cover image The Walled Orchard

The Walled Orchard

Tom Holt. St. Martin's Press, $17.95 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-312-05990-3

Poor comic dramatist Eupolis has promised the god Dionysus that he'll look after his arch-rival and fellow soldier, the playwright Aristophanes. As they embark on the invasion of Sicily, the Peloponnesian War turns into a ``fever-stricken slaughterhouse''; upon returning to his native Athens, Eupolis is falsely accused of treason and blasphemy. The Fates are perverse and the gods reckless in this wonderfully down-to-earth re-creation of Greece in the fifth century B.C., a sequel to Goatsong. With irreverent wit and hindsight, Holt takes the classical world off its pedestal, revealing the Greek psyche to be an amalgam of logic and irrationality, passion and superstition, and fear. Eupolis, sane and cynical, consults with Socrates; bickers with his wife, Phaedra; and plans his own legal defense while a vulnerable, corrupt democracy ineluctably slides toward oligarchy. In this dark ``autobiography,'' readers are reminded that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. (June)