The Golden Mean by Annabel LyonThe Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

The Golden Mean

byAnnabel Lyon

Hardcover | October 17, 2016

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On the orders of his boyhood friend, now King Philip of Macedon, Aristotle postpones his dreams of succeeding Plato as leader of the Academy in Athens and reluctantly arrives in the Macedonian capital of Pella to tutor the king’s adolescent sons. An early illness has left one son with the intellect of a child; the other is destined for greatness but struggles between a keen mind that craves instruction and the pressures of a society that demands his prowess as a soldier. 
Initially Aristotle hopes for a short stay in what he considers the brutal backwater of his childhood. But, as a man of relentless curiosity and reason, Aristotle warms to the challenge of instructing his young charges, particularly Alexander, in whom he recognizes a kindred spirit, an engaged, questioning mind coupled with a unique sense of position and destiny.
Aristotle struggles to match his ideas against the warrior culture that is Alexander’s birthright. He feels that teaching this startling, charming, sometimes horrifying boy is a desperate necessity. And that what the boy – thrown before his time onto his father’s battlefields – needs most is to learn the golden mean, that elusive balance between extremes that Aristotle hopes will mitigate the boy’s will to conquer.
Aristotle struggles to inspire balance in Alexander, and he finds he must also play a cat-and-mouse game of power and influence with Philip in order to manage his own ambitions.
As Alexander’s position as Philip’s heir strengthens and his victories on the battlefield mount, Aristotle’s attempts to instruct him are honoured, but increasingly unheeded. And despite several troubling incidents on the field of battle, Alexander remains steadfast in his desire to further the reach of his empire to all known and unknown corners of the world, rendering the intellectual pursuits Aristotle offers increasingly irrelevant.
Exploring this fabled time and place, Annabel Lyon tells her story in the earthy, frank, and perceptive voice of Aristotle himself. With sensual and muscular prose, she explores how Aristotle’s genius touched the boy who would conquer the known world. And she reveals how we still live with the ghosts of both men.
Annabel Lyon’s first book, the short-story collection Oxygen, was nominated for the Danuta Gleed and ReLit awards. Her second collection, The Best Thing for You, was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction. She lives in New Westminster, B.C., with her husband and two children.
Title:The Golden MeanFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 8.5 × 5.85 × 1 inPublished:October 17, 2016Publisher:Random House Of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307356205

ISBN - 13:9780307356208


Rated 2 out of 5 by from You can put this down....really! I have picked it up and put it down several times, not really knowing why it didn't grab me...Now, having read the review by Lorina Stephens below I understand why - there is a incongruence between the story and both the language and assumptions of modernity of the setting. Not sure why this was such a big winner given such a glaring problem....the story itself is not that interesting that putting it in this setting improves it...
Date published: 2018-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Slow and Brilliant Other people are right in saying this book can be slow, but it is beautiful, if you stick with it.
Date published: 2018-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clever. Touching. Interesting. Transformative. This book is is serious, thoughtful, and poignant. The Golden Mean is a fictional account of the life of a major historical figure - Aristotle. Lyon introduces us to Aristotle as he is travelling to Macedonia to begin his new job - educating the king's son, Alexander the Great. Incredibly, with subject matter of such great historical significance, Lyon is masterful at subtly making the reader feel as though part of an intimate conversation already in progress. I do have a fondness for ancient history; and, while some may yawn at the subject matter, you really don't have to be an academic to appreciate and/or enjoy this novel. I have much respect for any author that can effortlessly create a connection between reader and character. Lyon does not disappoint. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-12-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Golden Mean It was okay. Just okay. I was hoping to learn more about Aristotle.
