Meet Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of Zoroaster and close friend of the ruthless king of Persia, Xerxes I. Nevermind the historical inaccuracy of that sMeet Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of Zoroaster and close friend of the ruthless king of Persia, Xerxes I. Nevermind the historical inaccuracy of that single relation (for Zoroaster lived more than a millennium prior to Xerxes)- the rest of the novel doesn't have any, as far as I can tell. Seeing as the rest of the book is as historically accurate as Herodotus was biased, surely this accident was intended by Gore Vidal for reasons I'm not entirely aware. Rest assured, the story is set in the golden age of the Greek-Persian wars, a period when Greek philosophy and four of the world's most influential religions were revolutionizing thought.
Cyrus is a witty priest of the only monotheistic religion of the east at the time. He's at his most clever when taking shots at the Greeks, whom a large part of the story revolves around. In fact, his whole narration is being recorded by Democritus, who is arguably the most famous of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and the first to propose an atomic theory for the creation of the universe. And that's where Creation starts: as a sort of interplay between the scientific interpretation of beginnings and the religious one. It also provides a fresh perspective of 5th century BC history because it is seen from the eyes of a Persian rather than a Greek. Let's face it, Greek civilization has been glamorized by historical writers to no end, just like the Shakespearean era in literature. Vidal must have been weary of all the Greek ass-kissing that western civilization has done. His motivation was clearly to put a spin on Herodotus' nationalist buggery by entering the mind of an intellectual Persian who has nothing but disdain for Greek life, and it worked wonderfully well.
Other civilizations are visited by Cyrus, as he's appointed emissary of trade for the Persian empire, but really ends up as an archivist for creation theories. His fate is linked to the pioneers of religious thought in an almost magical way; throughout the book he's always finding himself in situations that give him the opportunity to discuss matters of creation with the wisest of sages. One civilization he visits is India, where he meets Mahavira, an influential Jain, and Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. Another place he is sent to is Cathay (ancient word for China), where he discusses the origins of creation with the founders of Taoism and Confucianism: Lao Tzu and Confucius, respectively. These discussions are in my eyes the strongest parts of the book, and the most memorable. Cyrus' inquisitive nature always makes it a challenge for sages firmly set in their teachings, but they all seem to enjoy his company and his mutual interest in the causation of things.
If creationism doesn't interest you, at least consider reading this for its entertaining anecdotes on political savagery. Most of the book details all the hideous maneuverings of those seeking power in these civilizations, which by no means makes them weaker parts. Amusingly, the book reads like the madness of the Julio-Claudian dynasty at times (I Claudius is the book to read for those goodies). For that reason, bloodthirsty Game of Thrones fans might enjoy it as much as lofty professors in comparative religion. Pericles, Cyrus the Great, and especially Darius are all given fair treatment here, as well as all the barons and nobles of India and Cathay that I've failed to recall....more