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Vol. II

by Tom Holt

Pub Date: June 20th, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-05990-6
Publisher: St. Martin's

 In a sequel to Goatsong, the continuing history of Golden Age Athens from the point of view of a comic playwright who survives the Great Peloponnesian War--a free-floating romp that makes a hash out of classical Greece. Holt, who's made a career with this sort of thing (Expecting Someone Taller is a comic variation on Wagner's Ring Cycle; Who's Afraid of Beowulf? deals with Norse sagas) scores again. Eupolis, in his early 20s, is married to Phaedra, beautiful and faithless, and is in rivalry (for his woman as well as for the comic crown) with Aristophanes. Here, Athens is about to go to war with Sicily, but the preparations for the voyage are ominous--among other things, vandals destroy street statues--and the campaign is a comedy of errors. The Athenians are slaughtered, but Eupolis muddles through. Along the way, he converses with ghosts and also with the god Dionysus, who tells him to protect Aristophanes. Eupolis and Aristophanes then stumble through enemy territory in a slapstick variation of a Laurel and Hardy routine--reciting fabricated Euripides and doing stand-up comedy. When they finally hitch a ride home on a cargo ship, Eupolis is tried for treason- -accused of having had a hand in the prewar vandalism. Under sentence of death, he defends himself eloquently after a talk with Socrates, among others. His acid speech in his own defense attacks the fickle masses and the new oligarchy, and he's found guilty by one vote. He proceeds to write a play that wins the Festival and makes him a hero, though Phaedra, with whom he's had an armed truce, takes sick and dies. The prose is sprightly, the satire loose-jointed and entertaining (but at times also pointed), and the history skewed enough to give the whole thing a juicy, authentic feel. Holt has obviously found his niche.