Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

Viktor Rydberg has been translated into English more than any other Swedish novelist of the nineteenth century. In addition to this historical novel dealing with the early history of Christianity, he wrote several nonfictional volumes about the Church Fathers and the history of Christianity. The obvious doctrine of this novel is a strong plea for freedom of religious conscience and worship. While it is a glorification of the Greek ideals of reason, wisdom, truth, and harmony, it is not an anti-Christian novel directed against the principles and ideals of Christianity. It is really a thesis against bigotry, cruelty, and intolerance, as personified in the early leaders of the Church in Athens.

THE LAST ATHENIAN presents an awesome analysis of a crumbling civilization heading precipitously into the Dark Ages; detailed descriptions of fourth century dress, customs, political conflicts, and beliefs fill out the narrative. There is much discussion of the changing philosophical attitudes and of the demise of the ancient gods, and the problem of the seeker after truth in an age of absolute belief is one of the central concerns of the novel.

Just as the great architecture of the Golden Age was dismantled to construct new Christian churches, so the great philosophies of the past were sacrificed to current prejudices. Many old customs were discontinued simply because they were associated with the old “heathen” ways; even the ancient custom...

(The entire section is 451 words.)