14. 3. 2014

By-the-Bye No. 1
Tom Holland and Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy
A few weeks ago on my Alexander Facebook page I mentioned that Virago Books are re-releasing Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy. I started reading one of them, The Persian Boy, I think, a while ago but got nowhere with it. Not the book’s fault – the story was being told from Bagoas the eunuch’s perspective, and I’m not really interested in him. I might have another go with the new editions, though, especially as they will come with an introduction-or-three by Tom Holland.
Alexander the Fourth… Version
Did you know that Oliver Stone is releasing a fourth version of his ‘biopic’ of Alexander? It will be called Alexander The Ultimate Cut and is due for release on 3rd June this year. Here it is at Amazon. I will buy it, if only to see what changes Stone has made. Unfortunately,  I don’t expect to come away thinking ‘Finally, Oliver Stone has made a great picture’. This is because, to my mind, his Alexander is fundamentally flawed; for example, in silly mistakes such as the absurd accents or the insipid interpretation of Hephaestion, but also in the more serious errors such as the hatchet job done on Philip II. This is not to say that the film is and always will be unwatchable – I enjoyed watching Alexander Revisited for my scene-by-scene series and appreciated the film more as a result – but I do think it means that no matter what Stone does to the film he will never get the first class picture that he craves.
And yet, he must clearly love it to come back to it time and again. If only he would move on and, perhaps, direct or produce a documentary series on Alexander. That would be worthy of his devotion and give him a new chance to write the story he obviously wants.

300 Rise of an Empire
300 Rise of an Empire has just come out in Britain. Lucky us. I am being a little unfair. 300 was immensely silly but enjoyable in its own silly way; I daresay that Rise of an Empire is more of the same. I enjoyed reading Pop Classics’ review of it; particularly as it taught me a new word – parallelaquel, being a sequel that takes place before, during and after the original movie!

Forgotten Dynasties
A couple of days ago I opened the Livius website and started reading about the Attalid and Antigonid dynasties. Before doing so you could have summed up my knowledge of both as – the Attalids? Who? Where? And, Antigonids? You mean the ones defeated by the Romans? So it was good to learn a little more about them both. Next, I should do the same for the Seleucid kings. My heart will always be with the Argeads and Ptolemies but it is good to fill in the blank spaces in one’s knowledge.
Well Done to The Last of Us et al
The British Film Academy held its annual video game awards this week (Here is the Daily Telegraph’s report). Am I the only one who would love to see a game based on the Macedonian phalanx. It could be a First Person… what? Shooter obviously won’t do; I am going for Stabber and Slasher. I believe there are strategy games based on Alexander’s conquests but the FPS&S would allow the player to get up close and personal at the front of the phalanx. Blood, gore and mayhem. Brilliant.

Pi in the Sky
Happy Pi Day to this blog’s American readers.
The official (??) website claims that this day is celebrated ‘around the world’. Alas, not in Britain where – as you can see from the title of this post – we place the day before the month. Still, the sentiment – that we use the day to celebrate maths – is a good one. As I am as good with numbers as Ptolemy I Soter, though, I fear I will use our different method of dating as an excuse to ignore all things mathematical until tomorrow (and thereafter).
2058 Years of Hurt
Speaking of anniversaries – tomorrow is, of course, the Ides of March. Had I been around in First Century BC Rome I would definitely have been on Julius Caesar’s side* so it will naturally be a sad occasion for me. I may have to take a little wine to assuage the pain. If so, I shall raise a glass to the other great man. 

* Well, okay, I would probably have been a peasant but I’m sure we have all harboured thoughts of being a patrician. Haven’t we?

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Categories: By the Bye, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “14. 3. 2014

  1. If you’re going to try Persian Boy again, start with Ch 13. page 139 in the hard cover. Bagoas has already been given to Alexander by Nabarzanes, one of Darius’ killers, as a peace offering. You can find the picture. He did not live in the harem as Stone showed, but it saved time in the movie. Alexander took the Persian boy as his lover and personal servant in the previous chapter, so the rest is about Alexander’s court, battle, travel and conquests. Mary doesn’t give details of the bed chamber. She never does. Afterward, you might want to go back and read the Persian side of the story, knowing Alexander was coming and what they thought of their king.


