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Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer Paperback – September 15, 2011
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From the Author
Leonidas is arguably the most famous of all Spartan, but no serious biography has ever been written, and what is most often portrayed is his death. Leonidas is remembered for commanding the Greek forces that defended the pass at Thermopylae against an invading Persian Army. Leonidas has come to symbolize the noblest form of military courage and self-sacrifice.
But Leonidas was not a young man at the historic battle where he gave his life. He had lived half a century (if not more) and reigned for ten years before he took command of the Greek alliance defying Persia. It was those years preceding the final confrontation with Persia that made him the man he would be at Thermopylae. To the extent that we admire his defiant stand, learning more about his early life and tracing the development of his character is important. Yet so very little is actually known about his early life that historians have been discouraged from attempting a biography.
Novelists, fortunately, enjoy more freedom, and what we do know about Leonidas' early life is enticing. In the first novel in this trilogy, A Boy of the Agoge, I built upon known facts about his birth and family situation and Sparta's unique educational system to construct a plausible picture of Leonidas' boyhood. In the second book, I focus on the next stage of his life, the years when he was a common citizen before becoming king. This is the period in which he married his niece Gorgo and gained experience in battle and politics. Building on the few known facts, listening to the sayings attributed to Leonidas and Gorgo, and knowing how Leonidas met his destiny at Thermopylae, I have written this novel.
The characters that emerge are greater than the historical input. Leonidas is consciously portrayed as the quintessential archaic Spartan, because that is what he has become in legend. Gorgo, likewise, epitomizes that which set Spartan women apart from their contemporaries, without robbing her of individual traits and personality. The two principals are surrounded by a large cast of secondary, largely fictional characters, each of which is unique and complex.
About the Author
Her novel set in the 7th Crusade, St. Louis' Knight,won the 2014 Chaucer Award for the Best Historical Fiction set in the HighMiddle Ages, and also placed third in the 2014 Feathered Quill LiteraryAwards for both Historical and Spiritual Fiction. All three books in her Balian d'Ibelin biography, Knight of Jerusalem, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.
Helena is a career diplomat currently serving in Africa.
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The books are also incredibly detailed in the description of what was going on in and outside of Sparta at the time. It gives a wide view on Spartan society - army, marriage, education, political struggles within the country as well as outside of it, everyday life of people, etc. You feel really immersed into that period and society as you read the books.
The books also reference life in other contemporary Greek cities, especially that of Athens. Sparta is often judged outside of its time and context, while I think it is important to consider what was going on in the world around it and how people - children, woman, slaves, etc. were treated outside of Sparta, by other Greek cities. Having this information gives a more balanced view on things.
As far as fiction aspect of the books - the characters are very engaging. The events that take place throughout the book make you keep reading chapter after chapter. I really enjoyed it!
The first book took us through the early years in the life of Leonidas, focused as the title would indicate largely on the agoge and the various rituals and training regimes that young men in Sparta undergo. It also let us know how romance and family relations in the city functioned, and how the perioiki and helots worked into this social system and structure. Now Leonidas is a grown man, a member of a mess, and a soldier in the army. He has taken it as his mission to become the "Peerless Peer" that the title aludes to, and we are given the opportunity to understand how a man could grow into one who would willingly sacrifice himself for his country.
We are given opportunity to see how the vaunted army functions, and how the kleros that is to maintain Spartan society actually works. For a city that strove towards an idillyic distribution of property that would make everyone equal, Schrader lays bare how one cannot legislate against greed and the machinations of the human spirit to protect ones family and build ones own assets. There are villains and there are saints in Sparta, and Leonidas encounters them all.
The system of two kings is a recurring issue as well, in how it affects what is never more then a small city. The fact that Spart was not always on a war footing comes up, and how families dealt with fathers who basically were never around until they hit the age of thirty. It is a history book wrapped around a story that touches upon all the facets of the ancient world that one does not think about when envisioning such a place, but which make that place a real location that we visit through her writing. This is outstanding work, and we can all only hope that there is more to come.
I have not seen the third book yet in ebook and will read the last installment when it comes available. If a fan of Sparta or new to the genre, this is a good place to start.
My only complaint would be that the story drifts a little too much from Leonidas at some points.