by Gore Vidal

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Creation was inspired by Gore Vidal’s realization that it was possible in theory for a single man to have met Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius and Socrates. In the course of the novel, his narrator, a half-Greek grandson of Zoroaster, witnesses his ancestor’s martyrdom while still a child and is then raised at the Persian court, travels on trade embassies to India and China, and finishes his life as ambassador in Athens. This itinerary allows him to become good friends with his contemporaries Xerxes and Mardonius, to lob questions at the Buddha, to hold intimate discussions with the Great King Darius (and eventually learn the secrets of his rise to power), to go fishing with Confucius, and at last, in old age, to mingle socially with Pericles, Aspasia, Thucydides, and Anaxagoras. Meanwhile he dictates his memoirs to his nephew Democritus, and has a leaky house wall repaired - badly - by an inquisitive young man named Socrates.

Those familiar with Vidal’s life and his series of novels on the history of American politics will find this novel's narrative voice familiar as well: that of a young man placed by birth in the inner circles of his nation’s rulers who quickly learns a clear-eyed skepticism of the platitudes leaders pronounce for official consumption. In 2002 Vidal restored four chapters on his hero’s early years at court that had been dropped from the original 1982 text by a hasty editor; their inclusion builds up what he calls “the spine to the narrative,” the inside view of how the Persian empire was run (a short answer would be “by a handful of strong women in the harem”). Creation is of necessity a somewhat rambling travelogue, short on plot momentum, though not without patches of suspense. But who would not want to ramble across the known world of the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. with a cosmopolitan companion who shares Vidal’s observant eye and subtle wit? (1981, 510 pages)

More about Creation at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

Creation appears on the list of The 36 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Greek History

Other novels about ancient Greek travelers:

An Elephant for Aristotle by L. Sprague de Camp (1958), about a man who undertakes a mission for Alexander the Great which involves a journey across the known world. More info

The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves (1944; also titled Hercules, My Shipmate), a retelling of the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. See review or more info at

The Odyssey by Homer (circa eighth century B.C.), an epic poem based on legends about the wanderings of Odysseus, a Greek survivor of the Trojan War, and his return home to Ithaca. More info

Nonfiction about Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius and Socrates:

In Search of Zarathustra: Across Iran and Central Asia to Find the World's First Prophet by Paul Kriwaczek (2004). More info

Buddha by Karen Armstrong (2001). More info

The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics by Annping Chin (2007). More info

Socrates: A Man for our Times by Paul Johnson (2011). More info


Parallels between Gautama Buddha and Jesus at Wikipedia

Back to Novels of Ancient History

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