Synopses & Reviews
On the orders of his boyhood friend, now King Philip of Macedon, Aristotle postpones his dreams of succeeding Plato as leader of the Academy in Athens and reluctantly arrives in the Macedonian capital of Pella to tutor the king’s adolescent sons. An early illness has left one son with the intellect of a child; the other is destined for greatness but struggles between a keen mind that craves instruction and the pressures of a society that demands his prowess as a soldier.
Initially Aristotle hopes for a short stay in what he considers the brutal backwater of his childhood. But, as a man of relentless curiosity and reason, Aristotle warms to the challenge of instructing his young charges, particularly Alexander, in whom he recognizes a kindred spirit, an engaged, questioning mind coupled with a unique sense of position and destiny.
Aristotle struggles to match his ideas against the warrior culture that is Alexander’s birthright. He feels that teaching this startling, charming, sometimes horrifying boy is a desperate necessity. And that what the boy – thrown before his time onto his father’s battlefields – needs most is to learn the golden mean, that elusive balance between extremes that Aristotle hopes will mitigate the boy’s will to conquer.
Aristotle struggles to inspire balance in Alexander, and he finds he must also play a cat-and-mouse game of power and influence with Philip in order to manage his own ambitions.
As Alexander’s position as Philip’s heir strengthens and his victories on the battlefield mount, Aristotle’s attempts to instruct him are honoured, but increasingly unheeded. And despite several troubling incidents on the field of battle, Alexander remains steadfast in his desire to further the reach of his empire to all known and unknown corners of the world, rendering the intellectual pursuits Aristotle offers increasingly irrelevant.
Exploring this fabled time and place, Annabel Lyon tells her story in the earthy, frank, and perceptive voice of Aristotle himself. With sensual and muscular prose, she explores how Aristotle’s genius touched the boy who would conquer the known world. And she reveals how we still live with the ghosts of both men.
From the Hardcover edition.
What would it have been like to sit at the feet of the legendary philosopher Aristotle? Even more intriguing, what would it have been like to witness Aristotle instructing the most famous of his pupils, the young Alexander the Great?
In her first novel, acclaimed fiction writer Annabel Lyon boldly imagines one of historys most intriguing relationships and the war at its heart between ideas and action as a way of knowing the world.
As The Golden Mean opens, Aristotle is forced to postpone his dream of succeeding Plato as the leader of the Academy in Athens when Philip of Macedon asks him to stay on in his capital city of Pella to tutor his precocious son, Alexander. At first the philosopher is appalled to be stuck in the brutal backwater of his childhood, but he is soon drawn to the boys intellectual potential and his capacity for surprise. What he does not know is whether his ideas are any match for the warrior culture that is Alexanders birthright.
But he feels that teaching this startling, charming, sometimes horrifying boy is a desperate necessity. And that what the boy thrown before his time onto his fathers battlefields needs most is to learn the golden mean, that elusive balance between extremes that Aristotle hopes will mitigate the boys will to conquer.
Also at stake are his own ambitions, as he plays a cat-and-mouse game of power and influence with Philip, a boyhood friend who now controls his fate.
Exploring a fabled time and place, Annabel Lyon tells her story, breathtakingly, in the earthy, frank, and perceptive voice of Aristotle himself. With sensual and muscular prose, she explores how Aristotles genius touched the boy who would conquer the known world. And she reveals how we still live with the ghosts of both men.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Annabel Lyons first book, the short-story collection Oxygen
, was nominated for the Danuta Gleed and ReLit awards. Her second collection, The Best Thing for You
, was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction. She lives in New Westminster, B.C., with her husband and two children.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. What do you believe is the significance of Pythias’ note to Aristotle their first night in Pella, “warm, dry” (p. 12)? What does it reveal about Pythias’ nature and her relationship with Aristotle?
2. At their first meeting, Alexander accuses Aristotle of using Arrhidaeus as another “laurel leaf,” as proof that Aristotle is a great teacher. Is there truth in Alexander’s words? What do you believe are the motives behind Aristotle’s interest in Alexander’s brother?
3. How do Aristotle’s relationships with the two brothers and their father, Philip, influence one another? How do they rank in Aristotle’s affections?
4. Although they enjoy a relationship of love and respect, Alexander and Aristotle maintain their roles of ruler and subject. In one instance, however, Alexander breaks the rules that govern that relationship to visit Aristotle and Pythias at their home, even staying the night. What accounts for his visit? What might motivate his keen interest in Pythias?
5. Aristotle describes Alexander’s relationship with Olympias, his mother, as having a “grotesque intimacy.” Why do you believe Aristotle would characterize their relationship in this way? How might he describe Alexander’s relationship with his father? How do Alexander’s relationships with his parents influence him?
6. Contrast Aristotle’s relationships with Pythias and Herpyllis and the ways in which he recounts those relationships. In what ways, if any, do these relationships contribute to Aristotle’s life as a teacher, philosopher, husband and father?
7. What is the “golden mean”? In what ways does Aristotle embody that idea? In what ways is he a contradiction?
8. Aristotle’s cool, rational, and almost unfeeling character contrasts sharply with Alexander’s passionate one. To temper his student, and to lead Alexander to the happiness that seems to elude him, Aristotle works to convince Alexander of the idea of the “golden mean.” Alexander rejects the idea and accuses Aristotle of prizing mediocrity. In the end, who do you believe wins the argument, student or teacher?
9. Describe the effects of the battlefield on a young Alexander, what is referred to as “soldier’s heart.” What do you believe accounts for Alexander’s propensity to suffer from it?
10. What are your impressions of Lyon’s choice for her characters to use the vernacular, specifically contemporary profanity? Discuss what might have motivated that decision and why.
11. A review of The Golden Mean enthused that, “in Lyon’s clever hands, more than two thousand years of difference are made to disappear and Aristotle feels as real and accessible as the man next door.” Do you agree? Why or why not.