Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fire from Heaven, by Mary Renault

The first half of Mary Renault 's Fire from Heaven (1969) held my interest just enough to keep me going. The second half significantly improved. The novel certainly creates a credible atmosphere. I don't know how accurate its recreation of ancient Greece and Macedonia is. Apparently, Renault was praised for the historical accuracy of her narrative.  Some found fault with her portrayal of certain characters, such as Demosthenes.  But how can we really know what is accurate in a fictional historical narrative, however well researched, even if the details accord with what historians think might have been true? The historical records contain only third- and fourth-hand accounts of Alexander, based on first-hand accounts that were lost.  It was never quite clear whether Renault was describing a close friendship between Alexander and his companion Hephaestion or a homosexual relationship.  It was apparently something of both.  She was so coy in implying that they might have had sex that I couldn't tell.   Alexander also had sex with women.  (Renault’s biography states that she is widely respected as a LGBT writer, though she didn’t care for the label). She certainly described Alexander as a kind of super-human who could do no wrong, at least up into late adolescence. In that sense, the book is not credible.  Its main narrative thrust measures the development of a future king who from an early age is in competition with his father.  Towards the end of his reign Philip of Macedonia came to suspect and fear his son.  In the end, Alexander takes up the throne and is prepared to reign and to wage war.  The next two novels in the Alexander trilogy contain that story.

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