Date published: 2012-11-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from disappointing slow and boring plot; disliked writing style; over-use of vulgar words made it worse...seemed out of place
Date published: 2011-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Modern and Vulgar While Annabel Lyon’s much-acclaimed novel The Golden Mean, has been received well by critics, I’m afraid it fell short for this reader. The novel deals with Aristotle’s life during his tutelage of Alexander, who would become The Great. Lyon attempts to paint a picture of Aristotle’s own struggle to find balance between depression and joy, passion and reason, and in doing so employs a considerable wealth of research into the historical characters. However, research into the historical milieu is lacking. In the opening Lyon’s describes: “I spent yesterday on the carts myself so I could write, though now I ride bareback, in the manner of my countrymen, a ball-busting proposition for someone who’s been sedentary as long as I have.” Agreed riding bare-back can be a painful experience over the long-term; however, the glaring inconsistency here is the fact Aristotle was writing while riding in a cart. In an era of no suspension, and roughly paved or even dirt roads, the jouncing and ‘ball-busting’ would have had his backside black and blue, and any writing would have been rendered illegible. Further, Lyon fails to illustrate that if paper (papyrus) were used, or more likely parchment or vellum, all would have required sanding and burnishing, tasks not easily accomplished on a bouncing, crashing cart. Moreover, use of any stylus and ink would have been prohibitive. If, however, a wax tablet had been used, which would have been more likely the case, even then any legible cipher would have been an impossibility. The language of the novel was another point of contention for me. Altogether very modern, even to the use of the modern phrase, whapping each other upside the head, the language of the novel didn’t ring true, and consequently a sense of time period and placement left me feeling disoriented. I wasn’t looking for Shakespearean diction here; far from it. But I was looking for something a little less modern street. Around the middle of the novel that modern touch became completely arresting when Lyons writes a scene wherein he and his wife watch snow falling, and Aristotle explains to his wife: “The gods don’t send it,” I say. “It’s part of the machinery of the world. When the air is cold enough, rain turns to snow. It freezes. The water atoms attach to each other and harden.” Now, while Democritus, one of the ancient Greek philosophers credited with the concept of atomic theory, was a contemporary of Aristotle’s, the statement Lyon’s writes reads just a bit too modern and stretches the boundaries of credibility. As to the tone of the language, it is altogether very vulgar, which may be an attempt to reflect a male voice. Instead, at least for this reader, that vulgar tone simply rendered the novel somewhat adolescent and reliant on the use of shock factor instead of writing skill. When analyzing writing skill, there is a profound lack of character development, so that Aristotle himself is merely a talking head, as are most of the enormous cast of characters. There’s nothing there for me to hang on to. And that lack of character development extends to lack of environmental detail, so that what should have been a very alive, vibrant, sensory plunge into ancient Greece and Macedon, instead remain a grey slate waiting for colour. There was no sense of heat or cold, of architecture or furnishing, of environment or countryside. The only explicit detail Lyon ever uses is that of periodic, clinical gore, or base sexuality. It may be that this sensory deprivation was Lyon’s attempt to reflect the lack of depth and character in her protagonist, Aristotle, but for me it was like reading a green screen, waiting for the magic to appear. If Lyon’s novel, The Golden Mean, is the standard by which we now measure excellence, then I am outdated, antiquated and obsolete.
Date published: 2011-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I LOVED this book The Golden Mean helped me to remember why I love books. It has been a long time since a book has transported me so completely to another time and place. Everything about the writing rang true and not for a moment did I doubt that this was truly Aristotle's story. There is not a lot of action (really this is a "slice of life" book) but the characters are so well drawn and the dialogue is so well written that the story draws you in. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy exceptional characterization and who have an interest in classical history.
Date published: 2010-06-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A disappointment I had high expectations for this book. After studying ancient Greek culture and history only briefly, I was looking forward to delving back into that period in time and learning more about Alexander and Aristotle. Sadly, there is very little about either character. Although the story centres on Aristotle, it mostly discusses his thoughts and feelings. The book wasn't awful, but certainly not "dazzling" as the jacket describes. Overall, it fell flat for me.
