A debut historical novel reconstructs the life of Leotychides, the controversial heir to the Spartan throne in the fifth century B.C.E.
Leotychides first became aware that his father, Agis, was one of the two kings of Sparta when he was 3 years old. He was born into crisis—the protracted war between Sparta and Athens was in its 19th year. But there was significant division within Sparta despite its reputation for solidarity, a disunity brewing over the official policy regarding Athens. As a result of the disharmony, Pausanios, the other king, is charged with treason, and Agis votes in favor of his guilt, a verdict that would’ve resulted in his execution had he not been acquitted. Meanwhile, Leotychides hears rumors that Agis isn’t his real father, whispered gossip that is finally confirmed. Agis makes an official declaration of recognition of Leotychides on his death bed, a move necessary to ensure his succession to the throne. But Agis’ brother, Agisilaos, publicly raises suspicions about Leotychides’ legitimacy and makes his own bid for royal power. Leotychides, for so long at loggerheads with his father, comes to be tormented by the anguish his birth must have caused him, a complex internal conflict described with great sensitivity by Butler: “I, the fruit of a liaison that had caused the husband so much pain, the King such shame.” Leotychides’ deepest desire is to fulfill his father’s wish that he restore unity to Sparta. He also pines to avenge Agis’ mortification at the hands of Alkibiades, an infamous traitor and Leotychides’ biological father, the man who “had cast his shadow across my life.” Little is known about Leotychides beyond the succession dispute, and the author’s novelistic hypothesis is as imaginative as it is historically plausible. His command of the material is magisterial—this is a work of impressive erudition. The volume, however, presumes knowledge of the period—it will be a daunting read for audiences entirely unfamiliar with the era. Still, this is a rare book—literarily inventive, dramatically gripping, and historically astute.
A stunning work of historical conjecture.