The Mieza Book Club “Orestes: The Young Lion” (Chapters 33 – 39) Pt 1

  • 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 33 – 39
The Club reaches the end of Laura Gill’s splendid book.
For The Record

  • Amyntas of Pella and Amyntas of Aegae were not late to this meeting but got into an argument with one another over whether crisps were better than peanuts so did not contribute to the discussion (PS Crisps are better – Seleucus)
  • Please note, the transcript contains “spoilers”.

Club Secretary
Peucestas So! After six months we have finally reached the end of Orestes’ journey… at least, as far as The Young Lion is concerned. Gentlemen, your thoughts on Chapter 33, please.

Seleucus I shall start. A few meetings ago, Meleager, you said that you thought Timon wouldn’t make it to the end of the book. Sadly, in number 33, you were proved right.

Meleager I thought his death was very handled very sensitively; I liked the fact that it wasn’t a long, drawn out affair, and that when he died, Orestes wasn’t with him. We will all die differently one day but when we do it may indeed happen very quickly and without those we love around us. That’s just a fact of life, and iIt was nice seeing it acknowledged here.

Theban Al I think this scene was the first time I got really angry with Elektra. Her dismissive attitude to Timon was needlessly callous.

Meleager It was but I can understand why. Who was Timon to her? A scribe. So what.

Theban Al But she must have known what Timon meant to Orestes.

Meleager As I see it, Gill’s Elektra is a fundamentally disordered person. She is completely locked into her grief at her father’s death, and it informs everything that she says, thinks and does. Yes, she probably did know what Timon meant to Orestes but that knowledge was not strong enough to break the selfishness that has risen up in her as a result of her anger over Agamemnon’s death.

Leonnatus Would you say she is not then responsible for her actions in this – or indeed any – scene in this book?

Meleager No, I wouldn’t. Her free will remains although it has certainly been reduced. Unfortunately, Elektra is just a tragedy waiting to happen; which, of course, does when she murders her mother and stepfather.

Peucestas Well, in mythology, anyway; Gill might present the showdown differently [Meleager nods].

Seleucus To go back to Timon; Meleager, when you predicted that he would die, I seem to recall that you said you thought it would happen when Orestes either didn’t need him anymore or at a critical moment in the young lion’s life.

Meleager Yes. Well, I certainly got that wrong! Although, I suppose Orestes had started to outgrow him. Having said that, I don’t at all feel that he yet had reached the point where Timon was finally surplus to his requirements – so’s to speak.

Seleucus I agree. And for me, this fact is what makes the manner of Timon’s passing actually quite nice – if death can ever be called such. Timon died neither during a crisis, or after – or as a result of – being rejected. He simply served his young master faithfully until the end, which came naturally. I doubt that will happen many more times during this trilogy. Laura Gill has treated him very kindly.

Harpalus proposed that a vote be taken on this and it was unanimously agreed (9-0 the bar tender picking up the empty beer glasses also voted though he knew not what for). After pipes had been relit and Amyntas of Pella disparaged for smoking a cigarette – and a roll-up at that – the meeting continued

Leonnatus All this talk of Timon makes me think of Pylades who, now that I think about it, is really his – Timon’s – successor. It would be be interesting to read the next book to see how their friendship develops. Does he become Orestes’ friend? Or does he always remain the teacher?

Peucestas Given how this book ends, I doubt there will be much time for teaching in the next one!

Seleucus True!! Moving on a little – I was intrigued by the method used to stop the brigand from bleeding to death after his hand was chopped off. I would never have guessed that a brand could be used to cauterise the wound.

Peucestas Sometimes I do wonder how things like that were discovered. Ouch! Now, at the start of Chapter 34 we come to the scene that you wanted to talk about at the last meeting, Seleucus… the statue of the goddess in the cave.

Seleucus Ah, yes! One of my favourite scenes, given even greater depth when Hermione refers to it in her letter, later. I suppose this scene is Laura Gill’s Tolkien moment. As we walk through Middle-earth with the Nine Walkers, we catch glimpses in the ruins and ancient scripts of the civilisations that once lived there. Here, they are represented by this statue and the cave art. I liked that very much.

