The Mieza Book Club “Orestes: The Young Lion” (Chapters 20 – 25)

  • New to the Mieza Book Club? Read the Introduction here
  • Minutes of the previous meetings can be read here
Orestes: The Young Lion by Laura Gill

Orestes: The Young Lion by Laura Gill

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Chapters 20 – 25
We are now halfway through Laura Gill’s book Orestes: The Young Lion. Agamemnon is dead and Orestes is about to flee from his home.
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For The Record

  • Amyntas of Pella and Amyntas of Aegae were not late to this meeting but did spend too long at the bar talking to the barman; in accordance with club rules, they lost the right to contribute to the discussion.
  • Please note, the transcript contains “spoilers”.

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Peucestas
Club Secretary
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Minutes
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Seleucus So, chapters 20 – 25. A jolly tense time for Orestes. Serious things happen in these chapters, and it all starts with the murder of the tracker. I liked the suddenness of it; the fact that it really was ‘that easy’.
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Leonnatus I agree that Gill’s handling of it was impressive. I have to say, though, I found Orestes’ assertion that because it is it easy to kill a man, life is, therefore, cheap, not only illogical but a fundamentally depressing moment. Indeed, I had to stop reading for a good half hour at that point and take a walk in the garden. Still, it gave me an excuse to smoke a little of my Old Hundredth.
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Seleucus Silver linings, dear boy, silver linings.
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Leonnatus Well, indeed. Obviously, I got over it quickly enough; tears are for women, stoicism is for chaps.
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At this point, Amyntas of Pella said we should put Leonnatus’ assertion to the vote as some might find it controversial in this day and age. The members agreed. It was passed 9 – 0 ( the barman was picking up empty glasses from the table and also voted).
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Leonnatus I am glad you all agree. The reason I found Orestes’ assertion to be fundamentally depressing was because his words were not the kind a chap says then forgets. Rather, they are the kind that sit upon a fellow’s soul and influences how he behaves in the future. Of course, when the words are positive, all is well, but I should not like to be the subject of a king who thinks that life is cheap.
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Theban Al You make a good point, Leonnatus; but remember, Orestes is only twelve; there’s plenty of time for him to grow up, psychologically as well as physically.
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Leonnatus Yes, that is true, although is not the child the father of the man?
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Theban Al To a point; but again, remember that although Orestes speaks unwisely, the fact that he feels pain over what happened surely shows that he is not a budding psychopath. Obviously, it is not nice to see him in pain, but still, it gives us hope that he’ll grow up ‘alright’.
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Harpalus In terms of violence, we certainly had a rough ride this time round. Chapter Twenty saw the tracker get brained, then in Twenty-One Orestes himself is beaten up rather soundly by the second tracker.
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Seleucus I’m sure I do not need to propose a vote on who winced when Orestes’ wound was cauterised.
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Loud murmurs of approval from the members; no dissenting voices.
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Meleager I must confess I had no idea a wound could be closed that way.
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Harpalus That is just what I was going to say! Good God, it must have hurt.
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Meleager And poor old Timon! When Orestes saw him lying there, I thought, ‘hello, the old boy has been stabbed; he’s not going to make it to the end of the book’.
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Peucestas You must have been very relieved when it turned out that he was not badly injured.
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Meleager Rather. However, ever since then, I have been fighting the urge to turn to the back of the book to see if he is mentioned. I think he will be killed off. He is like the wise man that appears in fantasy novels to guide the hero. But one day, Orestes won’t need him – or he’ll need him at a critical moment – and Timon will be cut down because ultimately the hero must make it on his own.
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Seleucus By George, Meleager, you have thought about this; although, is there a necessity for the wise man figure to die? But that’s another matter. I agree that he will get killed off at some point.
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An open discussion (i.e. everyone talking at once) on this point ensued. After I had brought the meeting to order, we took a vote on ‘will Timon be killed?’ It ended 4 – 4.
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Harpalus Moving on to the next chapter [i.e. Chapt. 22], I was very interested by what Spheros the soldier had to say about the ‘terrors’ that reside in his head. Unless I have read it totally wrongly he is talking about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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Peucestas That is how I read it.
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Harpalus Well! At first, I was very surprised by Spheros’ admission: An Ancient Greek suffering from PTSD – whoever thought of that? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘why not?’; yes, they led hard hard lives, and were no doubt mentally tougher than us as a result, but they were not supermen; they cried just like we do; of course they could suffer from stress. This is why fiction can be so valuable. It may be made up but it can contain truths that history books miss. Or that I miss when reading history books!
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Meleager What did you make of Strophius’ attempt to heal Orestes of his PTSD?
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Harpalus You mean the religious rite?
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Meleager Exactly so.
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Harpalaus Well, I suppose like any good rationalist, I feel sorry that Orestes didn’t have a therapist to talk to. Having said that, I would be surprised if the saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ does not predate the Age of the Enlightenment.  But even if it doesn’t, I think one would have to be a fairly mean minded sort of fellow to denigrate what Strophius does just because one does not believe in the existence of the Greek gods. The point is – and it is the only relevant point, here – he was helping Orestes according to his measure. That is to say, according to his lights. One can never ask a chap to do more than that.
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Seleucus I can’t imagine anything more irrational than looking down on people simply because they think differently to us. Of course, their views may turn out to be deficient, but that is another matter.
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Leonnatus If I can go back to the palace courtyard in Krisa, and this is related to the PTSD issue, I wanted to speak to the anxiety that Orestes’ feels after cheeking the self-important scribe. I wish I had made notes before then to back up my point but it was here that I thought, ‘Orestes is living under a cloud of constant anxiety now; not just in his waking moments but dreams, too. The lad will be lucky to avoid a nervous breakdown at this rate’.
