The Mieza Book Club “Orestes: The Young Lion” (Chapters 26 – 32)

  • 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

Chapters 26 – 32
Orestes has been taken in by Strophius, king of Krisa, and husband to Orestes’ aunt Anaxibia.
For The Record

  • Amyntas of Pella and Amyntas of Aegae arrived on time for the meeting but due to trouble parking they missed the start of the meeting and therefore lost the right to speak
  • Please note, the transcript contains “spoilers”

Peucestas, Club Secretary
Peucestas Chapter 26 begins with a letter from Aegisthus to Orestes. Orestes notes how small Aegisthus’ writing is. I have been wondering – is this significant in terms of the story or ‘just’ an example of verisimilitude?

Seleucus I think the latter; at least, as far as this book is concerned. I don’t recall any other mention of Aegisthus’ writing ability anywhere else. Of course, I do not know much about his character in mythology so maybe it references something there.

Theban Al I don’t know the answer but it makes me think of Aegisthus hunched over his papyrus writing in deliberately small script because he knows that it will annoy Orestes. I see it as an example of Gill building up his malevolent character. It’s very petty to write in a way that’ll make it hard for someone to read it but evil is very petty.

Seleucus Is it? Are you saying that that the great evil-doers of history are petty people?

Theban Al Well, yes, actually. And why? Because although their evil deeds may be manifested in great and dramatic ways they are always – always – constructions that are built upon the premise that ‘I desire my will to be done’. And what is more petty than selfishness.

Peucestas How do you apply it to Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, Al?

Theban Al Simple. So, Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra are the baddies – why? Because they murdered Agamemnon – why? To become king and queen – why? For power – why? Because they desired their will to be done in Mycenae. Conclusion: They did it for selfishness. There is a reason why the noblest act a man can do is lay down his life for another; it’s because the most ignoble and pathetic one is to put himself first.

Peucestas Well, that’s a very interesting argument; and all arising out of small handwriting! But we better move on.

Seleucus I would like to skip forward to Chapter 28. There, Orestes rides with Pylades to his new farm. I have to admit, this whole second half of the book – I have now finished it – is not at all what I would have expected it to be. The first half moves forward with a great – and dangerous – momentum. When Orestes arrives at Krisa, however, that momentum comes to a shuddering halt. Farming, mountaineering, Timon’s death… good scenes but should they be the only ones? I could have done less of the the farm business and more getting revenge on M and S.F.

Harpalus I understand what you are saying, but I don’t think your view holds up if we go a little deeper into the narrative. Yes, they are on a farm – but look at what they are doing while there. For example, fitness training, sword fighting and charioteering. There is legitimate story – as well as character – development here.

Meleager On that point, I particularly liked the way Orestes gave credit to Aegisthus for teaching him how to farm. Although, I was a little disappointed that he simply recognised what Aegisthus had done without very much emotion. I would have expected him to be either more grudging or a bit more conflicted.

Harpalus That’s a good point. It was another character who jumped out of the narrative for me – Aktaia. Now, maybe my memory is not up to much, but up until Orestes calls her a ‘vain, foolish creature’ I thought that he got on with her. Now, all of a sudden, he is very much looking down his nose at her.

Meleager Mm. The writing is, perhaps, on the wall for that scene. If you go back to Chapter 27, Orestes slips into a kind of depression during the winter – an example of seasonal affective disorder? – and describes how Aktaia offers him ‘no pleasure’. Night after night he sends her away ‘untouched’. Perhaps it is this depression that is the source of his arrogant attitude to her.

Leonnatus That is a good way of looking at it, Mellers, although I felt the same as Harpers. I have to admit, though, my thoughts of Aktaia in Chapter 28 were rapidly superseded by what happened next – Elektra’s behaviour in reading Orestes’ letter. Even by her standards, that was very rum.

Meleager Elektra is an amazing character. Woman, sister, mother, madman… Gill does well to hold her together.

Peucestas What, for you, is the proof of that?

Meleager Undoubtedly the fact that from one page to the next I am reading about a person whose personality I recognise, whose actions are consistent, whose voice is hers and not an interloper’s.

Seleucus I really liked it when Orestes said that ‘the lioness had sheathed her claws’. Orestes is the young lion of this book but it has to be said Elektra deserves that title more. Moving on – thank you for the sign, Peucestas – and further to what I said a moment ago, at the start of Chapter 29, Pylades and Orestes leave Krisa once more and this time go bean counting in Cirrha. I do recognise – no need to say anything, Harpalus! – that this scene is immediately followed by the charioteering lesson.

