Alexander III of Macedon, also known as Alexander the Great, is known for being one of the most successful military commanders in history. It is often said that he never lost a battle and some of his military tactics are still used today. In the novel, The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon, we are given an inside look on the relationship of tutor and pupil between the famous philosopher Aristotle and a teenage boy who would become Alexander the Great. Aristotle tells this story in first person, and the reader is able to see the discussions between both Aristotle and Alexander. We are also able to see the flashbacks and memories of Aristotle.
The reader gets an inside look on the early life of which we know today as Alexander the Great. In the beginning of the story, Aristotle has finished a 20-year shift at Plato’s academy. He is traveling to Athens, alongside his nephew Callisthenes and his wife Pythias. He makes a stop in Macedon when he has been appointed to be a tutor to a young teenage boy, the son of King Philip of Macedon and long-time friend of Aristotle. When he arrives, he meets two young men. One who is a quiet, gentle boy with cognitive problems, and the other ho is violent, arrogant, but also a genius, who will eventually be known as Alexander the Great.
Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s older half brother is first introduced in the story as someone who the family has basically given up on. He is mentally and physically disabled and stays inside all day everyday. He is taken care of by a nurse and King Philip does not see him as his son because he knows he is not able to take the thrown after him. When Aristotle first meets Arrhidaeus, he tries to help him. He thinks that King Philip and his family have given up on him too easily and he sees a light inside this boy. From here, we can see that Aristotle sees the good in people, sometimes when others fail to.
He believes that people are not bad, they just have not been taught to be good. Aristotle takes him out of his room and down to where the horses are. He gets the boy to ride a horse and from there on, continues to help him. This helps change Arrhidaeus in that in the beginning of the book when Aristotle first meets him he can barley speak a word. By the end of the book when Aristotle is leaving, Arrhidaeus says to him, “I don’t want you to go” (Lyon, 284). Not only is Aristotle staying in Macedon to tutor Alexander, he is also trying to help his older brother Arrhidaeus.
We are also introduced to Aristotle’s wife Pythias in the beginning of the story. She is a lot younger than he is and they have a strange relationship. Aristotle mentions that he taught her how to read and write and we can see through their interactions in the novel that he does not think of her as an intellectual equal. This is probably because of her young age, the fact that she is a woman, and that he taught her everything she knows. Having this relationship, Aristotle might feel superior to Pythias being that she would not know things ike basic reading and writing without him.
Eventually, she passes away and Aristotle finds another woman, their maidservant Herpyllis. Callisthenes, Aristotle’s nephew is also introduced in the beginning of the story. Not only is he the nephew of Aristotle, but he is also the apprentice. Alexander, we meet as well in the beginning of the story, as Aristotle is set to tutor him. Alexander is a very sensitive boy who loves his best friend, mother and horse. Very early on in his life, he wants to become a strong leader. He asks many questions and also asks Aristotle to prepare him because he never wants to be in a osition where he feels like he is uneducated about something.
He is an extremely ambitious and intelligent young man who is set on becoming a military leader, which he eventually does. We get to see him as this strong man with no fears, who loves war and blood, but then we also get to see a more vulnerable side of him when he shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder post battle. Some parts of the book mention that he has a very disturbed mind, and has no problem shedding blood when necessary. In one part of the book, he was involved in a play where they needed a human head as a prop.
They were using rags, bunched together in a ball with red at the bottom to look like blood. Alexander thought that the scene needed more life to it and for it to seem more ‘real. So, he left and got a real human head and brought it back to be used for the scene. People were so repulsed by this they left the theatre, some throwing up. Alexander though, had no issues with doing this at all. Although his violent personality can be very alarming to most people, this may have been what made him such a successful military leader.
