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The Isle of Stone: A Novel of Ancient Sparta

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With vivid prose and unswerving attention to historical detail, the author of Empire of Ashes spins a tale of two brothers who rise through Spartan society and meet their fate--surrounded by the Athenian navy on the barren island of Sphacteria. Original.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Nicholas Nicastro

14 books29 followers
Nicholas Nicastro was born in Astoria, New York in 1963. His education includes a B.A. in English from Cornell University (1985), an M.F.A. in filmmaking from New York University (1991), an M.A. in archaeology and a Ph.D in psychology from Cornell (1996 and 2003). He has also worked as a film critic, a hospital orderly, a newspaper reporter, a library archivist, a college lecturer in anthropology and psychology, an animal behaviorist, and an advertising salesman. His writings include short fiction, travel and science articles in such publications as "The New York Times", "The New York Observer", "Film Comment", and "The International Herald Tribune". His books have been published by Penguin, St. Martin's, and HarperCollins.

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5 stars
44 (15%)
4 stars
97 (33%)
3 stars
93 (32%)
2 stars
36 (12%)
1 star
16 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Overhaul.
217 reviews525 followers
February 4, 2022
Año 425 a.C.

¡Esparta! Leyenda entre las ciudades griegas, la primera entre iguales. ¡Vuelve con tu escudo, o sobre él!, les gritaban las mujeres espartanas a sus hombres al partir a la guerra. Y los hombres obedecían, las líneas de guerreros orgullosos, el muro de escudos entrelazados, las afiladas lanzas de cara al enemigo. Un enemigo que, la mayoría de las veces, huía aterrado al primer vistazo de las imponentes filas espartanas. Así había ocurrido batalla tras batalla hasta ahora, hasta Esfacteria. Ésta es la historia de la primera rendición de los espartanos. Del día en que entregaron las armas al enemigo y cambiaron su honor por su vida. Del día en que, en definitiva, dejaron de ser más que humanos y se convirtieron en simples hombres. Resulta difícil entender una sociedad tan dura como la de Esparta, donde el honor lo suponía todo y la guerra era el fin último.

Esta historia trata sobre dos hermanos y por si fuera poco, hermanos espartanos, sus nombres Antálcidas y Epitadas. Desde su nacimiento a su juventud y educación, donde el primero se gana el apodo de "Piedra", ya que demuestra ser un maestro en lanzarlas con precisión. En la famosa guerra del Peloponeso, estos hermanos sirven juntos en la isla Sphacteria, sobreviven a su bloqueo y su asedio, y finalmente se rinden a los atenienses con sus hombres. Esto fue algo inaudito para los espartanos. Después de que los espartanos regresan a casa, son rechazados como cobardes. Un hermano se distingue en una batalla posterior en la guerra y es elogiado por toda Esparta. Un libro ameno, de lectura ágil con apenas 255 páginas.

Libro interesante, ya que hace referencia a uno de los capítulos más oscuros de la historia griega, y describe un evento poco conocido por muchos. El autor sin duda ha realizado una profunda investigación, logrando así esbozar de manera muy efectiva la vida de la gente de esa época, especialmente la sociedad de Esparta. Sin embargo, su narrativa flojea en ciertos puntos, haciendo que la historia no se desarrolle de manera totalmente interesante como podría haber sido, y otras veces la escritura es elaborada de más.

Tenemos también algo de esa historia oscura que envuelve a Esparta en el trato hacia los recién nacidos con problemas y deformaciones, se desacian de ellos de manera muy cruel, aquí tenemos un cacho de los pensamientos de un niño, Molobrus, rechazado por el Ephorate y arrojado sin contemplaciones al abismo, estos pensamientos tienen lugar momentos antes de su muerte, fue conmovedor y aterrador.

Gran parte de la acción se presentó desde el lado ateniense en su Asamblea, en Pylos y a bordo de un barco ateniense que bloqueaba Sphacteria. El enfrentamiento final entre atenienses y espartanos estuvo bien hecho. El intercambio sobre la política ateniense entre algunos de los remeros del trirreme ateniense fue una parte entretenida y divertida de leer.

Lo que más me falló fue la presentación de la batalla, no tiene apenas ninguna nitidez a la hora de describir, como podemos encontrar en otros autores. En conclusión, vale la pena leerlo principalmente por todos los hechos históricos narrados por el autor y no tanto por la historia en sí y su trama. Quizás el caracter instructico del libro prima un pelícano demasiado sobre lo literario, algo que para mi como lector en este caso, lo ha convertido en algo menos adictivo de lo que podría haber sido. La acción saltaba de un lado a otro en el tiempo y los escenarios. En cuanto a algunas referencias sobre tiempos modernos, podrían haberse omitido sin ocasionar pérdida alguna para la historia.

