As I listened to George Blagden narrate Conn Iggulden’s The Gates of Athens, one overwhelming thought came over me: they have been teaching history wrong all these years!
History is not simply a list of names, dates, and battles, history is the story of humanity, of us, how we got to here from there. The Gates of Athens has the names: Themistocles, Xerxes, Leonidas, Darius, among many others, even Pericles makes an appearance. The period of 490 BCE to 480 BCE is covered. We start with The Battle of Marathon, The Battle of Thermopylae and finish with, well, I’ll let you find that out for yourself. The beauty of what Iggulden did was that he made it a narrative. By focusing on one character who lived through these years, we go beyond the names and dates, the history becomes a complete story, the pieces and interactions come together. It is far easier to see and feel the big picture than the traditional way that history is taught.
However, this is not a history lesson, it is a historical fiction. The facts, dates, and personalities can be accurate, but it has to entertain and captivate at the same time. I found the fiction to be a little on the dry side; it lacked the camaraderie of soldiers going to battle, where was the comic relief? I was left with the impression that the ancient Greeks were a dry, sour lot, who only lived to argue with each other and stew over their misfortune. I’ve met Greeks, they are fun-loving and emotional. They love life and people, where was that side of them?
As the start to a series, perhaps I would go on; it would have more to do with Iggulden’s talent for creating a complete mosaic of the history than the story and characters.