Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fortnightly Book, February 26

The old saws are wrong, said the philosopher, which tell man to be forever humble before his own mortality. Rather he should strain his being to put on immortality, never to fall below the highest thing he knows.

Eileen Mary Challans, better known as Mary Renault, wrote a number of historical novels set in ancient Greece, but by far her favorite topic from ancient Greece seems to have been Alexander the Great; she wrote several novels in which he appears and a biography of him. She was well known for being very accurate about background, but critics have often thought that she was more partisan than accurate about Alexander. He is for her a sort of full representation of magnanimous man. And it is also the case that even when being more historical, she sometimes writes on the basis of the interesting controversial theory rather than the sure consensus. These are, I think, inevitably the kinds of choices you must make when dealing with historical novels.

Fire from Heaven, published in 1969, follows Alexander from infancy to the death of his father Philip, which, of course, leaves young Alexander on the verge of the course of action by which he will become 'the Great'. The Alexander here is a very Greek Alexander; Xenophontic, one might say, and thus my suspicion is that the novel can be read as a sort of Alexandropaedia. We shall see.

If you need a refresher on the overall life of Alexander, here is Iron Maiden condensing the highlights:

Iron Maiden, "Alexander the Great"

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