A sido un 80% si y un 20% no. Valoro lo que hay como lo que personalmente me falló. Del autor he de decir que le noté potencial. Ahí os lo dejo a vuestra elección.. Pito pito gorgorito... 👈🤔..😈
Profile Image for Justo Martiañez.
342 reviews126 followers
December 11, 2022
3.5/5 Estrellas

Es verdaderamente notable como, la leyenda militar de Esparta y su papel en las decisivas victorias que alejaron el miedo a la invasión persa de Europa en el siglo V a.c., ha ocultado o ha invisibilizado en el imaginario occidental, la brutalidad que el estado Lacedemonio aplicaba en todos y cada unos de los estratos y clases de su sociedad.

El siglo V a.c. supone la cúspide del éxito espartano en el mundo griego, tras las victorias en la guerras médicas y su agónica victoria en la guerra del Peloponeso.

Sin embargo, en este siglo de victorias y éxitos, también se fue gestando la no tan lejana debacle que acechaba a los espartanos en el siglo IV a.c.

El libro empieza con una de estas semillas del desastre, el terremoto que asoló el Peloponeso y que tuvo su epicentro en Esparta en el 464 a.c, que destruyo las aldeas que conformaban esta ciudad-estado y alentó la rebelión de ilotas mesenios y laconios que se atrincheraron en el monte Itome, así como la muerte de miles de personas de todas las clases sociales.

La rígida estructura social espartana y las tremebundas condiciones requeridas para alcanzar la condición de espartiata (ciudadano), de pleno derecho, junto con la continua sangría de muertes en las múltiples guerras que la ciudad mantuvo a lo largo del siglo V por todo el mundo griego, constituyeron la segunda semilla que llevaba a su destrucción: en sus mejores momentos la ciudad contó con 8000 ciudadanos-soldado. La élite militar, los mejores, pero muy pocos. Este número fue disminuyendo drásticamente a lo largo del siglo.

El halo de invencibilidad y su jactancia de no rendirse jamás, ayudaba a los espartanos a vencer muchas batallas, antes incluso de empezarlas. Todos los soldados de la Hélade les tenían pánico.

Hubo un episodio clave en el transcurso de la guerra del Peloponeso, que contribuyó a acabar con este mito y que hizo mucho daño a los espartanos. En el 425 a.c.. en el curso de una acción ateniense en Mesenia, cerca de la antigua Pilos, un importante contingente espartano, se vio aislado y bloqueado en la inhóspita isla de Esfacteria. Entre los soldados espartanos bloqueados, se encontraban varios centenares de ciudadanos espartiatas, los que nunca se rendían. Tras varios meses de bloqueo, negociaciones infructuosas (los espartanos se resistían a perder un número tan importante de su insustituible élite militar), los demagogos atenienses y los inflexibles espartanos no pudieron llegar a un acuerdo.

Finalmente los atenienses, que dominaban el mar y bloqueaban el aprovisionamiento en la isla y la posible ayuda espartana desde tierra, pero que temían las tormentas al acercarse el invierno, se decidieron a atacar, pese al temor que les inspiraba un enfrentamiento en tierra con los locos lacedemonios.....y lo que nunca había ocurrido pasó: casi doscientos espartanos, espartiatas, se rindieron. Nadie se lo creía, ni los atenienses, ni los propios espartanos, que se apresuraron a privar de la ciudadanía a estos hombres, que fueron llevados a Atenas como un tesoro nunca visto.

El libro se entra en este episodio de Esfacteria, presentándonos los distintos aspectos de esta sociedad tan peculiar y tan brutal. Nos cuenta algunos aspectos de la vida de los niños y de las mujeres que son muy interesantes. Desarrolla personajes que participan en estos episodios históricos y nos permiten descubrir esta sociedad desde dentro y que no me han parecido especialmente brillantes. Si tengo que escoger, me quedo con las mujeres: Damatria y Andreia. El papel dicotómico de la mujer en esta sociedad, como víctima y como parte fundamental en la transmisión y mantenimiento de la estructura social y la ideología es muy importante.

Lo que menos me ha gustado es la narrativa, creo que es bastante mejorable y no te acaba de enganchar. La descripción de los distintos episodios de los sucesos de Esfacteria son confusos por momentos, faltan mapas, esquemas que es algo sencillo de incluir y que facilitan la comprensión de los hechos. Me fastidia bastante estar continuamente acudiendo a internet para recabar información.

