Eric Mesa's Reviews > Over the Wine-Dark Sea

Over the Wine-Dark Sea by H.N. Turteltaub
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bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read 2 times. Last read January 8, 2020 to February 20, 2020.

This is the second time I've read this book, the first time being nearly 20 years ago when it first came out. A few key bits had stuck with me, like Menedemos' womanizing and a battle at sea. But after 20 years, most of the details had faded, so it was almost like reading it anew.

As a history geek, I found it a lot of fun to read historical fiction that isn't set in one of the traditional time periods like Victorian England or Napolean's Reign. The two characters also make great foils for each other, impulsive Menedemos and his philosopher/wannabe-historian cousin Sostratos. While it's obviously a work of fiction, it was neat to see what things are the same about humans no matter how far back you go (haggling, superstitions, balancing desire with prudence) while other things are so different (how they viewed meals, technology, gender relations).

Perhaps obviously, since the main characters are sea traders and the majority of the book takes place during the trading season, it's structured almost as a series of episodes, each taking place in a new city. There isn't a truly overarching plot and it's both metaphorically and literally about the journey, not the destination(s). The biggest narrative momentum comes from Sostratos' character growth, but even that is relatively minimal.

Overall, I think it's a pretty fun read, particularly if you're interested in ancient Greece.
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Reading Progress

November 3, 2001 – Started Reading
December 31, 2001 – Finished Reading
May 6, 2011 – Shelved
November 7, 2014 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
January 8, 2020 – Started Reading
January 8, 2020 –
page 0
0.0% "Reading this book for the 1st time since 2002 (must have bought it to read on the flight home from college during my 1st year). Only 3 things that I remember about the plot:
- It involves 2 brothers who own a ship trading company
- There's lot of humor around the fact that a peahen looks so different from a peacock as to be a different bird
- There's a sex scene in which anal is presented as an ancient contraceptive."
January 8, 2020 –
page 9
1.88% "Looks like my memory was slightly off, it's two cousins, not two brothers"
January 9, 2020 –
page 17
3.54% "I've highlighted various passages in this book. I rarely did that in physical books, so it's a fun little bonus to see what I thought was worth highlighting back then."
January 9, 2020 –
page 34
7.08% "I'd love to be eating at this feast!"
January 14, 2020 –
page 94
19.58% "An encounter at sea and another haggling session"
January 16, 2020 –
page 105
21.88% "Finishing the haggling and off to the next port"
January 17, 2020 –
page 124
25.83% "A new port and a sacrifice to Posiedon"
January 23, 2020 –
page 163
33.96% "Escape from pirates"
January 24, 2020 –
page 202
42.08% "Finally arrived in Italy"
January 28, 2020 –
page 217
45.21% "Selling some peafowl to barbarians"
January 29, 2020 –
page 226
47.08% "A crazy symposium"
January 29, 2020 –
page 241
50.21% "selling silks to the slave master"
January 31, 2020 –
page 270
56.25% "Getting out in a hurry"
February 3, 2020 –
page 294
61.25% "A few more italian cities"
February 4, 2020 –
page 311
64.79% "Arriving in Pompeii"
February 5, 2020 –
page 326
67.92% "Leaving Pompeii"
February 7, 2020 –
page 366
76.25% "Grain for Syracuse"
February 7, 2020 –
page 379
78.96% "Headed home?"
February 14, 2020 –
page 412
85.83% "Heading back home and reunited with someone"
February 18, 2020 –
page 435
90.63% "Back home, but still a decent amount of pages left."
February 20, 2020 – Finished Reading

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