Theban Al It was certainly a fascinating moment. And a very surprising one. I knew cave art had been discovered in northern Africa – including images of red ochre hands – but I never realised there was any in Greece. And seemingly using the same materials. I wonder if the cave is based on a real one that Gill has heard of.

Seleucus I should very much like to know. Off to the library!

Theban Al Dear boy, you could just ‘Google’ it.

Leonnatus Old chap, you know the Club rule on turning nouns into verbs!

Theban Al Oh dear, yes; apologies one and all; lashings of apologies! Let me put it another way, then, Seleucus; why don’t you simply avail yourself of whichever search function has been enabled on your mobile telephone’s internet application?

Seleucus Because, Theban, it is a ghastly device that I keep upon my person only for the sake of my mother and father who insist on my being contactable in case of emergency. Not that one ever occurs. And if it did, what would I be able to do? I am neither a medic nor in holy orders.

Peucestas Good Lord, Seleucus, have you been watching Brideshead again?!

Laughter at this comment. Drinks drunk and pipes puffed

Seleucus Regarding the statue and cave art; I referred to old civilisations being responsible for it; however, I have just remembered how Gill describes some of the pictures as being – let’s see here, oh yes, ‘strange men, almost human, with sloping heads and large brows’. This surely marks the creators of them as being neanderthals. And they were not civilised.

Leonnatus As for neanderthals, let’s not judge them too harshly. By our standards, no, they were probably not very civilised at all – although we do have to ask first what it means to be ‘civilised’. That aside, it doesn’t do to judge an ancient people by looking back in time. The only authentic way to do it is to look at what they were like before hand. If we can’t do that then we should be mature enough to recognise and respect our ignorance and not go making assumptions that will always be – because they can only be – very flimsy.

Seleucus The enquiring mind doesn’t like that but, yes, now that you say it, I think you are right.

Leonnatus By way of an addendum to that, I would add that there is no compulsion on us to regard the goddess statue as even being of the same period as the cave art. Orestes regards it as being centuries old – before Prometheus gave fire to Men – but what does he know? I think Gill leaves the issue of the art’s and statue’s origin quite open. Indeed, given the statue’s apparently good condition it may have been placed on its shelf quite recently! And it may not even be a goddess.

Harpalus If I might interrupt I should like to record how uncomfortable this scene made me. I have been potholing and it is a deeply scary activity even when you are following an experienced guide! I thoroughly appreciated Orestes’ decision to hang back when Pylades explored their cave.

Meleager Yes, let’s use that as our cue to move on again. I want to talk about Aegisthus’ letter in which he insinuates that he has had sex with Hermione. Now, I know Orestes is young, but really, he ought to know by now that Aegisthus is simply trying to entrap him – just as Pylades says. Instead of listening to Pylades, though, he goes and writes that abominable letter to Hermione. That was a mortifying scene, it really was. If I was her father and saw that letter I would banish him from my court immediately. If Aegisthus’ insinuation is false then the matter is not worth pursuing; if she had sex willingly with him, what good would the letter do? She is lost to him, already. If Aegisthus raped her, a letter from her beloved in which he refers to the matter would only increase her sense of shame. Badly done, Orestes, badly done.

Leonnatus I expect you are right, Meleager, but I don’t think it is inconceivable that had Hermione been raped she would not have appreciated Orestes’ letter. She does love him, after all… Doesn’t she?

Scratching of heads and furrowing of brows follows as the club members try to remember Hermione’s appearances earlier in the book. Rather embarrassingly, no one can.

Leonnatus At any rate, her reply is perfectly pitched. It also leaves the question of the circumstances of the sexual encounter – if indeed there was one – open. I liked that as once again Gill gives us the space to form our own picture of Aegisthus.

Peucestas And what is your picture, Leonnatus?

Leonnatus I think he is bluffing. he is simply trying to wind Orestes up. Just as Pylades says.

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

Mieza. Where wine and thoughts flowed in equal measure for the chaps of the M Book Club

  • 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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