Turtletaub (The Gryphon’s Skull, 2002, etc.) continues the adventures of Menedemos and Sostratos, the ancient Greeks who here journey into the unknown reaches of Phoenicia on a business trip that, as usual, turns out to involve more than buying and selling.
Menedemos and Sostratos, as earlier readers will recall, are cousins from the island of Rhodes (sons of the wealthy merchant brothers Philodemos and Lysistratos) who serve as advance men for the family business, skippering their ship Aphrodite into the farthest-flung ports to peddle and acquire the rarest goods they can find for the best markets. Menedemos, the sailor, is as daring and aggressive as his scholarly cousin Sostratos cool and shrewd. So how is it, this time around, that they agreed to take a cargo of olive oil to Phoenicia (a bit like bringing bananas to Costa Rica)? As a favor to an in-law, basically—but they don’t expect the trip to be a wash. Sostratos has heard that a region of Phoenicia deep inland (Ioudaia) produces the best balsam in the world and can be sold for a fortune in the perfume markets of Greece. Everyone warns the two that the Ioudaians are tough customers, but, as Sostratos sees it, a merchant’s job is to turn aggravation into silver. He also, not coincidentally, wants very badly to observe the customs of these remote and little-known people. He sets off while Menedemos remains in port, where he tries to find a customer for his useless cargoes in those spare moments when he’s not seducing other men’s wives. Though as wily as Odysseus when on their home turf, Menedemos and Sostratos now begin to fear that the barbarians may get the better of them.
As much fun as its predecessors: a simple adventure, good pacing, a light touch, and a genuine feel for the period.