Ancient Greek history and politics fascinated Naomi Mitchison, and in particular the long antagonism or rivalry of Athens and Sparta. In this, her second vel, she investigates the two city states through Alxer, a young man from the tiny island of Poieessa, which changes hands as the balance of power changes. He does t choose his loyalty in a theoretical way, but as he experiences rough treatment from both. By Alxer's day, Athens had declined from the golden age of Perikles, and the city was prone to bully smaller entities, but he is forced to recognise the much worse reality of Spartan civilisation, with iron discipline, cruelty and loss of individuality. Eventually, Mitchison came to see even the twentieth century in terms of struggles between Athens and Sparta, democracy and totalitarianism. Isobel Murray is Emeritus Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of Aberdeen.
Naomi Mitchison [1897-1999] was a literary phenomenon. Tireless in her writing, and unafraid and often highly unconventional in her opinions, she left an extraordinary legacy. There are novels for adults and children, based on the classical ancient world, and on the immediately contemporary, stressing at different times her deep interest in Scottish and African societies, and her concerns for the future. She also wrote poetry and plays, memoirs, a war diary, political articles and reviews, and non-fiction - dealing with issues as different as birth control, North Sea Oil and GM crops.