Athens, 411 BC. In the countryside, just outside the city gates, two war veterans, Trasillo and Polemone, live in adjacent cottages. Years earlier they fought together in the infamous battle of Mantinea, where Athens was crushed by Sparta. The two survivors now live as humble farmers, constantly putting off the decision to find husbands for their two daughters, Glicera and Charis, who are beginning to get impatient. For the two old men the only thing that matters is politics. Athens invented democracy, and it must defend it against the rich oligarchs who plot to reinstate their tyrannical rule. Even their neighbor Eubolo, a rich landowner who seeks refuge from the fatigue of city life in a nearby villa, cannot be fully trusted. Charis and Glicera think their fathers are paranoid. The young Cimone, son of Eubolo, rich, brash, and arrogant, is the object of their secret dreams. When all the men head to Athens to see Aristophanes’ latest comedy, the girls break all the rules of their patriarchal society and accept an invitation to Cimone’s house, far from their fathers’ watchful eyes.
Meanwhile, from the stage, the Athenian Lysistrata and the Spartan Lamito raise their voices in protest against misogyny and war, causing life in Eubolo’s village to take a dramatic turn.
With his extraordinary ability to bring history to life, Alessandro Barbero has created a fascinating and penetrating look at a surprisingly contemporary Athens.
Alessandro Barbero is the author of The Battle: A New History of Waterloo (Atlantic Books), Other People’s Wars, winner of the Strega Prize for Fiction, and The Eyes of Venice (Europa, 2012).
He is a renowned historian whose two-volume history of the Battle of Lepanto is considered to be the definitive text on the subject. He teaches Medieval History at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Vercelli, Italy.