Date published: 2010-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting This historical fiction based on the life story of Aristotle definitely grabby my interest and held it. It was well written and very interesting, but the description of the book is slightly misleading as it certainly focuses on Aristotle's life, with very little about Alexander's. While the novel focuses on the time Aristotle spent in Macedonia teaching the young prince, it is told from his voice and often relates back to the philosopher's youth. Some people also might be turned off by some of the language used but I believe this was the author's attempt to make the characters more authentic. I enjoyed the book, but also understand why not everyone has.
Date published: 2010-04-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Golden Mean, literally I read this book for a book club without an expectation and that, I think, was what saved me from being disappointed with it. The title sums it up perfectly. In Greek philosophy, the golden mean is the middle ground between two extremes, and it is the case for this novel - neither excellent nor terrible. Lyon's writing style captivated me, the story itself, while interesting, did not seem to have a true motive to it. By the end of the novel, I wondered what I got out from the story. The novelty of the content surely was one of the few reasons why it got as much hype as it did. Historical fiction rarely focuses on a philosopher, mostly on royalty or warriors. If you are hoping to read a lot about how Aristotle's works came about, maybe not. If you are hoping to read a lot about the interaction between him and Alexander, maybe not. But this should not deter you from giving it a go. If you are hoping to read a well written, vividly described fictional account of part of Aristotle's life, do.
Date published: 2010-04-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A real let down. I was so excited to read this book and boy did it fail me. I wanted to learn about Alexander and Aristotle and their relationship but I really felt like there was very minimal coverage of that. A lot of dissection and a lot of boring talk. I was bored through most of the book.
Date published: 2010-01-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed I persevered with this novel until I'd read about two thirds of it, at which point I had to quit reading because the story seemed to be going nowhere and yet jumping from one topic to another nonsensically. Many passages seemed misplaced, without a point, and chronologically confused.
Date published: 2010-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from interesting read When you realize that the story is mostly based on real life, the book becomes more interesting. It is a good read and makes you think of lives led by great minds and conquerors
Date published: 2010-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Aristotle and Alexander Sizzle Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean is an audacious novel about Aristotle's tutoring of the hot-blooded young warrior Alexander the Great in the years before he becomes king of Macedon at age twenty. Aristotle's quirky, scientific view of life unfolds in language that is startlingly contemporary, both in the sense of modern and of rooted in 4th century BC. Lyon's prose jumps with life, takes risks, defies gravity. We know we are in for a remarkable read when, early in the novel, we eavesdrop on Aristotle's thinking as he coolly examines his naked wife Pythias. A walking encyclopaedia who will write 200 books, we learn that Aristotle is prone to dramatic breakdowns that may reveal a tragic flaw. When young Alexander walks on stage holding a bloody severed head, the curtain of history is drawn back, the stage lights up, and we grip the edge of our seats. The Golden Mean is a bravura performance by one of Canada's finest fiction writers. It was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller and the Governor-General's Award, and won the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for 2009. Lyon has a fascinating blog on historical subjects at from
Date published: 2010-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Golden Mean I thought this an excellent book and really enjoyed it. It brought Aristotle and Alexander to life and made them totally familiar. I wish it had been longer. It's a book I shall definitely keep and read again.
Date published: 2010-01-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lyon has the Midas Touch I thought The Golden Mean was a thought provoking account of the intimate and influential relationship between Aristotle and Alexander the Great. As a lover of Historical fiction, I am so happy to see a book like this short listed for the Giller. Kudos to Annabel Lyon for writing such an inspiring piece of literature. If you liked this make sure to pick up Alexander: Child of a Dream. The first book of the international bestselling Alexander trilogy by Valerio Massimo Manfredi.