La parte que hace referencia a la guerra naval y a la vida, combate y maniobras de las trirremes, muy bien. Aunque tiene poca cabida en esta obra.

Creo que una nota de 3.5 estrellas es justa. No es una novela histórica brillante, pero cumple. Eso si, si la comparas con El Espartano, que tiene una estructura similar, no le llega a la suela del zapato.
Profile Image for Jane.
1,495 reviews169 followers
September 11, 2015
On the whole, I enjoyed this novel, despite what I consider flaws. The last sentence is a zinger!

The story concerns two Spartan brothers, Antalcidas and Epitadas, their births and education in the Rearing [agoge] where the former earns the nickname "Stone", as he shows himself to be a past master at throwing them accurately. In the Peloponnesian War, the brothers serve together on the Island of Sphacteria, survive its blockade and siege, finally surrendering to the Athenians with their men. This is unheard of for Spartans! After Spartans return home, they are shunned as "tremblers", or cowards. One brother distinguishes himself at a later battle in the war and is lauded by his city.

I felt the author was not completely sure whether he was writing a straight historical novel, a comedy [because of humorous remarks and incidents ranging from the silly to the sardonic], a melodrama, or, since most of these Spartans are pictured as caricatures: a satire. I caught all four genres at one time or another. Spartans were presented as mostly negative stereotypes, giving an insight into the stereotypical ultra-macho view of the Spartan mindset.

Antalcidas, the protagonist, and his cultured helot servant Doulos [the word is Greek for servant] are developed more than any of the others, who are exaggerated "types". Most unusually, helot and master develop a real friendship. The action skipped back and forth in time and location; the references to modern times could have been left out with no loss to the novel. Much of the action was presented from the Athenian side: in their Assembly, on Pylos, and aboard an Athenian ship blockading Sphacteria. The final face-off between Athenians and Spartans was well done. The interchange on Athenian politics among some of the oarsmen on the Athenian trireme "Terror" was hilarious. The thoughts of the premature cyanotic baby, Molobrus, rejected by the Ephorate and thrown unceremoniously into a chasm, right before his death, was moving. A small thing and not that I know much Greek, but the message that Zeuxippus sent to Antalcidas from his wife, besides lack of accent mark in Antalcidas's name as mentioned by another reviewer, the sentence seemed to lack the Greek word for "son" after the article, unless ancient Greek would have implied the word. The author could easily have left out the reference to masturbation in little boys, Antalcidas's relationship with his mentor as eromenos, and other crudeness.

Recommended with reservations.
Profile Image for Bibliovoracious.
339 reviews27 followers
February 1, 2019
I loved the fierce mother right out of the violent gate, but she shows her limitations later.

Her two boys, with different fathers, natures, and opportunities, navigate Spartan life and politics from infancy to adulthood, both arriving as soldiers at the battle of Sphacteria.

This is perhaps the most detailed and vivid illustration of Sparta's layers of social and political structure I've read, clearly a result of exacting research. I definitely like to get educated in the form of a story.
Profile Image for Jim.
1,088 reviews64 followers
January 3, 2020
An excellent historical novel set in the time of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece. The story focuses on two brothers who are part of a Spartan force which becomes trapped on the island of Sphacteria by the Athenian Navy. The story centers on the siege, as the Spartans prepare to make their last stand. Spartans would never surrender, would they??
Profile Image for Sharon.
Author 38 books371 followers
September 2, 2009
Entertaining book about the siege of Sphacteria, which takes place approximately 50 years after Thermopylae.

The book focuses on two brothers, Epitadas and Antalcidas, who are rivals from childhood (in no small part due to their conniving mother's machinations). The two grow up in the way of Spartiate men, experiencing the difficulties of the agoge, war, etc., and eventually are in a garrison on the island of Sphacteria when the Athenians decide to lay siege.

The historical research in this book is first-rate, and Nicastro has brought both the Spartan and Athenian cultures to life with his documentation and descriptions.

