A Victor of Salamis

by William Stearns Davis

Reviewed by David Maclaine

A Victor of Salamis was the first story I ever read about the crucial battles when the Greeks faced the Persian invasions of Xerxes. Rereading it some four decades after my first taste as a teenager, I found myself surprised that I hadn't been put off back then by some of the old-fashioned turns of phrase. I also had to smile at the pop-fiction contrivances of the plot that give the book's protagonist, Glaucon the Beautiful, a crucial role in each and every battle that determines whether Greece will be free or fall beneath the Persian yoke. But there's no other novel out there that covers the entire invasion of Xerxes' armed forces while giving proper attention to the pivotal naval clash at Salamis. Though the language may sometimes seem quaint, and the plotting is nothing much but well-spun popular confectionery, the book's bright, bustling style propelled me swiftly through my second trip through the story.

What makes A Victor of Salamis worth reading is the sheer energy of Davis' prose. He writes with the verve and passion of an optimist who has fallen in love with the Greek landscape and the ideals of its once-great civilization. Such key historical figures as Themistocles and Cimon stride confidently across the stage, and so does the poet Simonides. The athletic contests, the grand ceremonial processions, and the mustering of ships for battle are all described with an admiring eye and a never-flagging momentum. It's a Greek world that seems to live in perpetual sunshine; the darker shadows of a slave-based economy and the sharply curtailed freedom of the female populace earn scarcely a passing glance. But if any age deserves this gush of admiration it is surely that of the great crisis when the world's first democracy rose to the challenge and rallied the divided Greeks against the mortal danger of Persian conquest. (1907, 450 pages)

More about A Victor of Salamis at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository

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

Other novels about wars with Persia:

Killer of Men by Christian Cameron (2010), about a Greek farmer's son trained in warfare just as the Greco-Persian wars are about to begin. See review or more info at Amazon.com

The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford (2001), about the Athenian soldier Xenophon and an army of ten thousand Greek mercenaries who fight in a war to topple the Persian ruler. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Memnon (2006) by Scott Oden, about Memnon of Rhodes, who fought on the Persian side against Alexander the Great. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Nonfiction about the early fifth-century B.C. wars between Greece and Persia:

The Histories by Herodotus (5th century B.C.). More info

The Greco-Persian Wars by Peter Green (1996). More info

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland (2006). More info


Greco-Persian Wars at Wikipedia

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