H. N. Turteltaub The Sacred Land

ISBN 13: 9780765300379

The Sacred Land

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9780765300379: The Sacred Land
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In Over the Wine-Dark Sea and The Gryphon’s Skull, H. N. Turteltaub brought to life the teeming world of maritime Greece, in the unsettled years following the death of Alexander the Great. Now Menedemos and Sostratos, those dauntless capitalists of the third century B.C., have set sail again--this time to Phoenicia. There Menedemos will spend the summer trading, while his cousin Sostratos travels inland to the little-known country of Ioudaia, with its strange people and their even stranger religious obsessions.

In theory, Sostratos is going in search of cheap balsam, a perfume much in demand in the Mediterranean world. In truth, scholarly Sostratos just wants to get a good look at a part of the world unknown to most Hellenes. And the last thing he wants is to have to take along a bunch of sailors from the Aphrodite as his bodyguards.

But Menedemos insists. He knows that bandits on land are as dangerous as pirates at sea, and he has no faith in Sostratos’ ability to dodge them. Meanwhile, it turns out that the prime hams and smoked eels they picked up en route are unsalable to Ioudaians. (Who knew?) And worst of all, Sostratos’ new brother-in-law has managed to talk their fathers into loading the Aphrodite with hundreds of amphorae of his best olive oil--when they’re trading in a region that has no shortage of it.

It’s a hard day's work, hustling for an honest drachma.

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About the Author:

H. N. Turteltaub is the pseudonym of a well-known novelist who is also an accomplished historian of the ancient world.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
 
