Creation (novel)

Creation is an epic historical fiction novel by Gore Vidal which was published in 1981. In 2002, he published a restored version, adding four chapters that a previous editor had cut. He also added a brief 2002 foreword explaining what had happened to the book in its original version and why he restored the cut chapters.

Plot summary

The story follows the adventures of an imaginary "Cyrus Spitama", an Achaemenid Persian diplomat of the 5th century BC who travels the known world comparing the political and religious beliefs of various nation states of the time. Along the way he meets influential philosophical figures of his time, including Zoroaster, Socrates, the Buddha, Mahavira, Lao Tsu, and Confucius.

Cyrus, who is the grandson of Zoroaster and who survives his murder, grows up at the Achaemenid court as a quasi-noble, and becomes a close friend of his schoolmate Xerxes. Because of his talent with languages, Cyrus Spitama is sent by the King Darius as ambassador to India, but he is more interested in the many religious theories he encounters there than in establishing profitable trade relations for Darius. After his school friend Xerxes comes to power, the king sends Cyrus Spitama to China, where he spends several years as a captive and "honored guest" in one of the warring states of the Middle Kingdom, and spends a great deal of time with Confucius. Upon returning home, Cyrus witnesses the defeat of Xerxes and the end of the Greco-Persian wars. Cyrus then goes into retirement, but is called upon by the King Artaxerxes to serve as ambassador to Athens and witness to the secret peace treaty between Pericles and himself.

The story is related in the first person, as "recalled" to his Greek great-nephew Democritus. Cyrus says he wants to set the record straight after hearing what Herodotus had to say about the Greco-Persian wars.

Major themes

Vidal evokes a theme which Robert Graves had previously explored, a skepticism of the reported facts and interpretations of our understanding of History as reported by the winners of its battles. The story features a rather amusingly sarcastic treatment of the pretensions of the glory of Classical Golden Age of Athens. In the parts of the book that comment on history, Vidal makes obvious use of the Histories of Herodotus.

As noted in Vidal's own introduction, it can be considered a "crash course" in comparative religion, as during the story, the hero sits down with each of the religious/philosophical figures (apart from Socrates) and discusses their views.

Historical significance & criticism

In the story, Darius is portrayed as a usurper who murdered King Cambyses and stole the throne from the rightful heir, Prince Smerdis, in collusion with Queen Atossa. This revisionist viewpoint, whatever its merit, is not supported by historical facts according to several of Vidal's more passionate detractors. There is also a lot of speculation about the identity of the character in the court of Ch'in known only as Huan.

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