The Arkadians Summary
For The Arkadians, Alexander draws on modern archeological and anthropological theories about the development of the Ancient Greek culture, as well as on Ancient Greek mythology. Originally, so modern theory says, early Greece, long before the Golden Age or the time of Homer (who wrote The Illyiad and The Odyssey), was inhabited by a pastoral matriarchal culture whose chief deities were female and generally were associated with specific territories. For instance, the goddess that would become Athena would have been associated with the territory of Athens, perhaps even specifically with the hills which the Parthenon crowns. The culture that we now think of as the Ancient Greek one migrated into Greece from the north, bringing with it a patriarchal society whose chief gods were male. The mixture of the two cultures resulted in the new one becoming dominant, but nonetheless incorporating in their own mythology the chief deities of the original culture. Thus the early goddess who became Athena was turned into a deity subservient to the male Zeus.
Alexander places his tale in the middle of the period in which these contending cultures were interacting, with the older culture reluctantly giving way to the newer one. The older culture is dominated by women: goddesses, prophetesses, healers, and arbiters. The newer culture's gods are not as well-developed in the novel as are the gods of the older culture, who are represented by the powerful Bear. The newer culture is controlled by men, some of whom are suspicious of women with power. They are even fearful of females such as the Woman- Who-Talks-to-Snakes (the "pythoness") and the Lady of Wild Things. The complex cultural underpinnings of the novel give it considerable depth. Throughout the novel, as a plot of high adventure unfolds, the two cultures first come into violent conflict and then eventually reach compromises. By the end of the novel, Alexander has presented a carefully considered account of how the two cultures may have learned to live with each other, with the newly dominant patriarchal culture learning the value of the matriarchal culture's knowledge of the seasons for agriculture, the healing arts, and other natural wisdom.
Thus The Arkadians focuses on the time when the Ancient Greek culture was beginning, when new myths were forming and a new religion taking shape. Alexander is gifted with a wonderful sense of humor and none of his details are dull. Any moment that could become a tedious lecture is instead transformed into a moment of witty insight into human nature, often through storytelling. Nearly every character has stories to tell—some imaginary, some true. Fronto the poet, in the form of a donkey, is always reshaping stories to suit his audience, pointing out how a little exaggeration, some romantic love, and some violent action can make a dull tale into an entertaining one. For instance, Oudeis's story of how he helped some thugs break into a walled city becomes the foundation for the epic of the Greek battle against Troy: a wooden jackass becomes a huge horse, the...
(The entire section is 791 words.)