Date published: 2009-11-10

Read from the Book

Chapter OneThe rain falls in black cords, lashing my animals, my men, and my wife, Pythias, who last night lay with her legs spread while I took notes on the mouth of her sex, who weeps silent tears of exhaustion now, on this tenth day of our journey. On the ship she seemed comfortable enough, but this last overland stage is beyond all her experience and it shows. Her mare stumbles; she’s let the reins go loose again, allowing the animal to sleepwalk. She rides awkwardly, weighed down by her sodden finery. Earlier I suggested she remain on one of the carts but she resisted, such a rare occurrence that I smiled, and she, embarrassed, looked away. Callisthenes, my nephew, offered to walk the last distance, and with some difficulty we helped her onto his big bay. She clutched at the reins the first time the animal shifted beneath her.“Are you steady?” I asked, as around us the caravan began to move.“Of course.”Touching. Men are good with horses where I come from, where we’re returning now, and she knows it. I spent yesterday on the carts myself so I could write, though now I ride bareback, in the manner of my countrymen, a ball­busting proposition for someone who’s been sedentary as long as I have. You can’t stay on a cart while a woman rides, though; and it occurs to me now that this was her intention.I hardly noticed her at first, a pretty, vacant-eyed girl on the fringes of Hermias’s menagerie. Five years ago, now. Atarneus was a long way from Athens, across the big sea, snug to the flank of the Persian Empire. Daughter, niece, ward, concubine – the truth slipped like silk.“You like her,” Hermias said. “I see the way you look at her.” Fat, sly, rumoured a money­changer in his youth, later a butcher and a mercenary; a eunuch, now, supposedly, and a rich man. A politician, too, holding a stubborn satrapy against the barbarians: Hermias of Atarneus. “Bring me my thinkers!” he used to shout. “Great men surround themselves with thinkers! I wish to be surrounded!” And he would laugh and slap at himself while the girl Pythias watched without seeming to blink quite often enough. She became a gift, one of many, for I was a favourite. On our wedding night she arrayed herself in veils, assumed a pose on the bed, and whisked away the sheets before I could see if she had bled. I was thirty-seven then, she fifteen, and gods forgive me but I went at her like a stag in rut. Stag, hog.“Eh? Eh?” Hermias said the next morning, and laughed.Night after night after night. I tried to make it up to her with kindness. I treated her with great courtliness, gave her money, addressed her softly, spoke to her of my work. She wasn’t stupid; thoughts flickered in her eyes like fish in deep pools. Three years we spent in Atarneus, until the Persians breathed too close, too hot. Two years in the pretty town of Mytilene, on the island of Lesvos, where they cobbled the floor of the port so enemy ships couldn’t anchor. Now this journey. Through it all she has an untouchable dignity, even when she lies with her knees apart while I gently probe for my work on generation. Fish, too, I’m studying, field animals, and birds when I can get them. There’s a seed like a pomegranate seed in the centre of the folds, and the hole frilled like an oyster. Sometimes moisture, sometimes dryness. I’ve noted it all.“Uncle.”I follow my nephew’s finger and see the city on the marshy plain below us, bigger than I remember, more sprawling. The rain is thinning, spitting and spatting now, under a suddenly lucid gold-grey sky.“Pella,” I announce, to rouse my dripping, dead-eyed wife. “The capital of Macedon. Temple there, market there, palace. You can just make it out. Bigger than you thought?”She says nothing.“You’ll have to get used to the dialect. It’s fast, but not so different really. A little rougher.”“I’ll manage,” she says, not loudly.I sidle my horse up to hers, lean over to take her reins to keep her near me while I talk. It’s good for her to have to listen, to think. Callisthenes walks beside us.“The first king was from Argos. A Greek, though the people aren’t. Enormous wealth here: timber, wheat, corn, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, copper, iron, silver, gold. Virtually all they have to import is olives. Too cold for olives this far north, mostly; too mountainous. And did you know that most of the Athenian navy is built from Macedonian timber?”