The Double Tongue
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The Double Tongue is William Golding's last and perhaps most superbly imaginative novel. It is a fictional memoir of an aged prophetess at Delphi, the most sacred oracle of ancient Greece, just prior to Greece's domination by the Roman Empire. As a young girl, Arieka is ugly, unconventional, a source of great shame to her uppity parents, who fear they'll never marry her off. But she is saved by Ionides, the High Priest of the Delphic temple, who detects something of a seer (and a friend) in her and whisks her off to the shrine to become the Pythia - the earthly voice of the god Apollo. Arieka has now spent a lifetime at the mercy of a god, a priest, and her devotees, and has witnessed firsthand the decay of Delphi's fortunes and its influence in the world. Her reflections on the mysteries of the oracle, which her own weird gifts embody, are matched by her feminine insight into the human frailties of the High Priest himself, a true Athenian with a wicked sense of humor, whose intriguing against the Romans brings about humiliation and disaster. This extraordinary short novel, left in draft at the author's death in 1993, is a psychological and historical triumph. Golding has created a vivid and comic picture of ancient Greek society as well as an absolutely convincing portrait of a woman's experience, something rare in the Golding oeuvre. Arieka the Pythia is one of his finest creations.
Left in draft at the author's death in 1993, this extraordinary short novel is a psychological and historical triumph. An aged prophetess at Delphi, the most sacred oracle in ancient Greece, looks back over her strange life as the Pythia, the voice of the god Apollo. Golding was the author of Lord of the Flies, and a Nobel Laureate.
inspired by the muse – by Apollo – by the god? Of course you do, like everyone else. Yet they – people, I mean – expect the god to reply to a question, “Look in the back cupboard, dear, on the left-hand side.” Of course that’s not the voice of god! In the old days, when Hellas was great, the replies to questions came in hexameters, poetry, elevated speech, because the questions were elevated ones. “How shall we defend the gods of Hellas against their enemies?” Or “Since we cannot truckle to the
–’ ‘Aren’t you a Greek?’ ‘Can’t you tell from the way I speak? I’m a Phoenician. No, you Greeks can be brave, but mostly when fighting each other.’ Aristomachus flushed red. Perhaps it was his name coming out. ‘I’m not sure that your opinion is as welcome as you are!’ It was my turn. ‘But tell us about the Romans. We see so few of them here and they come as suppliants of course. Why are they so good at fighting?’ ‘Nobody knows‚’ said the Corinthian. ‘For some reason they learnt in the dawn
grief when my brother Demetrios went away for the second time. I don’t know whether I was a scrawny little girl before he went away but I am very sure I was soon afterwards. My face has always been uneven, the one side not properly balanced by the other. Generally people say that girls of my kind are redeemed by animation or a pair of beautiful eyes, but I wasn’t. Leptides, the son and heir of the smaller estate which marched with ours, was just as scrawny, but seeing that he was a boy it didn’t
children. It was the Corinthian who rescued me. He stood up and came across and led me into the atrium and handed me over to his house dame who showed me where to sleep. The next morning was chilly but clear. All the hills of Aetolia across the water were white. Our small party assembled. The Propraetor did not go with us to the ferry, leaving that duty to the Corinthian. He said goodbye to us in the atrium. It was by no means a friendly parting. To me he simply said, ‘Goodbye, Lady. A safe
of some girl to select as a possible Second Lady, for, as I said to Ion, I was not going to live for ever. ‘Dear Lady! Will not the oracle look after itself?’ ‘I wish I could be sure of that.’ ‘If you are not, who is?’ ‘You of course!’ Ion gave me a long, critical look. In the end we repaired the roof of the Pythion properly and left the sodden corner of the bookroom, which had been the librarium, remain ‘a temporary solution’. It did mean that the whole great room was colder and Perseus