Fans of Steven Pressfield's "Gates of Fire" are sure to enjoy "The Isle of Stone."
Profile Image for Juliew..
199 reviews143 followers
July 26, 2016
I enjoyed this story of two brothers in ancient Sparta.One brother is more highly favored than the other and it was rather interesting to see how the spoiled brother would turn out.I loved the details in this such as the festivals and the young brothers going through the so called rearing.I also liked the twist in the end, just when you thought things might not turn out, Spartan honor saves the day or I guess I should say book.
Profile Image for kostas  vamvoukakis.
420 reviews12 followers
February 15, 2019
ο εκπαιδευτικος χαρακτηρας του βιβλιου υπερισχυει του λογοτεχνικου κατι που για μενα το κανει βαρετο δυστηχως...δεν ειναι κακο αλλα μεχρι εκει
393 reviews8 followers
January 15, 2023
3,5 estrellas. Aunque hay ratos que me he aburrido con esta novela, debo de confesar que también he aprendido parte de la historia que ignoraba.
La conclusión que he sacado es: qué dura era la vida de un espartiata.
Profile Image for AID∴N.
78 reviews11 followers
March 2, 2017
The Battle of Sphacteria serves as as the perfect counterpoint to the oft-mythologized battle of Thermopylae.

I appreciate Nicastro's even-handed take on the Spartans. He doesn't effusively gush about the glories of ancient Sparta à la Pressfield (Gates of Fire) but he is not entirely unsympathetic to them either.

Antalcidas, our main character, whose secret history as the son of a helot (a kind of slave), introduces a welcome measure of ambiguity to the story. He is secretly suspicious and critical of Spartan bigotry, while at the same time desperate-for and always seeking the approval of his peers. As much as anything, the novel is his tragedy.

Whereas in other works, both ancient and modern, Spartans are portrayed as almost superhuman paragons of military virtue and devotion, Nicastro peels back the layers of myth and portrays the Spartans for what they so-often were: arrogant, unimaginative, stunted by conservatism and crippled by tradition. The virtues that led them to Thermopylae become the same defects that led them to the embarrassment at Sphacteria.

Nicastro tells the story well. He keeps the lens of the story focused tightly on the main events, only hinting at the other battles of the Peloponnesian War and he manages to imbue even minor characters with memorable personalities. A worthwhile bit of historical fiction that balances a subject that is too often the topic of mere panegyric.
120 reviews3 followers
December 19, 2007
Unfortunately I don't think Nicastro really presents us with anything new. If he does, it is in the interactions between Spartans and helots, which are largely undocumented and, where examples exist, bias casts a strong shadow. The affection bewteen Antalcidas and Doulos was nice, as well as the moral issues presented when the Messenians tried to liberate some of their fellow countrymen on the island, mistakenly killing them in the process. My real gripe with Nicastro is that he didn't show us anything we didn't already know. I suppose, for someone not as well-versed in Greek history, this would be an exciting story with a suspenseful ending. However, I suppose I expected a bit more: more insight into the character of Epitadas and Antalcidas; more politics perhaps, or maybe just a more focused story that didn't seem to jump forward and back in time. It is confusing when, in Book II, we jump forward 30 years, to introduce the setting of Sphacteria, before coming back to the Rearing. The confusing sense of time and the lack of depth made this book stand out as an example of lackluster historical fiction. Also, the details of the earthquake's immediate aftermath, as well as some discussion of the future would have been welcome. Nicastro takes a great story and retells it, just not well enough for my taste. Gates of Fire is a far superior book about the Spartan Rearing and their view on war.
Profile Image for Charlie.
69 reviews
September 1, 2013
More interesting in the first half than the second- about the structure of Spartan life, the phases and rituals of growing from childhood to full male maturity.The build up to the climactic battle is rather boring as is the battle itself.However the strict, harsh life of men is detailed vividly.Expectations of women's roles are visited but less thoroughly. Much emphasis on a class society with helots, slaves, at the bottom rung used as sport for hunting, sexual exploitation, fair game.An entertaining read.
Profile Image for sarah.
21 reviews
April 4, 2007
Vaguely historical fiction about ancient Sparta. Set about 50 years after _The 300_, the events of which it references. Fascinating info about growing up/living in Sparta. No idea if it's historically accurate, but it sounds good...
Profile Image for Read a Book.
446 reviews18 followers
March 7, 2015
Historical fiction with frequent asides to the modern day - the writing often gets sidetracked on this vein.
Profile Image for Matt Hasquin.
46 reviews1 follower
September 8, 2017
Mundane. Uninteresting in long stretches. Difficult to like the characters. Harmless and easily forgotten.
Profile Image for Kirk Macleod.
148 reviews
June 19, 2017
Nicolas Nicastro's 2005 novel The Isle of Stone takes a look at Spartan Society nearly sixty years after the battle of Thermopylae, specifically during the battle of Sphacteria (325 BCE). The novel focuses on two Spartan warriors, Antalcidas and Epitadas, brothers who were raised in two very different, but traditional Spartan styes.

