A celebrated Greek writer and illustrator teams up with a cultural studies theorist and an animator to tell the story of the ancient origins of Athenian democracy.
Best known for the graphic work Logicomix (2008), about a foundational quest in mathematics, Papadatos, along with Kawa and Di Donna (who also contributed to Logicomix), opens the tale in 490 B.C.E. with the Athenians at war with the Persian tyrant Darius. The book’s main character and moral voice is Leander (of the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander), a young man with a talent for art who spends his days painting the stories of Greek mythology. In much the same way, Papadatos and his collaborators paint a vivid picture of ancient Athens with all its conflicts, conspiracies, old gods, and new greed. In time, Leander falls in with the aristocrat Cleisthenes, one of a triumvirate credited with the birth of democratic ideals, along with the statesmen Solon and Ephialtes. “Maybe something’s coming,” Cleisthenes says to the crowd. “Something that will crystallize Athenian culture into an entirely different form, one better suited to survival.” Leander serves as the chorus, but he also stands for the common man as he struggles to understand how these new ideas are necessary to end the old system of tyranny and fear. This is fairly heavy history, but by presenting it in the graphic form, the creators leave the story open to interpretation while at the same time making a vital moment in world history accessible for younger readers. Kawa explains their thinking in a thoughtful coda. “We wanted to tell the story of people like us, who, throughout history, have to face the tidal waves brought on by…cataclysmic events—and make sense of them.” World history teachers would do well to make use of this book, which includes a short afterword with commentary about the book’s central characters, important sites, and other aspects of Athenian culture.
A colorful love letter to Greek history.