  2. I became a fan of Mary Renault in college (early 1970’s), when we were assigned “The Mask of Apollo” in a political theory class. The book was brilliant, and I began to I read her other works almost obsessively. When “The Persian Boy” was published later in that decade, I read it as well. Of course I knew who Alexander the Great was; we all learned about him at one point or another in school. I never gave him a second thought. But when I read “The Persian Boy,” Alexander came alive for me. I went on to read “Fire from Heaven” and “Funeral Games.” I read Arrian’s “The Campaigns of Alexander,” as well as works, both fiction and nonfiction, about him by many other authors. My favorite nonfiction work about Alexander is — yes, Mary Renault again — “The Nature of Alexander.” Although she generally views Alexander in a favorite light, she is not afraid to discuss his errors and his faults. Ms. Renault’s conjectures about what really happened and why is based on research and intelligent reasoning. For the most part, I see no reason to disbelieve it.

    This is how I think of Alexander. In the last chapter of “Funeral Games,” King Ptolemy converses with his son Ptolemy the Younger, about the book the former has just finished about Alexander. This scene occurs about 40 years after Alexander’s death, when Ptolemy was 83. Talking about the wars among Alexander’s generals after his death, Ptolemy says “We were right…to offer him divinity. He had a mystery. He could make anything seem possible in which he himself believed. And we did it, too. His praise was precious, for his trust men would have dies; we did impossible things. He was a man touched by a god; we were only men who had been touched by him; but we did not know it. We too had performed miracles.” Later Ptolemy muses, “when he died I knew he had taken his mystery with him. Henceforward we were men like other men, with the limits that nature set us….” (quoted portions from M. Renault, Funeral Games, Pinnacle Books, New York (1981) p. 327)).

    So the preceding paragraphs are my way of saying that I don’t understand how you can feel negatively about “The Persian Boy.” Yes, we are all different and we like different things. Nonetheless, “The Persian Boy” made me become a(n) “FOA”: Fan of Alexander. My ardor has increased through all my readings, but particularly through Ms. Renault’s work. No matter what others may say about him, for me Alexander will be as Ms. Renault saw him: a hero in the Greek mode; flawed but captivating nonetheless.


    • Lynnadr,

      Thank you for your comment; it was very encouraging to read. To answer your last point – it isn’t Renault’s books that I have a problem with, just the historical figure of Bagoas. I’m simply not very interested in him. As a result of this, any book that places him centre stage – irrespective of its merits – is going to find it hard to stay on my To Read list when I have so much else to get through. Having said that, I do hope to read the new editions of Renaults books later this year.



  3. Lynnadr,
    I liked your comments. Thank you for them. I read my first Mary Renault novel in Junior High -The King Must Die about 1958 or 59. After that, I read everything she wrote as it came out. I saved my babysitting money to buy them. I couldn’t get enough of her reconstruction of the past. All of her historical novels are heavily researched and in her author’s notes, she explains why she went with certain sources and not others. Of course The Persian Boy is a fictionalization of Alexander’s lover, but it is a better way to get to know the conqueror’s human side than descriptions of battles and strategy. Bagoas probably knew him better than anyone who met him as an adult. Renault used him to show the Persian p.o.v. of being a subject people he had come to love, and why he tried to combine the peoples to share what was best about each of them. If only he had lived longer. Thank you for quoting the last lines of Ptolemy. I never get that far as the novel makes me too sad. It is thanks to Renault that I also became a Fan of Alexander. I would not be receiving this blog if I had to think of Alexander drily. Thanks to Bagoas (Mary), I feel like I know him, faults and all. He was like a comet blazing across the sky and leaving us all in darkness when it was gone. I’m trying to quote, but don’t have the book in front of me.


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