Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in the Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

After Fire from Heaven, one would automatically expect Mary Renault to write a sequel to the years of young Alexander, and she did, yet in a most unexpected way. Instead of picking up the story of Alexander when he leaves for Asia, she skips over right to the heart of Persia from where his conquests are followed from afar by a eunuch called Bagoas, The Persian Boy (ISBN 0394751019). In fact she starts the book telling Bagoas’ life from the very beginning, making it an interesting reading on castration and the general role of eunuchs in that part of the world.

I know many people read this book for that purpose only or for what we call nowadays a homosexual relation. In ancient Greece neither the word nor the concept were known. Sex was simply sex without the fringes and the constraints that Christianity and other religions brought forward. It may be useful to point out here that in antiquity eunuchs were not only slaves serving the pleasure of their master, but that they also could occupy high placed positions often that of a valuable “contact person”. As a simple example, I’m thinking of another eunuch Bagoas (often mentioned more elegantly as Vizier) who assassinated King Artaxerxes III to rule himself through puppet kings – a proof, if needed, of the power some eunuchs could acquire. If we believe Andrew Chugg in his book Alexander’s Lovers (and there is no reason not to believe him) our Persian Boy may well have acted as special envoy or master of ceremony at Alexander’s Persian Court since he was familiar with all the finesses of the Persian protocol.

Whatever the reader’s opinion on this matter, to me Mary Renault’s book is about Alexander the Great. Bagoas is brought to him as a gift by Nabarzanes who in exchange is hoping to be looked upon mildly by this new ruler since he was closely involved in the murder of King Darius in Parthia in the year 330 BC.

I marvel at Mary’s dexterity in comparing and differentiating Persian customs from the Macedonian ones, as Bagoas discovers this new world around him. In his eyes, the Macedonians are perceived as Barbarians with their lack of respect for the person of the king as initial focal point and their overall lack of social graces. For us Westerners, as we have been raised with the concept that our civilization started in Greece, it comes as a surprise to learn that there is an other version to the story – in this case to history, for here we are looking towards the West from the East. It is quite interesting to witness Alexander’s eagerness to learn, which I think is a very honest and true trait of his character, but also the subtle and styled way in which Bagoas is introducing his master to Persia – a land that must have looked to the new conquerors like the New World to our Pilgrim Fathers setting sail for the Americas.

Unlike in Fire from Heaven, this book is no longer focusing exclusively on Alexander’s relationship with Hephaistion, which by the way takes another dimension as both men become more mature, but as can be expected on his relationship with Bagoas. Yet Mary Renault manages to keep up with Alexander’s campaigns as he marches on over the Hindu Kush to Bactria, crossing India’s wide streams and ultimately the death march through the Gedrosian Desert back to Babylon. The daily events become all very personal and make the reader very much part of life in and around the royal tent. It is fascinating to look on to the battles and the internal conflicts from the sideline where Bagoas keeps himself without losing the context of all the historic events as they occur. Their description is so vivid that you can almost taste the dust and feel the cold!

A true masterpiece, worthy of Mary Renault. I would even add worthy of Alexander the Great.

Also available as e-Book


  1. The spirit of Alexander III (356-323 BC), the Macedonian world conqueror looms large. This young man from Macedonia, a minor peripheral Greek state had already conquered the then known world at the age of 32. These were deeds befitting a god, and this divine honour was conferred to him in his own lifetime. Invariably, fiction on Alexander were written since antiquity itself , in many languages and by authors from many cultural back-grounds. Down the century even till today, this ever-fascinating young conqueror continues to enthral and mesmerise, vilified by some, glorified by others.

    In the 20th century fiction about Alexander, one author stands head above others. If one enquires for a mainstream historical novel on him the answer is usually some variation on ‘ You have read Mary Renault, haven’t you ?’. Renault’s works go beyond the elements that make a fine historical fiction- compelling yarn and getting the details right. She brings us deep into the time, so deep that we the readers become privileged intruders who are granted a secret glimpse. All characters, major or minor, come out to as real-life human beings whom we come to know on a personal basis. When this magician of words starts to portray the unique personality that Alexander was, the sheer physical force of his attraction, the will and magnetism that must have been his to pull hundred of thousands of men thousands of miles from home, the reader himself cannot help but be ready to follow the conqueror from the Balkans to the Indus and back.

    The Alexander books by Mary Renault comprise of a trilogy of fiction ‘Fire from Heaven’, ‘The Persian Boy’ and ‘ Funeral Games’ and a non-fictional psychological study entitled ‘Nature of Alexander’.

    ‘The Persian Boy’ picks up the narration thread after his cross over to Hellenspont ( present Turkey) to invade Persia and the take-over of Egypt. We are in the middle years of Alexander conquests. The story is told through the eyes of a young Persian of good birth Bagoas, whose family falls victim to treason. Castrated, sold in slavery, forced into prostitution, he becomes a court favourite of the Persian king Darius. Fate brings him to Alexander whose love and trust he wins. This vibrant narration recreates graphically the refined, profilgate Persian civilisation's interaction with the ferocious, dynamic Greek world led by a single extraordinarily charismatic man.

    Many purists consider this book a too romanticized rendering but one must bear the fact that it takes care not to transgress the facts.

    It was the first book I read on Alexander and I instantly became and remained an Alexander ‘addict’. A must, must read for all aspiring Alexander aficionados. Dyed-in-the-wool Alexander fans would have read it again and again.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to write a comment on this great book. I keep wondering why this is the first book that kindles the attention of so many readers for Alexander. I have no answer, except the fine-tuned psychological approach of the author.
      You are so right to emphasize the way Mary Renault manages to take us into a world that existed 2,400 years ago, making it so real that we closely follow every footstep and every single breath of this great conqueror.
      For historians, I know, this book is a nightmare for many people take Renault’s descriptions at face value while it truly is fiction, but fiction so well formulated that every detail comes alive. Here Alexander is not an idealized marble statue but a man with blood in his veins and emotions in his body. Renault has lived very intimately with Alexander – as other authors have done and still do – but for once she is not analyzing his character or his tactics. On the contrary, she brings the man to a more human scale and, although he reached the realm of the gods in his own lifetime, we cannot forget that in his homeland Greece even the gods were human.