The Persian Boy is notable for its depiction of the tradition of pederasty in ancient Greece , where relationships between adult men and adolescent boys were celebrated. In the novel, Bagoas is 15 years old when he begins his relationship with Alexander then about Bagoas was a historical figure, identified by the Roman historian Curtius as "a eunuch exceptional in beauty and in the very flower of boyhood, with whom Darius was intimate and with whom Alexander would later be intimate. In a review of The Persian Boy, historian Jeanne Reames wrote: That Alexander may have been attracted to a eunuch is possible enough, and there is certainly testimony that he kept Bagoas with him at least some of the time. But there is no evidence that Bagoas was as important to, much less as influential over, Alexander as Renault paints. She gives to Bagoas a role which history suggests was filled by Hephaistion.
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I would wonder what was wrong with me; love stories are supposed to move us, I would think. So I thought. But all the "love stories" I saw were the unbelievable kind: The ridiculous caricatures on display in "romantic" comedies, the happily ever afters we were fed in fairy tales. Where was the suffering, and the longing. And perhaps above all, do these I used to think I despised love stories. And perhaps above all, do these characters being in love provide us with anything more? Because of the love, are we gleaning any additional information about the people, the world, or even the metaphysical?
It was a long time before I realized that the type of love stories I wanted to hear were out there, and when I eventually heard them they were powerful indeed. At its heart, The Persian Boy is a love story, and it too is indeed a powerful one. Mary Renault takes an interesting approach to telling this story however, and the entire book is written from the point of view of Bagoas, The "Persian Boy. When Darius was no longer in the picture, Bagoas became attached to Alexander instead, and by all reasonable accounts, it was a close and loving relationship.
Because the book is from one specific angle, it is by its nature limiting, yet at the same time it allows a remarkable amount of depth. Where Fire From Heaven is a more "event" driven book, The Persian Boy is much more focused on the personal aspect of those involved. Instead we get the smaller, but equally important insights into the impact those battles had on the people particularly Alexander. Make no mistake, even though this book is from the point of view of Bagoas, it is about Alexander.
If this were some other historical novel, by some other writer, we would get action, troop movements, and gore. And while those can be respectable things in their own right, this book gives us the gift of emotions, psychology, and subtle philosophy.
Bagoas is an extremely tortured individual. Because of his training, he exudes a calm and tranquil exterior, but on the inside he is torn apart by a whirlwind of different emotions as he realizes Alexander is a man "greater" than he; he must be shared with others, and with his own destiny.
As beautiful as a dancing flame is, to grasp at it too tightly will burn the hand. The themes in the book have no problem jumping out at the reader. Alexander has often been compared to Achilles, and Mary Renault has no problem running with that comparison in a lot of her passages.
And yes, his self-knowing hubris is inevitably a demon to deal with as well. Can there be love without loss and pain? Desire and jealously, while still maintaining integrity? What does it mean to be a great man, and who exactly deserves to be remembered by history? The Persian Boy is a small piece of a grand epic that we can never fully know, but it is still epic in and of itself. In the tradition of the Greek pursuit of glory and excellence, this book shines brightly in its own success.
The Persian boy
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The Persian Boy