“Did we bring olives?” Pythias asks.“I assume you know your wars, my love?”She picks at the reins, plucks at them like lyre strings, but I don’t let go. “I know them,” she says finally.Utterly ignorant, of course. If I had to weave all day, I’d at least weave myself a battle scene or two. I remind her of the Athenian conquest of Persia under the great general Pericles, Athens at her seafaring mightiest, in my great­grandfather’s time. Then the decades of conflict in the Peloponnese, Athens bled and finally brought low by Sparta, with some extra Persian muscle, in my father’s youth; and Sparta itself defeated by Thebes, by then the ascendant power, in my own childhood. “I will set you a task. You’ll embroider Thermopylae for me. We’ll hang it over the bed.”Still not looking at me.“Thermopylae,” I say. “Gods, woman. The pass. The pass where the Spartans held off the Persians for three days, a force ten times their own. Greatest stand in the history of warfare.”“Lots of pink and red,” Callisthenes suggests.She looks straight at me for a moment. I read, Don’t patronize me. And, Continue.Now, I tell her, young Macedon is in the ascendant, under five­wived Philip. A marriage to cement every settlement and seal every victory: Phila from Elimea, in the North; Audata the Illyrian princess; Olympias of Epirus, first among wives, the only one called queen; Philinna from Thessaly; and Nikesipolis of Pherae, a beauty who died in childbirth. Philip invaded Thrace, too, after Thessaly, but hasn’t yet taken a Thracian wife. I rifle the library in my skull for an interesting factling. “They like to tattoo their women, the Thracians.”“Mmm.” Callisthenes closes his eyes like he’s just bitten into something tasty.We’re descending the hillside now, our horses scuffling in the rocky scree as we make our way down to the muddy plain. Pythias is shifting in the saddle, straightening her clothes, smoothing her eyebrows, touching a fingertip to each corner of her mouth, preparing for the city.“Love.” I put my hand on hers to still her grooming and claim back her attention. My nephew I ignore. A Thracian woman would eat him alive, tender morsel that he is, and spit out the little bones. “You should know a little more. They don’t keep slaves like we do, even in the palace. Everyone works. And they don’t have priests. The king performs that function for his people. He begins every day with sacrifices, and if anyone needs to speak to a god, it’s done through him.” Sacrilege: she doesn’t like this. I read her body. “Pella will not be like Hermias’s court. Women are not a part of public life here.”“What does that mean?”I shrug. “Men and women don’t attend entertainments together, or even eat together. Women of your rank aren’t seen. They don’t go out.”“It’s too cold to go out,” Pythias says. “What does it matter, anyway? This time next week we’ll be in Athens.”“That’s right.” I’ve explained to her that this detour is just a favour to Hermias. I’m needed in Pella for just a day or two, a week at most. Clean up, dry out, rest the animals, deliver Hermias’s mail, move on. “There isn’t much you’d want to do in public anyway.” The arts are imported sparingly. Pig­hunting is big; drinking is big. “You’ve never tasted beer, have you? You’ll have to try some before we leave.”She ignores me.“Beer!” Callisthenes says. “I’ll drink yours, Auntie.”“Remember yourself,” I tell the young man, who has a tendency to giggle when he gets excited. “We are diplomats now.”The caravan steps up its pace, and my wife’s back straightens. We’re on.Despite the rain and ankle­sucking mud, we pick up a retinue as we pass through the city’s outskirts, men and women who come out of their houses to stare, and children who run after us, pulling at the skins covering the bulging carts, trying to dislodge some souvenir. They’re particularly drawn to the cart that carries the cages – a few bedraggled birds and small animals – which they dart at, only to retreat, screaming in pleasure and shaking their hands as though they’ve been nipped. They’re tall children, for the most part, and well formed. My men kick idly at a clutch of little beggars to fend them off, while my nephew genially turns out his pockets to them to prove his poverty. Pythias, veiled, draws the most stares.At the palace, my nephew speaks to the guard and we are admitted. As the gates close behind us and we begin to dismount, I notice a boy – thirteen, maybe – wandering amongst the carts. Rain­plastered hair, ruddy skin, eyes big as a calf’s.