When Sweet Is Not Enough

As Annabel Lyon’s The Sweet Girl depicts, a respectable woman’s life in ancient Greece was very circumscribed. She had to be veiled and her name was not to be mentioned in public even if she was the daughter of Aristotle, the great philosopher and scientist. Pythias, or Pytho, as her family calls her, still leads an unusual life for a woman of that place and time. Her father involves her in his experiments and specimen-collecting, she can read and occasionally attends his famous symposiums.

Life is not easy for the family after the death of Alexander the Great (one of Aristotle’s former students) because they are Macedonians in xenophobic Athens. They move to a garrison town, where Aristotle soon dies and Pytho is left on her own until a distant older cousin is to come home from the wars to marry her in accordance with her father’s will.

Annabel Lyon obviously knows her stuff. The details of daily life in the ancient world are prolific while fitting seamlessly into the story. While we know very little of the historical Pytho, the story seems entirely plausible. You keep wondering how she’s going to survive, both physically and psychologically, without her family to protect her. Every option is worse than the last. At the end, she doesn’t exactly triumph, but she perseveres. If you’re looking for historical fiction outside of that of kings, queens and uprisings, this may be a good choice.

Chalcis, the ancient garrison town where Aristotle took his fatal swim. Courtesy Photothessolonika