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As they went out to face their Great Adventure




Teodor Parnicki, Koniec Zgody Narodów


As they went out to face their Great Adventure, it seemed to them at first -- to Heliodoros and Dioneia -- no more than another ordinary business trip down the Great River, which they called the Oxos, and which the men who were to come many, many centuries later would call the Amu Daria.

That river was to the Greek kingdom in the heart of Asia like the Nile was to Egypt – with the significant difference being that to them – to Heliodoros and Dioneia – “traveling down the river” could never have meant traveling to its estuary; because more or less in that spot where the middle course of the Oxos became its lower course, the kingdom of the Greek Euthydemid family ended and another one began: the so-called Scythia, by which name the Greeks were inclined (and the more so the further they found themselves from the Oxos) to call all those vast spaces, mainly steppe, inhabited by numerous races, half-settled and half-nomad, and linguistically akin to the people of Iran which the Greeks then ruled.

Of those Scythian tribes, perhaps a dozen, or a dozen and a half, were united into super-tribal unions, and one of those unions, which called themselves the Massagetai, equipped itself with a significant navy and prevented any and all Greek ships from reaching the mouth of the Oxos.

Worse yet: this Massagetai navy staged, from time to time, piratical raids on those territories deemed to be “no man's land” and – what was worse, from time to time – those clearly remaining under Greek suzerainty and protection. And at such times, the broad waters of the Oxos became the site and witness of great battles, one of which (clearly the most important) was eventually commemorated by the stamping of a coin; a coin which was to survive ages upon ages upon ages; and which was destined to play a critical role in the Great Adventure of Heliodoros and Dioneia.

In the course of that battle, a Greek ship called “Meandria” played an especially prominent role. Some years later, it was renamed (on the orders of Great King Demetrios, son of Euthydemos) as “Harmony of All Nations in the Heart of Asia”. And, under this new name, it was destined to become (all those many years later) the main home of Heliodoros and Dioneia.

One should therefore not be surprised that it was their fate to face their Great Adventure on its deck. Indeed, it would have been strange if they had had to face their Great Adventure anywhere else since they felt at home on her deck more than anywhere else. And, after all, the true nature of any Great Adventure is that, in its course, a person is subjected to a test such as he is, and not as he seems to himself or to others.


Teodor Parnicki's historical novels often address issues of identity -- both personal and ethnic; as you would expect from a son of German citizens interned in Russia during World War I, who learned to speak Polish as a teenager, in Polish high school in Harbin, Manchuria. During World War II, already an established author, he found himself in Soviet Central Asia and the fruit of that sojourn was this book about Hellenistic Kingdoms in Bactria and India: a deeply subversive take on what it meant to be Greek in Central Asia and what it means to belong to a nation or to have a national identity.


This is a beautifully written thinking person's novel, with a political mystery at its center; and takes place on a mysteriously powerful Greek ship on the River Oxus ("The Harmony of Nations" of the title) in days immediately leading to a revolutionary change in ethnic policy about to be sprung on his Greek subjects by Demetrios, their king, from his distant war camp in North India.

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