Some historical novelists wear their learning like academic robes: Vidal wears his like an invisible mantle, with grace and style, explaining and identifying with a simple appositive or parenthetical remark—in the manner of a historian who knows his readers' limitations but has no intention of catering to them.
It is a very long time since I read a book of more than five hundred pages with no awareness of its length, beyond a wish at the end that it was longer.
Herodotus’s books were named after the Muses, but in Vidal’s a parodic spiral of initiation takes place in which increase in knowledge and experience brings obfuscation and blindness rather than enlightenment.
Banquets, perorations and sanctimonious chat cannot entirely displace one’s craving for so much of what Mr. Vidal, speaking through Spitama, has ignored: a sense of place and the uneven texture of common humanity.
Gore Vidal and his protagonist are tremendous guides through the political and religious philosophies of the 5th Century BC, and the storytelling and scholarship have little business being as engrossing as they are.— Brian Flanagan