It's All Macedonian to Me

Fire from Heaven
& The Persian Boy
Mary Renault,
Pantheon, 1969 & 1972

For those who would rather learn history through osmosis than by memorizing dates and events from textbooks, Mary Renault is an excellent source for painlessly soaking up facts about ancient Greece. In her companion books, Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy, she follows the rising and falling star of Alexander the Great.

In Fire From Heaven she theorizes about the people and events that shaped young Alexander's life from the Greek perspective, principally through his hero-worship of his absent father, love/hate relationship with his domineering mother, and close relationship with his life-long friend and lover Hephaistion.

The second book, The Persian Boy, explores Alexander's growing sophistication after his conquest of Persia and the initiation of his long-term relationship with a Persian eunuch, Bagoas. Through fictionalized embellishments of historically documented events, Renault speculates about Alexander's metamorphosis from a "true" Greek--idolized by the troops who followed him in his conquest of the world--to a more culturally polished King of the World, as perceived by the Persians and related from Bagoas's perspective.

Against a background of historical battles, conquest, and political maneuvering, Renault presents her theories about Alexander's fall from from power; how his protracted absences from his homeland--in part to escape his mother--led to resentment; how in his effort to prove himself a better general and ruler than than his father, he lost touch with his troops, who came to believe he favored foreigners and foreign ways over the native sons and ways of Greece. These factors contributed, in the view of the author, to Alexander's eventual fall from grace and premature death.

The books bring ancient history to vibrant life for modern readers. Unfortunately, since they are written about a time when sexual preference was truly seen as a personal choice, these books would probably be near the top of the banned book list of those who supported Measure 9.

--Paula Greer

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Last Modified: 09 June 1995 by Darrel Plant
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