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The Gryphon's Skull (Hellenistic Seafaring Adventure) Mass Market Paperback – December 7, 2003

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Product Details

  • Series: Hellenistic Seafaring Adventure (Book 2)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (December 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076534503X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765345035
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,839,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sea-faring merchants Menedemos and Sostratos, the bickering cousins of Over the Wine-Dark Sea, Turteltaub's previous historical novel set in ancient Greece, are back again with an adventure taking them across the Aegean from the free city of Rhodes to glittering Athens. On their way to the city with a cargo of precious goods, they pick up the skull of an unusual bird. The scholarly Sostratos believes it is that of a gryphon, and thus proof of the existence of the mythical beast. The more down-to-earth Menedemos has little interest in the skull's scientific value, but hopes the philosophical schools in Athens will compete to purchase it. On the relatively short journey, they are plagued by pirates and the clashing forces of Egyptian Ptolemaios and Greek Antigonas, as well as the latter's troublesome nephew Polemaios. Despite these obstacles, Menedemos and Sostratos find plenty of time for haggling, with other merchants as well as with each other. Ladies' man Menedemos often courts trouble by ogling other men's wives, although he restrains himself for Baukis, the attractive young second wife of his father. Sostratos, although anxious to see the Athenian philosophers, has time for a delightful dalliance with the beautiful brothel mistress, Metrikhe. The author has spelled names as the Greeks did-Kyklades, Thoukydides, Skythians-and this adds to the fun. In the end, readers will count themselves satisfied with the journey.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Turteltaub (pseudonym of science fiction-fantasy writer Harry Turtledove) serves up more ancient Greek history in this sequel to Over the Wine-Dark Sea (2001). When cousins Menedemos and Sostratos embark from Rhodes in 308 B.C. on a trading expedition, they find the skull of a gryphon, a creature thought to be mythological, in the market in nearby Kaunos. What is simply an old bone to womanizer Menedemos is a treasure to scholar Sostratos, who wants to take it to philosophers in Athens for study. So the skull joins the wares of dye, perfume, ink, and papyrus on a journey involving potential danger, not only from pirates but also from the warring factions of Ptolemaios and Antigonos. This is factually-laden historical fiction, although history is sometimes dispensed awkwardly through dialog rather than through narrative; and while a table of weights, measures, and money is provided, a glossary is sorely missing. But there is appealing camaraderie between the cousins, and no lack of action; and plans for a future voyage, plus unresolved issues, pave the way for more to come. Michele Leber
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John A Lee III on May 7, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I like Harry Turtledove's books (Turteltaub is a pen name), they are enjoyable to read. This one was as well but, unlike many of his novels, there does not seem to be much point to it. It is a simple narrative describing the exploits of a pair of cousins in the ancient Hellenic world. There is very little sense of excitement or accomplishment. Instead, it is a mildly pleasant meandering.

Mendemos and Sostratos are cousins who work together in the trade in luxury goods. They come from Rhodes and sail the Mediterranean hoping to make a profit. In the course of their journey, they have a few mild adventures and run into some interesting people. That's about all that does happen.

The title come from a fossil skull of a dinosaur procured by one the cousins. To both of them, it seems to suggest the mythical gryphon. The more philosophical of the two boys wants to take it to Athens to see what the scholars there make of it. The more adventurous one thinks that will be a waste of time (and investment capital) but agrees merely to keep peace within the family. The skull figures in the drives of the characters but has little other significance than to help demonstrate the differing outlooks each has.

Menedemos is the captain of the vessel and is the more hot headed of the two. His twin motivations are profit and the seduction of other men's wives. Sostratos is the more contemplative one who is a thinker. He serves as the supercargo and is no less interested in profit but to him, this includes profit of the mind as well.

The bothers wander around on their trading journey. Some things go better than hoped for, some go worse. Their exploits, however, do not seem to be the point.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on February 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
About three centuries BC, the merchants Menedemos and Sostratos sail the Aphrodite across the Aegean Sea from Rhodes to deliver cargo in Athens. Menedemos captains the vessel while his cousin Sostratos handles more of the scholarly side of the business. Of course the two bicker over everything with Sostratos being a back seat driver and Menedemos a pseudo intellect.
On this particular journey, the argumentative duo obtains the skull of a strange looking bird that Sostratos believes is a gryphon, which proves the existence of the mythical beast. Menedemos dreams of receiving plenty of loot at an auction as he figures the philosophy schools will compete to buy the gryphon skull. As the relatives argue, fuss, and fight over the bird, they must also deal with the typical hazards of the open sea ranging from pirates to warring countries to spoiled aristocratic relatives, but mostly they contend with one another.
THE GRYPHON'S SKULL is a delightful ancient historical novel that brings to life Greece through the eyes of a strong cast, especially the delightful lead characters. The story line is action-packed, filled with real tidbits and persona, but also contains much amusement especially when the cousins bicker, banter, and bother one another. Fans will relish this trek and want to read the combatant cousin's first novel, OVER THE WINE DARK SEA.
Harriet Klausner
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I liked this book. This series is a refreshing change from a lot of historical/fantasy novels that seem to replay the same plot lines, the same heroes, the same tropes over and over again. The two main characters are extremely likeable and the setting is evocative enough for you to get a feel for the world they live in without your (my) own ignorance of the period being frustrating. That was my biggest gripe with the first book. It read so much like a history text book at times that I found myself skimming whole pages for the story parts.

The author has done a much better job this time around, although he still needs to disguise his expositional dialogue a bit better. There were several times one cousin said something aloud that should have been common knowledge to the other, which meant he was really saying it for our (the reader's) benefit. The quotation marks could easily have been dropped, making it internal dialgue rather than external. But, all in all, I really like this series. We'll see about the next two books.


PS - As a side note to something another reviewer mentioned, the anachronistic dialogue fits fairly seamlessly. Sure, I doubt a Hellene ever said 'you've got a bargain, pal' using those words, but I'm quite sure they said the equivalent using their own. Accurately recreating period slang and informal speech would leave most people saying "huh?" Just look at Shakespeare, and that's written in English. The way HNT wrote it is a lot simpler for the casual reader. I know I don't want to have to stop and think about the meaning of every conversation. I just want to read the story.
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