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Thais of Athens (Russian: "Таис Афинская") is a Historical Fiction novel written by the Soviet paleontologist and SF writer Ivan Yefremov and set around the time of Alexander the Great's conquests. The eponymous heroine Thaïs is a famous Athenian hetaera, whom history remembers for burning the Achaemenid Persia's capital to the ground and later reigning as queen of Ptolemaic Egypt. The novel takes these facts and fills in the gaps and gray areas between and around them with invented characters and events that Thais encounters in her journey across the Ecumene. The result is both a compelling story and an epic panorama of life in the Hellenistic world during the late fourth century BCE.

Although the novel was first published in Russian in 1972, it was only recently translated to English, almost forty years later.

The novel provides examples of following works:

  • Ancient Egypt
  • Ancient Greece: The early chapters.
  • Asexual: Eris is this (except that one time with Aechephile).
  • Author Existence Failure: The rather abrupt ending of the novel (Thais and Eris disembark in Ouranopolis... cue the epilogue) becomes more understandable once you know that the author died the same year it was written.
  • Badass Army: Alexander's Macedonian army (trained by his late father) is unstoppable at the beginning of his conquest, but is worn out and largely ineffective by the time they reach Persepolis.
  • Brainy Brunette: Thais.
  • The Casanova: Ptolemy.
  • Celibate Hero: Alexander avoids women, following a disastrous First Love (crushed by his Evil Matriarch of a mom). Thais is the only other woman he has ever shown any romantic interest in.
  • Choosing Death: Cleophrades drinks poison after completing his Magnum Opus, judging himself too old to create anything greater.
  • Cool Horse: Bucephalus, but also any horse ridden by the Macedonians and Thessalonians. Likewise, Boanergos, the stallion presented to Thais by Ptolemy and Leontiscus. Salmaach is decisively uncool, on the other hand.
  • Dark Action Girl: Eris.
  • Dashed Plotline: Skips of one to three years take place between most chapters, culminating in a nine-year skip in the middle of the last chapter.
  • Dead Guy, Junior: In the novel, Thais names her and Ptolemy (historical) son Leontiscus after the (fictional) Thessalonian cavalryman Leontiscus, who was her long-time admirer and was KIA shortly before her son's birth.
  • Death by Disfigurement: Combat fitness is a very Serious Business for Spartans.
  • Designated Love Interest: Ptolemy for Thais. Kinda of a Foregone Conclusion if you know your history books.
  • Does Not Like Men: Hesione until she meets Nearchus. Eris, too.
  • Ethical Slut: Thais. Comes with being a priestess of Aphrodite (of sorts).
  • God Save Us From the Queen: Olympias is not depicted very favorably.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Thais is all over this trope.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Customary among the Greeks. In particular Menedem and Cleophrades die smiling. Eris lampshades this when she almost dies in Thais' arms after saving her from assassins.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: What drives Aeositeus to kill Aegesichore.
  • The Greatest History Never Told
  • Happiness in Slavery: Pretty much every slave Thais has is happy with their fate (except Za-Asht).
  • Heroic BSOD: Thais suffers this after the deaths of Aegesichore and Menedem, Alexander, and Roxanne and Alexander's son.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Thais and Eris. Men come and go but those two stick together.
  • High Class Call Girl: Thais and Aegesichore.
  • Historical Domain Character: Thais, Alexander, Ptolemy, Hephaestion, Nearchus, Cleitus, Aristotle, and Lysippos. Also, Thalestris... kinda.
  • Historical Fiction: While the novel is extremely faithful to history books (with one exception[1]), it has a number of clearly fictional plot lines, such as Thais' initiation in various ancient mysteries and her rocky romance with Alexander.
  • Historical In-Joke: 90% of the text.
  • Hot Amazon: Eris. Bonus points for cosplaying an actual amazon (alongside Thais) in Persepolis once.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Thais with pretty much every man she is with, but especially Menedem.
  • Identical Grandparent: Kinda. In the Cretan ruins of Matala, Thais discovers an ancient mosaic depicting a woman who looks exactly like herself.
  • Initiation Ceremony: Thais goes through the Orphean initiation, the Atargatis cult rituals, and the "kiss of the viper" ritual.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Ptolemy's relationship with Thais.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Thais, a queen, a faithful wife, and a mother of two by the end of the book, and Eris, a gloomy Dark Action Girl (who is untypically chaste--but only because she was fed up with sex even before she met Thais).
    • Which is an ironic reversal of Thais' darker and more aloof part in her duo with the classically heroic Power Blonde Aegesichore in the early chapters.
  • The Matchmaker: Thais seems to view it as her lifelong mission to set up everyone she meets with their personal soul mate. The only time she fails is with Eris.
  • Mary Suetopia: Invoked by Ouranpolis. Thais views Greece (particularly, Athens) as this but grows increasingly disillusioned with it throughout the book.
  • Mutual Kill: Aeositeus and Menedem. Technically, the former wasn't killed, only mostly paralyzed. However, as a Spartan, he requests others' to euthanize him rather than live with the injury.
  • Naked First Impression: Ptolemy's first meeting with Thais.
  • No Loves Intersect: For pretty much anyone in the book who isn't Thais.
  • No Name Given: The Delian Philosopher.
  • The Obi-Wan: The Delian Philosopher to Thais.
  • Power Blonde: Aegesichore.
  • The Promise: Ptolemy's promise to become a king and make Thais his queen in the first chapter.
  • Rape as Drama: Part of Hesione's Backstory.
  • Rescue Romance: Not quite this, but Thais and Menedem get a Relationship Upgrade after he saves her life in the temple of Sobek.
  • Second Love: Spans the whole novel as a motif. Let's see...
    • For Thais: Alexander, after Menedem (even though she ends up marrying Ptolemy).
    • For Alexander: Thais, after an unnamed slave he fell in love in his youth.
    • For Nearchus: Hesione, after Aegesichore.
    • For Aechephile: the lilitu priestesses, after Eris.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Nearchus and Hesione.
  • Super Soldier: Individually, the Spartans are the strongest fighters in the book.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Alexander is prone to it.
  • War Elephants: Seleucus gathers a whole unit of battle elephants while campaigning in India. It never sees much action in the novel, but Thais gets to ride one in Babylon.


  1. The author himself acknowledges that he pushed the creation of Venus de Milo two centuries earlier to be used in a discussion of Greek sculpture.
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