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Peucestas I know what you mean. In that light, the appearance of Anaxibia and Strophius was very well timed. Although when the bard started singing the song of Agamemnon’s death I shook my head!
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Leonnatus You say Strophius’ appearance was welcome but I harbour reservations about him. I didn’t like how he took Orestes’ ring. That just spells trouble.
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Meleager Now that you mention it, he was behind Pylades’ marriage to Elektra, wasn’t he? He clearly has his eye on the main chance – Agamemnon’s throne. In other words, he is nicer than Aegisthus – a lot nice, to be fair – but still a politician. Orestes needs to be careful!
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Seleucus Speaking of being careful, perhaps now is the moment to discuss Orestes and Aktaia, the ‘pretty attendant’…! Well, who saw that coming?
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Peucestas Oh, Seleucus.
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Meleager There was no need for that!
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Seleucus What? Oh! I apologise. Please let that be recorded, Peucestas. Pun most certainly not intended.
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Leonnatus I shall speak to this issue. Firstly, I congratulate Ms Gill on her interpretation of the scene, for aren’t sex scenes supposed to be really difficult to write? Writing one involving a twelve year old boy and thirteen or fourteen year old girl must be even harder on account of the current belief that sex between juveniles – teenagers – is wrong.
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Seleucus I see what you are saying there, and maybe it was hard for her. If it was me, though, I would reply, ‘I am a writer, my sole duty is to write this scene truthfully. I have no duty to worry about society’s opinions, so therefore, it can go hang’. It would be a first class fool who thought that a writer believed everything that they wrote about. Ms Gill would be a blood crazed maniac if that were so. Well, maybe she is but we cannot extrapolate that from her book.
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Harpalus Moreover, do we – as a society – really think that sex between juveniles is wrong? I mean, many of us may say that it is, but we don’t raise our voices when companies sell clothing that sexualises children; or when our underage daughters wear skimpy clothing to wear when they go out with their friends; or when schools give students advice about sex and gives them contraceptives; or when newspapers publish photographs of topless women and men’s magazines of hardly dressed models; or when Hollywood films sex scenes that have no narrative value but plenty of shots of the nude actors, and so on. We say one thing but do another.
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Seleucus Yes, it is hypocritical.
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Harpalus Deeply so, deeply so. Western civilisation should be honest and either say, ‘we stand for a sexualised society from childhood to death’, or, ‘we stand for a society where sex has its place but not before time and not at the cost of anyone’s dignity’
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Seleucus Which would you propose as the better course?
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Harpalus The latter.
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Seleucus In light of that, what do you think of Gill’s sex scene?
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Harpalus Well, building upon what you said a moment ago, I think she writes it very truthfully, and very sensitively.
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Seleucus Very well. Now, you have proposed a society where we – at the very least – tread carefully when telling young people about sex. Would you restrict access to, or withhold this book from, your twelve, thirteen or fourteen year old?
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Harpalus Absolutely not! Orestes is literature. It tells us not only a story but something about the human condition. It is vital that anyone who is able reads it, and other books like it. Permitting our children to wear sexualised clothing, giving them condoms ‘just in case’, or buying so called “lads’ mags” is not only not vital but asking for trouble – which we affect to be surprised at when we get.
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Peucestas I agree with you in regard clothing and lads’ mags but with condoms, the fact is that after adolescence, children are liable to have sexual encounters with one another. That is not something we can or should ignore. Orestes shows how easily it can happen. Surely giving them condoms is simply a pragmatic way of dealing with the possibility/probability.
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Harpalus Pragmatism is sometimes overrated. It is pragmatism that brings about Agamemnon’s murder.
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Peucestas But also Timon’s decision to accompany Orestes north.
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Harpalus True, so the key is to discern, ‘when is pragmatism the best course, and when is it not?’ rather than simply use it hypocritically. Certainly, we should look after our weaker brethren, that is to say, the one whose resistance to sex is small, but we should do nothing that suggests to him that while we say one thing – “You are too young for sex” – we mean another – “Here is a condom, anyway” which really means ‘I don’t want you to have sex but I’m prepared for you to have it, anyway’.
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Seleucus And all this from two scenes that are over nearly as quickly as they begin!
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Leonnatus Just like sex for no few men, I hear!
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Laughter among the members; pipes relit and beer sipped.
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Seleucus Indeed! We must round things up now. I wanted to highlight the mention of the priestess’ snake tattoos. I always imagined tattoos as belonging to barbarians; I didn’t know Greeks went in for them.
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Meleager My favourite scene was in Chapter Twenty – the escape from the Royal Palace. I’m very glad that Gill did not just have Orestes make a mad dash for it but had to organise it properly. Well, I know Timon did, but you take my point.
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Peucestas On that note, I was impressed by the advice that Doryklos. Very simple, very detailed, very true. Reminded me of Tolkien in a way.
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Leonnatus The recalcitrant fisherman made me laugh!
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Seleucus Another occasion when Gill sells us a dummy. I never expected the first tracker to be killed so quickly and I never expected the fisherman to throw the gold back at Timon. I really thought he would grumble but take them!
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Theban Al I would like to say something about accents. Spheros has an Arcadian accent. Whenever I go abroad the one thing I never consider is that other countries, just like us, have regional accents. It was a lovely piece of verisimilitude.
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Peucestas On that point, gentlemen, we are out of time. Thank you for this discussion. Whose round is it?
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Mieza. Aristotle's 'classroom' and some English chaps' library

Mieza. Aristotle’s ‘classroom’ and some English chaps’ library

 

  • Orestes: The Young Lion is available to buy in various formats. Here it is at Amazon.
  • If you know of a book that the Mieza Book Club should read, let us know in the comments box

 

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