Review: 'The Chronicles of Loquacious, Centaur, of Rhodes', by Rob S. Rice
If werewolves are Furry, then so are centaurs, satyrs, fauns, silenoi, and the other human/animal hybrids of Greek mythology.
Aside from the fantasy of all the mythologicals and humans living together, this is a good historical tale of life in Greece at the time of Philip II and his son, Alexander III the Great of Macedonia. Alexander is offstage conquering the world, and there is peace in the interior of his empire. Aristotle, Alexander’s tutor, has his Lyceum in Athens, but in this year he has been summoned back to Macedonia for the summer. Without him, the other teachers at the Lyceum suggest that the students spend a few months wandering through Greece to collect odd plants and local tales, to bring back when Aristotle will return in the winter.
This book contains eight tales, the first five told by the student Loquacious, a centaur from the island city-state of Rhodes, to the peasants and villagers who give him hospitality, or told to him by them; and the last three later in Loquacious’ life.
“Of the Compact” is a historical tale that all centaurs are taught, of how the eternal warfare between centaurs and men was finally turned to peace centuries earlier by the tragic sacrifice of the centaurs’ King Aipseros.
In “Graius’ Mare”, narrated by Loquacious, he is hosted for a couple of days in the Phocis countryside by the centaur peasants Graius and his wife Myrrhine. Graius tells him their story (mixing the first and third person), and of a local plant for Loquacious’ collection. He was originally a man and she was his horse. Both were mortally wounded in a landslide, and as they were dying, Asclepius, the God of Healing, came upon them:
‘What I saw was a large, gray snake – except that snakes don’t glow, don’t crawl over you, and tell you not to move. Even the mare didn’t shy at it, or try to …’
The snake – god – Asclepius – looked at the two of them dying there.
‘You are both gravely injured,’ it hissed. ‘I will remove your pain. It is the duty of the physician to alleviate suffering.’
‘The old man and the mare felt their agony fade away. Blessed death, it looked like, fading quietly into the dark … But the snake had laid one of these herbs here across both their wounds. Chiron’s plant – Centaury … It grows wild in these parts, as Myrrhine told you.’ (p. 15)
Asclepius, with the help of the Centaury, changes them both into centaurs to heal them. Graius goes on to describe how they adapted to life as half-horses.
In “Of the Horse-Satyrs Popularly Known as the ‘Silenoi’”, narrated in the third person, Loquacious is a guest in Northern Boetia in a village of centaurs. To “earn his keep”, Loquacious tells them the story of his visit to another village of centaurs and silenoi, who look human except for horses’ ears, tails, and hind hooves. The village leader was the elderly centaur Creon, but he had abdicated responsibility to his son Cleisthenes, who was both arrogant and stupid. At this time Cleisthenes had organized a big wedding, with a group of Satyr musicians from Arcadia, for his beautiful daughter Agariste, except that he was clumsily trying to play Agariste’s two suitors off against each other for the best deal for himself. It was obvious to everyone in the village that Agariste really loved the Silen Hippocleides, and the other suitor, Demophorus, a centaur, was willing to gracefully give up his suit, so everyone ganged up on Cleisthenes to let Agariste and Hippocleides elope together amidst the wild celebration.
In “Of Horn and Iron”, one of Loquacious’ shoes comes loose. He goes to a smith in the human city of Corinth:
‘Ye want shod then, sir?’
‘On all four, iron, and trimmed, of course. We should agree on the amount beforehand, I’m sure …’ I always stammered a bit when I tried to be at my smoothest and most businesslike, drat it.
He bent over and tapped my left foreleg softly, but with authority, and I obligingly shifted my weight and raised it. That’s how he’d treat a horse, but it was gentle treatment, and he’d need to see the job before he could name his price. He did the same for my right hind, then the left, and turned back to me, wiping his hands on his kilt. (p. 29)
The other three shoes are badly worn, so Loquacious agrees to have all four replaced. Loquacious feels about being shod by a strange farrier the way that most people feel about a visit to a strange dentist, and to distract himself during the shoeing he tells the smith tales of incidents at the Lyceum.
“Stoning” is in the form of a letter from Loquacious to his mother from the coast near Megara. Mothers are always mothers, and students have always wondered what they will become after they leave college:
Work, or meaningful work, at least, eludes me still. One with skill in numbers or knowledge of carting may always find employment, of course, but I do still refuse to pull a cart after all my studies. I know from my own youth, as you are undoubtedly thinking, the honest nature of the work, and I do not look down upon my father’s profession. But, Mother! I have done my part between the shafts, and with no shame, but I have not spent my years at the Lyceum for something that may as well be done by a horse! I am not a horse, however useful my resemblance to one might be to a two-legs in need of my strength. (p. 38)
“Sunset in Epidaurus” begins the longer stories. Aristotle is dead, the Lyceum is breaking up, Alexander has died far away and anyone can see that his enforced Greek unity is falling apart. The Peripatetics (the students from the Lyceum) are not welcome at the rival Academy, so Loquacious takes the opportunity to make a leisurely pilgrimage to the shrine of Chiron, the centaurs’ god, at Epidaurus. While there, he is beseeched by a human suppliant, Theoergetos of Thebes, with a centaur wife, Aglaia, and an infant centaur son, Phaethon. Loquacious is disgusted by this apparent violation of the laws of blasphemy – the gods of both humans and centaurs have decreed most strictly that the two should not interbreed -- but Theoergetos and the centaur high priest Hypsiades assure him that no blasphemy has taken place.