One of the major themes discussed in this novel is the idea of balance. Balance is a term that is heard very often in today’s society. Many people speak about balancing their work life and their social life and finding an equal medium between the two that will make them happy. Aristotle’s concept of the “golden-mean” is how we can achieve happiness for society, and ourselves by finding a combination between the extremes of excess and deficiency. The ideas of extremes are shown in this novel through Alexander and his older brother Arrhidaeus.
First you have Alexander, who is an extremely motivated and intelligent young man, while on the other hand ou have Arrhidaeus who has extreme cognitive problems and is rejected by his entire family. We can see the difference between the two brothers by the way Aristotle describes Arrhidaeus when he first meets him. He says, “He walks loosely, palsied like an old man, and his eyes move vaguely from object to object in the room” (Lyon, 19). This shows how mentally damaged Arrhidaeus is because he walks and looks around like he has no life in him at all.
Also, we are shown how Alexander makes it his goal to become a military leader, but then later shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, Aristotle imself is an example of someone who is trying to find the mean between both extremes. He is a very intelligent man who contemplates deep in the philosophical world, but on many accounts in the book, he suggests that he suffers from some form of bipolar disorder. The second major theme that is discussed in the book is the conflict between contemplation and action. Aristotle represents contemplation, while Alexander represents action.
There is one scene in the book where Aristotle is telling Alexander that his father suffers from an excess or virtue and pride, and that they are wasting their time together. After then he talks about how Alexander wants to be with the army, while he would rather be in Athens writing books. This is Aristotle contemplating whether or not he should continue tutoring Alexander. On another occasion, when Aristotle begins to lecture Alexander about the importance of finding the mean between the extremes, Alexander interrupts him. This shows Alexander’s action and his role in the narrative.
He is a very aggressive young man who is not afraid to take action in order to achieve what he wants. He is a man who not only feels very deeply, but also acts. We can see this contrast etween Aristotle and Alexander at the end of the book when they both go their separate ways after Aristotle rejects Alexander’s request to conquer the world with him. The books ends with Aristotle saying, “Soon l’ll be alone in a quiet room where, for the rest of my life, I can float farther and farther out into the world; while my student, charging off the end of every map, falls deeper and deeper into the well of himself” (Lyon, 284).
This shows the difference between how Aristotle and Alexander will live the rest of their lives. Aristotle, in a quiet room where he can float farther into the world, contemplating deas and thinking deeply, while Alexander charges off the end of every map, taking action, conquering the world. Overall, I did really enjoy this book. I thought that Lyon did a good job of keeping the reader engaged in the story through the many dialogues, and in my opinion that made it easier thought that she did a good job of keeping the historical information relevant to the story, because I think you can get a read.
I also good understanding of how life was in ancient Greece by reading this book. I do think that this helped me think differently about this era in history because before reading this I did not ave a really good understanding of ancient Greece and I wasn’t really interested in learning about it at all, but this book made it very easy to get me to want to learn more about this era. If someone I knew wanted to learn about ancient Greece I think that I would recommend this book to them because it is an easy read, although it is a little long.
But, I do think that someone can get a very good understanding about the history of this time period as well as being entertained by the narrative. I think the way Lyon wrote the story into a narrative made it more interesting, rather than just having to read facts. Dialogue and interactions between characters make stories a lot easier to read and they also keep the audience way more engaged. The only thing that I did not like about this book was how there were many flashbacks from Aristotle’s past.
I do think that it is necessary to include them so that the reader can get an idea about his early life, but it would sometimes confuse me the way the story would go back and forth between past and present. In conclusion, The Golden Mean tells the story of the relationship between student and teacher through Aristotle and Alexander. It gives a background of each of the character’s lives and lets the reader see the personality of each of these men.
The way the story ends leaves the reader to wonder and reflect on what they just read. It is a very interesting story in that it provides historical information of life in ancient Greece, as well as keeps the audience engaged through the many dialogues between the characters. If someone was interested in reading a story about ancient Greece, I would recommend him or her to read this book. Lyon does a great job at bringing to life the wonderful story of Alexander the Great and his tutor Aristotle.