- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 7/28/02 edition (August 27, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375727051
- ISBN-13: 978-0375727054
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 90 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paperback – August 27, 2002
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“An incredibly detailed and convincing picture of the ancient world.” –Anthony Burgess
“Brilliantly realized. . . . Fertile, vivid, and ingenious. . . . [A] surging river of a book.” –Mary Renault, The New York Review of Books
“His best novel. . . . There isn’t a page of Creation that doesn’t inform and very few pages that do not delight” –The New York Times
“Highly literate, stylish, entertaining and provocative.” –The Wall Street Journal
From the Inside Flap
A sweeping novel of politics, war, philosophy, and adventure-in a restored edition, featuring never-before-published material from Gore Vidal's original manuscript-Creation" offers a captivating grand tour of the ancient world.
Cyrus Spitama, grandson of the prophet Zoroaster and lifelong friend of Xerxes, spent most of his life as Persian ambassador for the great king Darius. He traveled to India, where he discussed nirvana with Buddha, and to the warring states of Cathay, where he learned of Tao from Master Li and fished on the riverbank with Confucius. Now blind and aged in Athens-the Athens of Pericles, Sophocles, Thucydides, Herodotus, and Socrates-Cyrus recounts his days as he strives to resolve the fundamental questions that have guided his life's journeys: how the universe was created, and why evil was created with good. In revisiting the fifth century b.c.-one of the most spectacular periods in history-Gore Vidal illuminates the ideas that have shaped civilizations for millennia."
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I do think the first one hundred pages or so were tough going and it took a while for me to get interested in the pace and setting. The story is at its best when Spitama is outside of Persia and discussing philosophy. I appreciate the range of historical figures he managed to incorporate into the story.
I have no problem, as some other reviewers seem to do, with Vidal's caustic snipes peppering the narrative. In fact, they kept me going at several points in the book. For my one criticism of the book is that it becomes theologically tedious at times. What is generally denominated the "First Cause" argument for a Creator is rehashed so many times that it becomes almost unbearably tiresome. --- The argument, for those sans a philosophy class in their background, takes the form of something more or less like this: Everything has a cause, and if you go back far enough in your questioning of what caused this, and what caused this that caused this that caused this other thing etc etc, you'll finally come across something that has no cause. That something is God or the Creator, or, what you will. And if you question someone who actually believes this argument for a creator as to why this must be so, you'll be told that there can't be an "infinite regression". This argument was dismissed by philosophers and even most believers in a creator many moons ago for the very obvious reason that there is no reason that there not be an "infinite regression" other than that we find it hard to imagine. It's also not true that everything has a cause. But that's for a higher level philosophy class, and is not dealt with in Vidal's book.
The theodicy question, the problem of evil in the world, which keeps arising among all the different philosophers and religious figures whom our narrator encounters, is far more interesting. It is best posed by Prince Jeta as he is dying in India: "We can't conceive [of] a god who takes an immortal soul, allows it to be born once, plays a game with it, then passes a judgment on it and condemns it to pain or pleasure forever." This is a question that has dogged Western religious thinkers for ages: Why is there so much evil in the Creator's world? Need I say that the question has never been answered thoroughly despite many attempts to do so. The only coherent answer to the question, if you believe both in the creator and evil, is the belief of the Ancient Gnostics that the creator of this world is himself evil. But the "Ancient Gnostics", as far as we know, did not come along until four centuries after this narrative is set.
But I'm omitting the most fascinating part of the book, indeed, what makes it worth reading, the view into the ancient world from a non-Hellenic viewpoint. This firsthand narrative from the imagined perspective of a Persian is most refreshing. We are taught to revere the Ancient Greeks as the founders of modern civilisation. It is altogether bracing to see them treated with the irreverence and disdain a contemporary Persian must have felt for the comparatively impoverished and chaotic country, particularly Athens. The pre-eminence they now enjoy was by no means foreordained.
Vidal's intriguing panoramic view of the Ancient world almost makes one wish one could travel back in time as an ancient Persian, Indian, Cathayan or even Greek to experience all these things oneself----Ahem, I exclude those who believe, with Pythagoras and the Indians, in the transmigration of souls. They've obviously already been there, in some form or another....But, as our narrator laments, "What we are is seldom what we want to be while what we want to be is either denied us - or changes with the seasons."