Much like John Gardiner's The Wreckage of Agathon, The Isle of Stone looks at the Spartan Empire with a jaundiced eye. The empire is portrayed as brutal, and neither brother is drawn in a particularly heroic way. What I really liked about the novel was the character of the warrior's mother and her rationalization for why she helps one brother and hurts the other. The ethics of the Spartans, as described by Nicastro, definitely leave a lot to be desired.

The majority of the action of the story takes place with an army of Spartans under siege on a barren island surrounded by the Athenian navy. The story moves quickly and although I didn't like it as much as Nicastro's other work on the list (Antigone's Wake - which I LOVED!), it does work to give an unflinching look at a culture often celebrated in our modern day.
156 reviews20 followers
October 4, 2015
Σίγουρα ένα ενδιαφέρον βιβλίο, από τη στιγμή που αναφέρεται σε μια από τις πιο μαύρες σελίδες της ελληνικής ιστορίας, και περιγράφει ένα γεγονός όχι ιδιαίτερα γνωστό στο ευρύ κοινό. Ο συγγραφέας έχει κάνει έρευνα σε βάθος, και καταφέρνει να σκιαγραφήσει με μεγάλη αποτελεσματικότητα την ζωή των ανθρώπων εκείνης της εποχής, ειδικά δε την κοινωνία της Σπάρτης. Ωστόσο, η διήγησή του παρουσιάζει σε πολλά σημεία κοιλιά, ενώ και η ιστορία δεν εξελίσσεται τόσο ενδιαφέρουσα, και πολλές φορές η γραφή είναι λίγο διεκπεραιωτική. Ομοίως και η παρουσίαση της μάχης δεν διαθέτει τη σφρυγηλότητα αντίστοιχων περιγραφών άλλων συγγραφέων (π.χ. Πρέσφιλντ). Εν κατακλείδι, σαν ανάγνωση αξίζει κυρίως για τα ιστορικά γεγονότα που αφηγείται ο συγγραφέας και όχι τόσο για την ίδια την ιστορία και την πλοκή της. (5/10)
Profile Image for Jan.
677 reviews15 followers
January 7, 2015
The story of two half brothers who grow up on Sparta. Life of a warrior. They grow up hating each other, go to war, they die!
Profile Image for Charles Franklin.
319 reviews16 followers
August 9, 2017
This was actually a good book that showed more of what life was like in Sparta during the Peloponnesian war. It was gritty, very detailed from historical point of view, and had an ending that I did not expect but felt like the end of a epic movie. I like the fact that Nicastro is able to weave the classic tale of two brothers trying to do the right thing for their country within the confines of Spartan culture.

Highly recommended if you like reading about Sparta. I learned a little bit more about Spartan culture.
May 24, 2019
Not my usual read

I truly enjoyed this book and its mastery of making history come alive. I normally don't read books of this nature but will now seek them out after reading this novel.
110 reviews4 followers
February 18, 2021
The book was not without merit. There are some passages that are well written and even quite moving. Unfortunately, overall it's a mess, unfocused and muddled. I kept reading in the hope of some revelation, but all I got was a massive anticlimax.
Profile Image for George.
302 reviews
December 27, 2020
I always enjoy reading stories about this historical era but I think the writer should have tried to excite more people than the average genre readers.
Profile Image for T J.
421 reviews4 followers
March 6, 2017
This was one my book challenge and it had great potential to be a good read. Book on the wars of Spartans and Greeks but it fell flat, so flat I could even finish it.
Profile Image for R..
1,270 reviews42 followers
October 24, 2014
Not the best book that I have ever read but it was passingly good. It takes place during an important battle of the Peloponnesian War in 425 B.C. in which the Athenian Navy had succeeded in isolating several hundred Spartan Warriors on the Island of Sphacteria and they were starving them out while the Spartan Army desperately sought to resupply them or rescue them. How did it turn out? The book is pretty historically accurate, so start reading and find out.
Profile Image for Monique Mihalitsianos.
Author 1 book9 followers
February 20, 2020
I loved this book up until the ending, which was gut-wrenching. I just can't accept the injustice that Antálcidas--a hero and the most noble Spartan of all--went through at the end, and the subsequent loss of love he suffered from his family and everybody else. It just seemed so sad and unfair.

This book is well-researched and well-written and arguably conveys the Spartan essence very well, but the hero of the story deserved a better treatment than this.

I'm sad about it. Even cried a bit.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

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