The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Both fool and troublemaker, Agathon is characterized as a human wreck by Peeker at the beginning of the novel. Little more than a drunken derelict, the old man is filthy in both mind and body, a man who dines on garbage and entertains himself by making lurid suggestions to those who pass him by. Yet Peeker acknowledges him to be a man who is curiously compelling in personality, a man capable of inspiring discipleship and gathering listeners.

While Peeker cannot at first define the positive worth of the man he follows, the reader, privy to the obsessively filled prison parchments, hears with Peeker the stories in which the seer records his early education with Konan under Klinias, his childhood-friendship-turned-lifelong-love for Tuka, and his various assignations with Thayla, Iona, and countless others whose paths he crossed. As the stories unfold, the gap between the external personage of Agathon and the internal reality of the man narrows. With Peeker, the reader balances the weaknesses of the life with the brilliance of mind that enables the thinker to compare the compassionate justice of Solon with the stifling legality of Lykourgos and to see that all systems are finite.

What the reader learns about Agathon from his autobiographical chapters must be filtered through the sophisticated consciousness of a man accustomed to designing roles to be played to accomplish certain desired results. He cannot be trusted to portray himself or others as they actually are; rather, he portrays experience as he wishes it to be perceived. Peeker, on the other hand, writes his chapters out of the guileless innocence of youth. Much of the charm of his characterization comes from revelations that he does not know he has made. He believes that he must decide whether he will become a seer; the reader knows that he has already made that decision, that it is a part of the very fabric of his existence. He believes himself to hate Agathon and all that he has become; the reader realizes that he loves the man, that the seer...

(The entire section is 828 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Agathon (AG-uh-thon), a philosopher and seer, originally a native of Athens but now living in exile in Sparta. Old, fat, and balding, Agathon is considered by some a wise man; by most, he is dismissed as a public nuisance who bothers decent citizens in the streets and rails at the established order of things. A philosopher in the Socratic mode, Agathon questions all conventions and refuses to accept the prevalent systems in society, politics, and thought. His sympathy with the oppressed Helots brings him into connection with their revolt against the Spartan tyranny, but in the end, Agathon is unable to translate his moral and philosophical feelings into practical, political applications. Still, the Spartan tyrant Lykourgos realizes that Agathon is implacably opposed to his own rigid and demanding system and imprisons the seer, hoping to break his will and demonstrate the supremacy of Spartan law. Agathon is reduced to remembering the events of his past, commenting on the problem of the present, and trying to pass along what wisdom he commands to his young Helot disciple, Demodokos. Aided by the Helot rebels, Agathon escapes but soon dies of the plague while in hiding.


Demodokos, called Peeker by Agathon, a twenty-year-old Helot who was picked out by Agathon one day in the street to be his follower. Although Peeker finds much that is irritating, even despicable, about his master, he is unable to break away from Agathon and travels with him loyally, even into the...

(The entire section is 637 words.)