“Get away from there,” I call when the boy tries to help with one of the cages, a chameleon as it happens, and more gently, when the boy turns to look at me in amazement: “He’ll bite you.”The boy smiles. “Me?”The chameleon, on closer inspection, is shit­smelling and lethargic, and dangerously pale; I hope it will survive until I can prepare a proper dissection.“See its ribs?” I say to the boy. “They aren’t like ours. They extend all the way down and meet at the belly, like a fish’s. The legs flex opposite to a man’s. Can you see his toes? He has five, like you, but with talons like a bird of prey. When he’s healthy he changes colours.”“I want to see that,” the boy says.Together we study the monster, the never­closing eye and the tail coiled like a strap.“Sometimes he goes dark, almost like a crocodile,” I say. “Or spotted, like a leopard. You won’t see it today, I’m afraid. He’s about dead.”The boy’s eyes rove across the carts.“Birds,” he says.I nod.“Are they dying, too?”I nod.“And what’s in here?”The boy points at a cart of large amphora with wood and stones wedged around them to keep them upright.“Get me a stick.”Again that look of amazement.“There.” I point at the ground some feet away, then turn away deliberately to prise the lid off one of the jars. When I turn back, the boy is holding out the stick. I take it and reach into the jar with it, prodding gently once or twice.“Smells,” the boy says, and indeed the smell of sea water, creamy and rank, is mingling with the smell of horse dung in the courtyard.I pull out the stick. Clinging to its end is a small crab.“That’s just a crab.”“Can you swim?” I ask.When the boy doesn’t reply, I describe the lagoon where I used to go diving, the flashing sunlight and then the plunge. This crab, I explain, came from there. I recall going out past the reef with the fishermen and helping with their nets so I could study the catch. There, too, I swam, where the water was deeper and colder and the currents ran like striations in rock, and more than once I had to be rescued, hauled hacking into a boat. Back on shore the fishermen would build fires, make their offerings, and cook what they couldn’t sell. Once I went out with them to hunt dolphin. In their log canoes they would encircle a pod and slap the water with their oars, making a great noise. The animals would beach themselves as they tried to flee. I leapt from the canoe as it reached shore and splashed through the shallows to claim one of them for myself. The fishermen were bemused by my fascination with the viscera, which was inedible and therefore waste to them. They marvelled at my drawings of dissections, pointing in wonder at birds and mice and snakes and beetles, cheering when they recognized a fish. But as orange dims to blue in a few sunset moments, so in most people wonder dims as quickly to horror. A pretty metaphor for a hard lesson I learned long ago. The larger drawings – cow, sheep, goat, deer, dog, cat, child – I left at home.I can imagine the frosty incomprehension of my colleagues back in Athens. Science is the work of the mind, they will say, and here I am wasting my time swimming and grubbing.“We cannot ascertain causes until we have facts,” I say. “That above all must be understood. We must observe the world, you see? From the facts we move to the principles, not the other way round.”“Tell me some more facts,” the boy says.“Octopuses lay as many eggs as poisonous spiders. There is no blood in the brain, and elsewhere in the body blood can only be contained in blood vessels. Bear cubs are born without articulation and their limbs must be licked into shape by their mothers. Some insects are generated by the dew, and some worms generate spontaneously in manure. There is a passage in your head from your ear to the roof of your mouth. Also, your windpipe enters your mouth quite close to the opening of the back of the nostrils. That’s why when you drink too fast, the drink comes out your nose.”I wink, and the boy smiles faintly for the first time.“I think you know more about some things than my tutor.” The boy pauses, as though awaiting my response to this significant remark.“Possibly,” I say.