Fire From Heaven

Renault, Mary. Fire From Heaven. New York: Pantheon Books, 1969.

The story of Alexander the Great opens with Alexander as a young child waking to find a snake in bed with him. He assumes it is his mother’s pet snake, Glaukos. From there we are, guided by Renault’s excellent storytelling, witness to Alexander’s rise to greatness with fiction interwoven with nonfiction. For example, Renault wasn’t there for Alexander’s first battle and there is little documentation of it. So, the battle and subsequent kill at the age of twelve is purely fictional but Renault makes it easy to picture it as fact even if it is a little incredulous. With no ornament or artifact to take from the body as a trophy, Alexander saws off the head of his enemy.
Renault skillfully shows Alexander growing up, becoming more and more of a leader. Played against each other are his parents, the ever jealous Olympia and King Philip. Alexander learns how to manipulate them equally. Hephaistion starts his relationship with Alexander as a schoolmate and, as both boys mature, becomes a devoted friend with a level of intimacy that borders on homosexuality. Renault does not shy away from such relationships as they were commonplace.

“Was every enemy of his a hero to his son?” (p 76).
“Fear lay dead at his feet” (p 228).

Reason read: Back to school, let’s get a little Greek!

Author fact: Mary Renault is known for her classic works of Greek mythology. I read The King Must Die in high school.

Book trivia: Fire From Heaven is the first book in a trilogy about the life and times of Alexander the Great. I am only reading the first two.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “The Classical World” (p 59).


“Ithaca”

Cavafy, Constantine. The Complete Poems of Cavafy. “Ithaca.” Translated by Rae Dalven. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, Inc., 1961.

When I first saw the poem name “Ithaca” I thought I would be reading about Ithaca, New York. Silly me.

This was a poem I reread a few times. Not because it was taxing or troublesome, far from it. I just love the admonishment behind the words. It the advice given to someone traveling to Ithaca, Greece. The message is pretty simple and one we have heard before – it’s not the destination, but the journey. The unknown adviser is asking for the journey to be important. “But do not hurry the voyage at all” (p 36). Savor the way as you go.

Author Fact: Cavafy’s full name was Constantine Petrou Photiades Cavafy. How’s that for a nice Alexandrian name? Another interesting fact (according to Wikipedia) is that he was born and died on the same day, April 29th.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse” (p 237).


Antigone

Sophocles. Antigone. Translated by Elizabeth Wycoff. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954.

The Cliff/Spark version of Antigone is this: Two sisters want to bury their dead brother. One wants to bury him admirably and the other doesn’t want to break the law. The brother in question cannot be buried because he was executed for a crime and must be left to rot in the courtyard as an example for the community. Defiant sister must go against the king alone as everyone who is anybody refuses to help her. True to Greek tragedy nearly everyone, including the king’s wife ends up committing suicide. The end.

Of course there is much, much more to the story and, depending on which version you read, you get it. In my version of Antigone translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff the language is watered down and somewhat pedestrian. It’s not as lyrical as other translations. A small example: from a 1906 Oxford Clarendon Press version (translated by Robert Whitelaw): “Ismene: There’s trouble in thy looks, thy tidings tell” compared with the 1954 University of Chicago Press version (translated by Elizabeth Wycoff): “Ismene: What is it? Clearly some news has clouded you” (p 159). Ismene is basically saying the same thing in each line, but the Whitelaw version has more animation, more movement. In the end Antigone is a simple story about the man against The Man, no matter how you read it.

Note: I’m note sure how many other versions have this, but I appreciated the biography of Socrates in my version.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Alpha, Beta Gammas of Greece” (p 9).


Athenian Murders

Athenian MurdersSomoza, Jose Carlos. The Athenian Murders: a Novel. New York: Fahar, Straus & Giroux, 2002.

I read a review where a critic described this book as Russian dolls, one largerĀ stackedĀ upon another. It is the most accurate description I can think of. The Athenian Murders is indeed a story within a story within a story. The largest doll story takes place in Greece in the time of Plato. In fact, Plato’s Academy is center stage. Athens is plagued by the mysterious murders of several men and before the city can erupt in terror Hercules, the Decipherer of Enigmas, must solve the who-dunnit. Footnoted within the story is the second story – the nameless translator who has his own story to tell as he translates The Athenian Murders. Of course, there is a twist at the end with another story.
It took me a little while to really “get into” this story. I have to admit, I get annoyed by repetition and the word eidetic – let’s put it this way – eidetic or eidesis is used 50 times in the first 100 pages. Talk about repetition!

I have to ask. Is the scar on the right cheek (as mentioned on page 210), or on the left (p 217)?

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter titled “The Classical World” (p 60).