Golden Mean (Lyon)



Summary  |  Author  |  Book Reviews  |  Discussion Questions


The Golden Mean
Annabel Lyon, 2009
Knopf Doubleday
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307593993

In Brief  
A startlingly original first novel by “this generation’s answer to Alice Munro” (Vancouver Sun)—a bold reimagining of one of history’s most intriguing relationships: between legendary philosopher Aristotle and his most famous pupil, the young Alexander the Great.

342 B.C.: Aristotle is reluctant to set aside his own ambitions in order to tutor Alexander, the rebellious son of his boyhood friend Philip of Macedon. But the philosopher soon comes to realize that teaching this charming, surprising, sometimes horrifying teenager—heir to the Macedonian throne, forced onto the battlefield before his time—is a desperate necessity amid the ever more sinister intrigues of Philip’s court.

Told in the brilliantly rendered voice of Aristotle—keenly intelligent, often darkly funny—The Golden Mean brings ancient Greece to vivid life via the story of this remarkable friendship between two towering figures, innovator and conqueror, whose views of the world still resonate today.  (From the publisher.)

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About the Author 

Birth—1971
Where—Canada
Education—B.A., Simon Fraser University; M.F.A., University
   of British Columbia
Awards—The Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize (Canada)
Currently—lives in New Westminster, British Columbia,    Canada


Annabel Lyon is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at Simon Fraser University and an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.

Her first book, the short-story collection Oxygen, was nominated for the Danuta Gleed and ReLit awards. Her second collection of three novellas, The Best Thing for You, was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction. (From the publisher.)

The Golden Mean (2009) holds the distinction of being the only book nominated that year for all three of Canada's major fiction prizes: the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award for English language fiction and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Of the three, she won the Rogers Prize. Lyon lives in New Westminster, B.C., Canada, with her husband and two children. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

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Critics Say . . . 
(The book was first released in Canada; the reveiws below are from Canadanian sources.)

Historical fiction at its best.... Lyon authoritatively evokes a fabled time and place in the urbane voice of the man judged the smartest of his age.
Montreal Gazette


Lyon [has] established herself as this generation's answer to Alice Munro. A master of wordplay and storytelling, Lyon takes readers deep into the hearts and secret desires of her characters.
Vancouver Sun (1)


A taut, polished novel that will hold your attention from start to finish. It is at times funny, thought-provoking, sensual and suspenseful.
Vancouver Sun  (2)


It must be said that while this Aristotle (history has and will record others) is an unpleasant man, he is also extremely believable. The Golden Mean is a crisply written, painstakingly researched book, and Lyon ably inhabits “the greatest mind of all time” — hardly a mean feat. This, then, is a virtuous work, though fibrous, fat-free and rarely what you'd call fun. But that is probably exactly as Aristotle would have wanted it.
Globe and Mail


Annabel Lyon’s Aristotle is the most fully realized historical character in contemporary fiction. The Golden Mean engenders in the reader the same helpless sensitivity to the ferocious beauty of the world that is Aristotle’s disease. In this alarmingly confident and transporting debut novel, Lyon offers us that rarest of treats: a book about philosophy, about the power of ideas, that chortles and sings like an earthy romance.
Jury - Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, 2009

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Book Club Discussion Questions 

1. What do you believe is the significance of Pythias’ note to Aristotle their first night in Pella, “warm, dry” (p. 12)? What does it reveal about Pythias’ nature and her relationship with Aristotle?

2. At their first meeting, Alexander accuses Aristotle of using Arrhidaeus as another “laurel leaf,” as proof that Aristotle is a great teacher. Is there truth in Alexander’s words? What do you believe are the motives behind Aristotle’s interest in Alexander’s brother?

3. How do Aristotle’s relationships with the two brothers and their father, Philip, influence one another? How do they rank in Aristotle’s affections?

4. Although they enjoy a relationship of love and respect, Alexander and Aristotle maintain their roles of ruler and subject. In one instance, however, Alexander breaks the rules that govern that relationship to visit Aristotle and Pythias at their home, even staying the night. What accounts for his visit? What might motivate his keen interest in Pythias?

5. Aristotle describes Alexander’s relationship with Olympias, his mother, as having a “grotesque intimacy.” Why do you believe Aristotle would characterize their relationship in this way? How might he describe Alexander’s relationship with his father? How do Alexander’s relationships with his parents influence him?

6. Contrast Aristotle’s relationships with Pythias and Herpyllis and the ways in which he recounts those relationships. In what ways, if any, do these relationships contribute to Aristotle’s life as a teacher, philosopher, husband and father?

7. What is the “golden mean”? In what ways does Aristotle embody that idea? In what ways is he a contradiction?

8. Aristotle’s cool, rational, and almost unfeeling character contrasts sharply with Alexander’s passionate one. To temper his student, and to lead Alexander to the happiness that seems to elude him, Aristotle works to convince Alexander of the idea of the “golden mean.” Alexander rejects the idea and accuses Aristotle of prizing mediocrity. In the end, who do you believe wins the argument, student or teacher?

9. Describe the effects of the battlefield on a young Alexander, what is referred to as “soldier’s heart.” What do you believe accounts for Alexander’s propensity to suffer from it?

10. What are your impressions of Lyon’s choice for her characters to use the vernacular, specifically contemporary profanity? Discuss what might have motivated that decision and why.

11. A review of The Golden Mean enthused that, “in Lyon’s clever hands, more than two thousand years of difference are made to disappear and Aristotle feels as real and accessible as the man next door.” Do you agree? Why or why not.
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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