“My tutor, Leonidas.”I shrug as though the name means nothing to me. I wait for him to speak again, to help or make a nuisance of himself, but he darts back into the palace, just a boy running out of the rain.Now here comes our guide, a grand­gutted flunky who leads us to a suite of rooms in the palace. He runs with sweat, even in this rain, and smiles with satisfaction when I offer him a chair and water. I think he is moulded from pure fat. He says he knows me, remembers me from my childhood. Maybe. When he drinks, his mouth leaves little crumbs on the inner lip of the cup, though we aren’t eating.“Oh, yes, I remember you,” he says. “The doctor’s boy. Very serious, very serious. Has he changed?” He winks at Pythias, who doesn’t react. “And that’s your son?”He means Callisthenes. My cousin’s son, I explain, whom I call nephew for simplicity; he travels with me as my apprentice.Pythias and her maids withdraw to an inner room; my slaves I’ve sent to the stables. We’re too many people for the rooms we’ve been allotted, and they’ll be warm there. Out of sight, too. Slavery is known here but not common, and I don’t want to appear ostentatious. We overlook a small courtyard with a blabbing fountain and some potted trees, almond and fig. My nephew has retreated there to the shelter of a colonnade, and is arguing some choice point or other with himself, his fine brows wrinkled and darkened like walnut meats by the knottiness of his thoughts. I hope he’s working on the reality of numbers, a problem I’m lately interested in.“You’re back for the good times,” the flunky says. “War, waah!” He beats his fat fists on his chest and laughs. “Come to help us rule the world?”“It’ll happen,” I say. “It’s our time.”The fat man laughs again, claps his hands. “Very good, doctor’s son,” he says. “You’re a quick study. Say, ‘I spit on Athens.’”I spit, just to make him laugh again, to set off all that wobbling.When he’s gone, I look back to the courtyard.“Go to him,” Pythias says, passing behind me with her maids, lighting lamps against the coming darkness.In other windows I can see lights, little prickings, and hear the voices of men and women returning to their rooms for the evening, public duties done. Palace life is the same everywhere. I was happy enough to get away from it for a time, though I know Hermias was disappointed when we left him. Powerful men never like you to leave.“I’m fine here,” Pythias says. “We’ll see to the unpacking. Go.”“He hasn’t been able to get away from us for ten days. He probably wants a break.”A soldier arrives to tell me the king will see me in the morning. Then a page comes with plates of food: fresh and dried fruit, small fish, and wine.“Eat,” Pythias is saying. Some time has passed; I’m not sure how much. I’m in a chair, wrapped in a blanket, and she is setting a black plate and cup by my foot. “You know it helps you to eat.”I’m weeping: something about Callisthenes, and nightfall, and the distressing disarray of our lives just now. She pats my face with the sleeve of her dress, a green one I like. She’s found time to change into something dry. Wet things are draped and swagged everywhere; I’m in the only chair that hasn’t been tented.“He’s so young,” she says. “He wants a look at the city, that’s all. He’ll come back.”“I know.”“Eat, then.”I let her put a bite of fish in my mouth. Oil, salt tang. I realize I’m hungry.“You see?” she says.There’s no name for this sickness, no diagnosis, no treatment mentioned in my father’s medical books. You could stand next to me and never guess my symptoms. Metaphor: I am afflicted by colours: grey, hot red, maw-black, gold. I can’t always see how to go on, how best to live with an affliction I can’t explain and can’t cure.I let her put me to bed. I lie in the sheets she has warmed with stones from the hearth, listening to the surf­sounds of her undressing. “You took care of me today,” I say. My eyes are closed, but I can hear her shrug. “Making me ride. You didn’t want them laughing at me.”Redness flares behind my closed eyelids; she’s brought a candle to the bedside.“Not tonight,” I say.Before we were married, I gave her many fine gifts: sheep, jewellery, perfume, pottery, excellent clothes. I taught her to read and write because I was besotted and wanted to give her something no lover had ever thought of before.The next morning I see the note she’s left for me, the mouse-scratching I thought I heard as I slipped into sleep: warm, dry.

