Someone on Amazon wrote
Frank Yerby's 'Goat Song' is a book I would describe as 'almost perfect'. Not since Mary Renault's 'Last of the Wine' have I encountered such a complete telling of the life of a man in Ancient Greece.
Born to a Spartan General and his beautiful wife; who maintains that her son was truly sired by the God Dionysus, Ariston discovers his true parentage, and his first love, only to lose them to cruel fates.
Surviving these loses, Ariston is then sold into slavery, taken to Athens, and given over to a brothel to have his 'favors' sold time and again. Here in his life he develops a deep, loving friendship with Orchomenus; who remains a constant figure in his life for many years to come. Ariston and Orchomenus' friendship is reminiscent of many others that I have read of from the time period.
Once Ariston is freed from his service to the brothel,and adopted by a wealthy figure in Athens; his life takes a more favorable turn. Ariston; through virture of his unparallelled looks or kindly nature, draws many friends and loves to him. Danaeus; Autolykos; Chryseius; all people who will play important roles in his life.
But Ariston; too haunted by the loss of his first love, finds himself unable to return their affections fully. Though he takes Chryseius into his home and bed, his is not free to marry her; under Athenian law, as he is a 'metic', or free citizen, but not of birth, to the city of his residence. Therefore he builds his life as a businessman, philanthropist, athlete, and student in Athens, all the while hoping for eventual citizenship to fulfill his promise to Chryseius and one day marry her.
The book is sweeping in its scope; and epic in it's storytelling capability. The first few chapters virtually turned me away, as the tone and 'repetition' of Ariston losing his first love, Phryne, were tedius to say the least. The discovery of girls in general to him, as well as Phryne herself entering his life, seem contrived, as if they were hastily added to give Ariston a foundation for the 'loner' quality he maintains throughout most of the rest of his life.
However, once through these few almost unpalpable chapters, the story unfolds; page after page, without ever slowing. Yerby's pacing is excellent; his character development full and believable; and his painstaking attention to the everyday detail of life in Athens and Sparta in classical times is rich and rewarding to read. Ariston's own character and character flaws are well played out against the backdrop of the supporting and secondary players to the story. And while the 500 page novel is full of well-developed, interesting persons, Yerby never loses sight of his protagonist, even against such famed historical figures as Sokrates, Sophokles, Alkibiades, etc, etc, etc.....each of these persons influences Ariston, but never overshadows him.
For that I give Yerby 5 stars, and label the book as almost perfect. Although a bit difficult to involve myself in it initially, I was greatly rewarded for my tenacity. Hopefully other readers will agree. I highly recommend this story along with my other favorites written about the time period; Mary Renault, Homer himself, and newer author Steven Pressfield. Though Yerby leans more toward Renault in overall tone, his style and quality of storytelling are all his own.