‘Theoergetos here has not taken one of our folk to wife in violation of the ‘nomoi’. You must hear his tale if you are to provide the help the god, Chiron, and I expect of you.’ (p. 45)
Theoergetos’ father was ruined when the Macedonians destroyed his city, and he cursed the gods. They retaliated by cursing Theoergetos. Aglaia was human when she became his wife, but the gods transformed her into a centauress while she was pregnant. A human-centaur husband and wife are against all the laws of decency, so they have come to the shrine at Epidaurus for help.
Hypsiades has received no answer to his own prayers, but he sent a priest to the Oracle at Delphi to ask the more powerful god Apollo’s advice. The cryptic answer is that the supplicants should go to the oracle at the Greek city of Cumae in Italy and ask the priestess there. The trip is dangerous, and Hypsiades charges Loquacious to get them there safely.
‘Loquacious, you will go. That has been made very clear to me. You have lost your own purpose in life, and have no other business pressing. You now have a chance, which you must take, to perform a service for those in need of it.’ (p. 50)
The voyage to Cumae is – interesting, and the instructions that they receive from the priestess there are ominous:
He who now the gods still curse
To get better, must get worse.
Saturn’s reign will offer help;
For the horse, the she-wolf’s whelp. (p. 56)
They travel north until they meet the she-wolf’s whelp, who are Roman soldiers. Loquacious considers his mission accomplished and transfers his charges to them for further divine succor, and returns to Greece. He later learns what happens to them.
The final two stories, “Thorns of the Rose” and “Bloom of the Rose”, are over 100 pages. The civil war of Alexander’s generals fighting over his empire is in full swing. Rhodes has declared neutrality, but Antigonus One-Eye of Macedonia is determined to add the city-island to his share of the empire. Loquacious returns home to help in what everyone reckons is a drawn-out but ultimately hopeless defense against the war-fleet of Antigonus’ son Demetrius. (The rose was the symbol of Rhodes.) The first story, over forty pages, is the military adventure of Loquacious’ role in Demetrius’ multi-month siege of Rhodes; a tale of 4th-century B.C. Mediterranean siegecraft. (Michael Howe’s fine but [on the book] overly dark cover illustrates this.) Rhodes' defense, thanks largely to Loquacious who finds himself appointed to higher commands than he expects, ultimately stands off the siege. During it, Loquacious finds romance.
“Bloom of the Rose” is set immediately afterward, but it is told far in the future, when Loquacious is an elderly centaur. Rhodes has beaten off the Macedonian fleet, but everyone expects that its independence will not last long in the convoluted interplay between Antigonus of Macedonia and Ptolemy of Egypt, or other Mediterranean despots such as Hieron of Syracuse and the leaders of Carthage. It will be too easy to starve out the isolated island. Rhodes’ answer is to build its own giant grain ship, sail to the far-off Pontus Euxine, and load up enough grain to stock Rhodes’ larders against any future siege, no matter how long.
This is the story of “Rhodia”, the Lady of Rhodes, the greatest ship ever built. Loquacious is one of the military engineers called upon to design her, and to sail with her as Master Gunner in charge of fighting off all the enemies they expect to meet. The “Rhodia” and Loquacious have many adventures, political as well as military.
Dr. Robert S. Rice taught in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s. He has been with the Colorado State Department of Education since 1995. He has been a lecturer on Alexander and the Hellenistic World, and his scholarly papers include “The Siege-Craft of Philip II: The Product of its Times” and “Sparing a Hornet’s Nest: Rome’s Treatment of Rhodes in 168”. In other words, he knows whereof he writes.
For those interested in the mythological characters, the first half of “The Chronicles of Loquacious, Centaur, of Rhodes” is more interesting. Rice dwells more upon them and their differences from humans. In “Thorns of the Rose” and “Bloom of the Rose”, the focus is upon the historic post-Alexandrian warfare, and while he scatters centaurs and silenoi among the warriors, their non-human status fades to inconsequential costumery. But the first half of this book will be pleasing to those fans of the Greek mythological beasts, and the last half will be of great interest to those interested in authentic 4th-century B.C. warfare.