The End of Sparta
In 371 B.C.E., the Theban general Epaminondas and his army of farmers defeated the Spartans against staggering odds at the Battle of Leuktra. Fueled by this victory, the Boiotian army marched on into the Peloponnesos, with the goal to crush Sparta once and for all and free the 100,000 helot serfs living under the city-state’s iron fist. Victor Davis Hanson’s rich novel The End of Sparta tells the story of that campaign, with an unlikely cast of ancient heroes: not the familiar Spartans or Athenians, but the underdog Thebans.
In the midst of the Theban army is Melon, a farmer reluctant to leave his vineyards on Mount Helikon to fight for an elusive ideal of democracy. With him is Neto, his slave girl, a beautiful prophetess whose blood ties her to Sparta and whose passionate vision drives the army on. While each makes different choices, they gradually discover how much they need one another to survive.
Victor Davis Hanson is an acclaimed classical scholar, more accustomed to writing history than fiction, and it shows in this, his first novel. His dense descriptions and lengthy philosophical interludes slow the pace of the narrative, and may deter a reader without an abiding interest in all things Greek. For me, however (and for the more devoted classics enthusiasts out there), this level of detail makes the book all the more rewarding. This is no Gladiator-style thriller, but the work of an author who possesses a consummate understanding of the history and culture he portrays. Davis’s characters are no modern-day personalities wearing hoplite armor but true Greeks. His language echoes the voice of Homeric epic, bringing to life the love of the land, the furor of battle, and the devotion to honor that defined the ancient Greek existence. Prepare to be immersed.