Bookclub Guide

1. What do you believe is the significance of Pythias’ note to Aristotle their first night in Pella, “warm, dry” (p. 12)? What does it reveal about Pythias’ nature and her relationship with Aristotle?2. At their first meeting, Alexander accuses Aristotle of using Arrhidaeus as another “laurel leaf,” as proof that Aristotle is a great teacher. Is there truth in Alexander’s words? What do you believe are the motives behind Aristotle’s interest in Alexander’s brother?3. How do Aristotle’s relationships with the two brothers and their father, Philip, influence one another? How do they rank in Aristotle’s affections?4. Although they enjoy a relationship of love and respect, Alexander and Aristotle maintain their roles of ruler and subject. In one instance, however, Alexander breaks the rules that govern that relationship to visit Aristotle and Pythias at their home, even staying the night. What accounts for his visit? What might motivate his keen interest in Pythias?5. Aristotle describes Alexander’s relationship with Olympias, his mother, as having a “grotesque intimacy.” Why do you believe Aristotle would characterize their relationship in this way? How might he describe Alexander’s relationship with his father? How do Alexander’s relationships with his parents influence him?6. Contrast Aristotle’s relationships with Pythias and Herpyllis and the ways in which he recounts those relationships. In what ways, if any, do these relationships contribute to Aristotle’s life as a teacher, philosopher, husband and father?7. What is the “golden mean”? In what ways does Aristotle embody that idea? In what ways is he a contradiction?8. Aristotle’s cool, rational, and almost unfeeling character contrasts sharply with Alexander’s passionate one. To temper his student, and to lead Alexander to the happiness that seems to elude him, Aristotle works to convince Alexander of the idea of the “golden mean.” Alexander rejects the idea and accuses Aristotle of prizing mediocrity. In the end, who do you believe wins the argument, student or teacher?9. Describe the effects of the battlefield on a young Alexander, what is referred to as “soldier’s heart.” What do you believe accounts for Alexander’s propensity to suffer from it?10. What are your impressions of Lyon’s choice for her characters to use the vernacular, specifically contemporary profanity? Discuss what might have motivated that decision and why.11. A review of The Golden Mean enthused that, “in Lyon’s clever hands, more than two thousand years of difference are made to disappear and Aristotle feels as real and accessible as the man next door.” Do you agree? Why or why not.

Editorial Reviews

“The style as a whole posesses an often eerie earthiness... This is a novel that stands firmly on its own feet.”—Financial Times Review“I think this quietly ambitious and beautifully achieved novel is one of the most convincing historical novels I have ever read.” —Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall“Annabel Lyon’s Aristotle is the most fully realized historical character in contemporary fiction. The Golden Mean engenders in the reader the same helpless sensitivity to the ferocious beauty of the world that is Aristotle’s disease. In this alarmingly confident and transporting debut novel, Lyon offers us that rarest of treats: a book about philosophy, about the power of ideas, that chortles and sings like an earthy romance.” —2009 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Marina Endicott, Miriam Toews, R. M. Vaughan“I absolutely loved The Golden Mean. Annabel Lyon brings the philosophers and warriors, artists and whores, princes and slaves of ancient Macedonia alive, with warmth, wit, and poignancy. Impeccably researched and brilliantly told, this novel is utterly convincing.”— Marie Phillips, author of Gods Behaving Badly“The Golden Mean, so full of intellect, is a pleasure to read. If excellence is our standard, then this novel will certainly flourish.”— David Bergen, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of The Time in Between and The Retreat“An exhilarating book, both brilliant and profound. Annabel Lyon’s spare, fluid, utterly convincing prose pulls us headlong into Aristotle’s original mind. Only Lyon’s great-hearted intelligence could have imagined and achieved the brave ambition of this book. Vital, ferocious, and true, The Golden Mean is an oracular vision of the past made present.”— Marina Endicott, author of Good to a Fault“In Lyon’s clever hands, more than two thousand years of difference are made to disappear and Aristotle feels as real and accessible as the man next door. With this powerful, readable act of the imagination, Annabel Lyon proves that she can go anywhere it pleases her to go.”— Fred Stenson, author of The Great Karoo"Lyon [has] established herself as this generation's answer to Alice Munro. A master of wordplay and storytelling, Lyon takes readers deep into the hearts and secret desires of her characters." — The Vancouver Sun"A taut, polished novel that will hold your attention from start to finish. It is at times funny, thought-provoking, sensual and suspenseful." — The Vancouver Sun"This is a wise and thoughtful book."— The Giller Prize jury citation