novel depicting life in Athens during the years of 480 B.C., the climax of the Persian invasion of the Greek mainland, through the death of Socrates in 399 B.C. The first volume ends with the third year of the Peloponnesian War and the death of Pericles in 429 B.C. Each of the 25 episodes in Volume 1 is a portal through which the reader may step into the many-sided world of fifth century B.C. Athenians: politics, religion, art, war, slavery, family life, love, eroticism, work, commerce, play, and the extraordinary passion for competition in sport, music, dance, and theater.
There are really two interconnected narratives unfolding throughout the two volume saga. The first is an account of the life-long personal relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades, two of the most controversial Athenian men of this time, both of whom were regarded as guilty of capital crimes against their city. This story begins with their early childhoods, the influence of their families, and ends with the death of Socrates, whose execution comes five years after his beloved Alcibiades' violent death. The larger story of the rise and fall of Athens' military and commercial empire is polymorphous and carries the reader to and fro through episodes which reflect the dissonance within Athenian culture and politics with regard to the legitimacy of its imperial aspirations.
Every attempt has been made to follow the the chronology of events recorded and agreed upon in the ancient historical narratives of the era, especially the histories of Herodotus (The Histories), Thucydides (History of the Peloponnesian War), Xenophon (Hellenika), Aristotle (Constitution of Athens), and Plutarch (Lives). But not every character in The Goat Song can be found in the extant literature of ancient fifth century Athenians or their later historians. Slaves, temple prostitutes, hetaerae, children, thetes ( hired laborers without property), artists, and rowers in the Athenian navy of triremes - all are invisible to the historical record as individuals. But these persons also appear as flesh and blood subjects in my stories of Athenian lives. What are the sources from which we today might find the materials to reconstruct their inner lives?
The artwork displayed on the thousands of fifth century Athenian vases, drinking cups, storage amphorae,and funeral urns portray a wide array of scenes: the erotic congress of male citizens with other men of their same status and with women of every status, participation in the numerous religious festivals and rites, the brutality of war, the drudgery of the work of women and slaves, various epiphanies of the gods, and the feats of heroes. This treasure trove of the potter's imaginative reflection of both everyday life and the exalted realm of gods and heroes can teach us much about the lives of non-citizens in ancient Athens. Also, a careful reading of Aristophanes' comedies and Euripides' tragedies,theatrical productions which aimed to entertain the common people of Athens as well as the men of aristocratic lineage, provide us with a picture of ordinary lives. Quite often we can find in these poets' theatrical scripts the emotions and perspectives of a slave, a wife, a hired laborer all negotiating the challenges of their everyday life in Athens, or a resentful commoner reacting to the ways of the rich, powerful, and commemorated men of Athens.
Readers of The Goat Song will find a book of the best kind of disciplined historical fiction - an interpolative likely story guided by the extant literary and artistic works of fifth and fourth century Athenians.