Leonnatus I enjoyed the dinner scene with the local nobility, especially the way it gave Gill a chance to talk about what else is going on in Greece at this time. Also, I appreciated seeing the division between old and young – “Heroes aren’t what they were fifty years ago”. It made me smile; not just because that is a hoary old saying, but because one day Orestes will have his place alongside those heroes. Till then, I liked how Orestes, even though he was Agamemnon’s son, had little respect from his elders and so forth.

Meleager That scene gives Gill the chance to introduce(?) the theme of the inevitability of Orestes killing his mother and Aegisthus. Something I liked less, though, was his continuing melancholy. It felt rather emo for me.

Theban Al Well, you know, he is a young boy who is under a lot of pressure.

Meleager I know; perhaps I am being unfair! But I did find myself wishing he would buck up a little.

Theban Al If only Orestes had been English, he would have dealt with his problems so much more efficiently!

Meleager Oh, I expect his top lip would have quivered a little but no more than that.

Seleucus He obviously went to a minor public school. Anyone who allowed their lip to quiver at mine – dead parent or no – would have faced a ragging for the rest of the term.

Peucestas As much as we might like to talk about our schools, chaps, we are here to discuss Orestes; let us get back to the subject…!

Meleager Well, can I bring us back to Orestes’ emo-nature. A little further on, he talks about how hard his life will be without Hermione as his wife. But in what terms? Let me read what he says. “It rankled to contemplate a future without her as my wife. No one else was as beautiful or as wise or highborn enough to rule beside me as my queen and bear my sons.” So that’s what love means to him.

Seleucus To be sure, that is probably close to how he would have thought. Marrying for love’s sake alone is a very recent idea.

Meleager Well, he is certainly a budding patriarch.

Leonnatus I would like to mention Boukolos. I liked his character. Irascible; he actually reminded me a little of Anthony Blanche. As Orestes goes through his growing-up-and-becoming-boorish phase, Boukolos is definitely a welcome spot of light relief.

Meleager Yes, he is a good replacement for Timon who appears a little less in these chapters. And, goodness knows, as we come to Aktaia’s failed assassination attempt, his humour is appreciated.

Harpalus I was as disappointed by her sudden treachery as I was by Orestes’ earlier condemnation of her. Although, I suppose, it could be put down to her reaction to being rejected by him?

Meleager Either that or the gold she would have been offered. As we saw when she held the ribbons, she likes the finer things in life. It is not hard to imagine that the offer of gold would have been very attractive to her.

Peucestas We are nearly out of time, chaps, so let’s move on again. Chapter 31 – the raid on the brigands’ lair. I am going to be rather indelicate here, so I apologise in advance, but – “excrement and urine and blood befouled the close air”?

Seleucus What is your point, old boy?

Peucestas The presence of “excrement and urine”. Why?

Seleucus I should think that some of the brigands and – apologies for my own indelicacy – shit and pissed themselves before dying. It is exactly what the spy in Delphi does a little later on on.

Theban Al It can also happen at the moment of death. With death, the body’s muscles relax causing one to inadvertently soil oneself. Very embarrassing.

Peucestas How ghastly.

Harpalus I shouldn’t worry about it, too much; if it happens to you, if you even realise that it is, you will probably be dead a few seconds later.
Theban Al Just like Charlotte Corday after the guillotine!

Peucestas I’m not sure I follow you, Al, and I am not sure I want to! Harpalus, you are ever the rationalist; thank you.

Harpalus You are very welcome. Now, regarding that fight, did you notice how Orestes became nauseas when he thought about the woman he killed, afterwards? This reminded me of his first kill – the man whose head he caved in. That was a nice touch.

Seleucus I am going to bring the meeting to a close with a final observation. In Chapter 32, Orestes and Pylades ascend Mount Parnassus. They enter the cave with the statue of the squatting goddess.

Leonnatus I hate to bottle your thunder, old chap, but that is in Chapter 34. In 32, they salute Apollo when they hear the pan pipe player.

Seleucus Oh really? Dash it! I was so looking forward to that moment.

Peucestas Well, we shall leave it there, gentlemen; thank you for your contrbutions. We covered seven chapters today, and will do so again next time, bringing an end to our review of Laura Gill’s book.

The Israelites sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept; we sat down in Mieza and discussed books. And drank wine. Lots.

The Israelites sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept; we sat down in Mieza and discussed books. And drank wine. Lots.

  • 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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