Translated by Nancy Huston, this is a classic tale of the initiation of a young girl from an ancient Persian tribe. Diotime has always been the favorite grandchild of Cambyse, the much-feared chief of the tribe, who taught her how to ride a horse and hunt wild animals, even though it was not traditional for women. When she comes of age, she feels compelled to break with tradition again and convinces her family to let her fight a lion. According to an old ritual, all the men in the tribe have to endure this rite of passage consisting of fighting a lion—the tribe’s mythological ancestor. Many die in the process, but it is the greatest honor to be part of the celebration.
Not long after her own victorious encounter with a lion, she meets Arses, a young tribal chief from Greece, with whom she falls in love. A sailor with no experience in the travails of life on land, he will have to kill a lion if he is to win her hand in marriage and take her back to his clan. In this last initation, Diotime accompanies Arses to seek the creature he is destined to fight.