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The Double Tongue

Golding's final novel, left in draft at his death, tells the story of a priestess of Apollo. Arieka is one of the last to prophesy at Delphi, in the shadowy years when the Romans were securing their grip on the tribes and cities of Greece. The plain, unloved daughter of a local grandee, she is rescued from the contempt and neglect of her family by her Delphic role. Her attitude to the god and her belief in him, ambiguous in expression and conviction, seem to move in parallel to the decline of the god himself - but as always in Golding's novels things are more complex than they appear. Golding's portrayal of his female narrator -- downtrodden, bullied, unadmired and yet independent -- shows him embarking, at the end of his life, on a new imaginative realization, set nevertheless in the context of his lifelong fascination with Greece and the Greeks.

The Double Tongue

Ruins at Delphi, Greece

From the 1950s and later Golding travelled extensively in mainland Greece and in the Greek islands, imaginatively absorbed in the stony landscapes, classical ruins and wine-dark seas of Homer, the classical tragedians and historians, and the continuous culture of myth, symbolism and archetype of which he felt himself a part. He set his last novel, The Double Tongue, with characteristic wryness and self-conscious wit, at the oracle of Delphi after the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 B.C.E. His use of a female narrator - a pythia - gestured to the very borderline of reliability and unreliability. The oracle, whether frenzied or not, was well known for ambiguity. The Roman occupation perhaps mirrors Golding's own relationship to the 'lost' world of classical Greece - how to recreate truth and beauty in a later and more knowing age.