SOMETHING BETWEEN DRIZZLE AND LIGHT RAIN PATTERED down out of the sky onto the city of Rhodes. Every time a raindrop struck the flame of the torch Sostratos was carrying, the drop hissed out of existence. "Hymen! Iô, Hymen!" Sostratos called as he and his father led his sister's wedding procession through the streets toward the house of Damonax son of Polydoros, Erinna's new husband.
Lysistratos waved his torch, too. "Hymen!" he called, as Sostratos called. Then, in a lower voice, he grumbled, "Miserable weather for a wedding."
"Winter's the most auspicious time," Sostratos said, "but it's the rainy season, too. Chance we take." He was a tall, gangling fellow in his midtwenties who, unlike most men of his generation, let his beard grow rather than shaving in imitation of Alexander the Great. He'd studied at the Lykeion in Athens and thought the beard lent him the appearance of a philosopher. On a good day, he was right.
Relatives and friends capered in the procession. There was his cousin, Menedemos, only a few cubits away, calling out to the god of marriage just as if he didn't enjoy adultery more. Menedemos was only a few months younger than Sostratos, the son of his father's older brother, Philodemos. Sostratos was most of a head taller than his cousin, but Menedemos was handsomer and more graceful.
And people like him, too, Sostratos thought with a mental sigh. He knew he perplexed people himself; he thought too much and felt too little. He read Herodotos and Thoukydides, and aspired to write history himself one day. Menedemos could quote long stretches of the Iliad and Odyssey, and of Aristophanes' bawdy comedies. Sostratos sighed to himself again. No wonder people like him. He entertains them.
Menedemos, swaggering along with a wreath of ivy leaves and bright ribbons in his hair, blew a kiss to a slave girl carrying a jar of water up the street. She giggled and smiled back. Sostratos tried not to be jealous. He didn't have much luck. If he'd done that, odds were the girl would have laughed in his face.
"May the marriage bring you grandchildren, Uncle," Menedemos told Lysistratos.
"I thank you," Sostratos' father answered. He gave Menedemos more leeway than Sostratos was in the habit of doing. But then, Menedemos had been known to complain that his own father held Sostratos up to him as an example of good behavior. That made part of Sostratos--the philosophical part--proud. It embarrassed the rest of him.
He looked back over his shoulder. There was Uncle Philodemos, not far from the ox cart that carried Damonax and Erinna. Like the rest of the men in the wedding procession, Menedemos' father wore garlands in his and carried a torch. Somehow, though, he didn't look as if he was having a good time. He seldom did. No wonder he and Menedemos have trouble getting along, Sostratos thought.
Damonax dwelt in the southwestern part of the city, not far from the gymnasion. Since Erinna, after the death of her first husband, had been living in her father's house near the northern end of the city (and the northernmost tip of the island) of Rhodes, the parade went through most of the polis. Plenty of people had the chance to cheer and clap their hands and call lewd advice to the bride and groom. Knowing his sister, Sostratos was sure she blushed behind her veil.
With a final squeak from its ungreased axle, the ox cart stopped in front of Damonax's home. His mother should have received Erinna into the household, but she and his father were both dead, so an aunt did the honors instead. The men in the procession trooped into the courtyard. His slaves had wine and olives and fried squid and barley cakes and honey waiting in the andron, the men's chamber, where the rain couldn't spoil them.
The wine was fine Khian, and mixed no weaker than one-to-one with water. People would get drunk in short order. Sostratos took a long pull at his cup. The sweet wine slid down his throat and started fighting the chill of the day. He wondered if the Aphrodite or one of his family's other ships had brought it back to Rhodes.
Before long, someone out in the courtyard called, "Come on, everybody! They're going into the bedchamber!"
"So soon?" someone else said.
"Would you wait, on your wedding day?" a third man asked. "By the gods, did you wait on your wedding day?" Raucous laughter rose.
Chewing on a tender little fried squid and carrying his winecup, Sostratos left the andron. Sure enough, Damonax had opened a door and was urging Erinna through. When she went inside, her new groom turned back to the feasters and grinned. "And now, my dears, I'll see you later," he told them. "Much later."
People laughed some more and cheered and clapped their hands. Damonax closed the door. The bar thudded into place inside. Along with everyone else, Sostratos began to sing the epithalamion. Presently, he heard the bedframe creaking through the words of the wedding song. As was proper at such times, he shouted obscene advice.
When he turned to go back to the andron for more wine, he almost bumped into his father. "I hope she's happy," he said.
Lysistratos' smile was wide and a little silly; he'd already drunk a good deal. "If she's not happy now, when will she be?" he said. Sostratos dipped his head in agreement; he certainly didn't want to spoil the day by speaking words of ill omen.
Behind him, somebody said, "Will he show the bloody cloth?"
"No, fool," someone else answered. "It's her second marriage, so that'd be hard to do unless her first husband was no man at all."
Inside the bedchamber, the creaking grew louder and quicker, then suddenly stopped. A moment later, Damonax called, "That's one!" out through the door. Everyone whooped and applauded. Before too long, the noise of lovemaking started again. A couple of people made bets about how many rounds he'd manage.
All the numbers they argued about struck Sostratos as improbably high. He looked around for Menedemos, to say as much. Of course, his cousin was as likely as not to boast that such numbers were too low, not too high. And Menedemos was as likely as anyone to make such a boast good.
But Menedemos didn't seem to be in the courtyard. Sostratos wandered into the andron looking for him. His cousin wasn't there, either. Shrugging, Sostratos dipped out more wine and picked up another squid with the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand. Maybe that creaking bed had inspired Menedemos to go looking for some fun of his own.
* * *
As Menedemos made his way up Rhodes' grid of streets, a ribbon on the garland he was wearing fell down in front of his face. It tickled his nose and made his eyes cross and reminded him he still had the garland on his head. He took it off and dropped it in a puddle.
His feet were muddy. He didn't care. Like any sailor, he went barefoot in all weather and never wore anything but a chiton. An older man with a big, thick wool himation wrapped around himself gave him an odd look as they passed each other on the street, as if to say, Aren't you freezing? Menedemos did feel the chill, but not enough to do anything about it.
He'd drunk enough wine at his cousin's wedding feast to want to get rid of it and paused to piss against the blank, whitewashed wall of a housefront. Then he hurried on. Daylight hours were short at this season of the year, while those of the nighttime stretched like tar on a hot day. He wouldn't have cared to be on the streets after sunset, not without the torch he'd carried in the wedding procession, and not without some friends along, too. Even in a peaceful, orderly polis like Rhodes, footpads prowled under cover of darkness.
He hoped Damonax would make a worthwhile addition to the family. He'd liked Erinna's first husband well enough, but the man had seemed old to him. That's because I wasn't much more than a youth myself when she was wed then, he realized in some surprise. Her first husband would have been about thirty, the same age as Damonax is now. Time did strange things. Half a dozen years had got behind him when he wasn't looking.
His father's house and Uncle Lysistratos' stood side by side, not far from the temple to Demeter at the north end of town. When he knocked on the door, one of the house slaves inside called, "Who is it?"
"Me--Menedemos."
The door opened almost at once. "Did the feast break up so soon, young master?" the slave asked in surprise. "We didn't expect you back for a while yet."
That almost certainly meant the slaves had grabbed the chance to sit around on their backsides and do as little as they could. Nothing was what slaves did whenever they got the chance. Menedemos answered, "I decided to come home a little early, that's all."
"You, sir? From a feast, sir?" The expression on the slave's face said everything that needed saying. "Where's your father, sir?"
"He's still back there," Menedemos said. The slave looked more astonished yet. Usually Menedemos' father was the one who came home early and he was the one who stayed out late.
He walked through the entry hall and into the courtyard. Angry shouts came from the kitchen. Menedemos sighed. His stepmother and Sikon the cook were wrangling again. Baukis, who wanted to be a good house-hold manager, was convinced Sikon spent too much. The cook was equally convinced she wanted him to pass the rest of his life fixing nothing but barley porridge and salted fish.
Baukis stalked out of the kitchen with a thoroughly grim expression on her face. It crumbled into surprise when she saw Menedemos. "Oh. Hail," she said, and then, as the slave had, "I didn't expect you home so soon."
"Hail," he replied, and shrugged. When he looked at her, he had trouble thinking of his father's second wife as his stepmother. Baukis was ten or eleven years younger than he. She wasn't a striking beauty, but she had a very nice shape: a much nicer one now than she'd had when she came into the house a couple of years before at the age of fourteen. Menedemos went on, "I didn't feel like staying around, so I came back by...

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