Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mary Renault: Bringing Ancient Greece to Life

September 4th was the 110th birthday of historical novelist Mary Renault.  She was born in Forest Gate, England in 1905 and studied at Oxford.  J.R.R Tolkien was one of her tutors! She is best known for her novels of Ancient Greece.  Even her critics credit her with bringing Ancient Greece alive with vivid characters and thorough accuracy and historical detail.  She was enormously successful then and even more than forty years later she remains the standard by which all other novels of Alexander the Great are judged.  And another interesting fact:  President John F. Kennedy stated that she was his favorite author.

Try some of her great novels:

The Last of the Wine--the story of an Athenian during the Peloponnesian War, includes Socrates' death; a good place to begin the study of Plato.

The King Must Die--the adventures of Theseus of Athens, up to the death of the king, his father.

The Bull from the Sea--a sequel to The King Must Die, detailing the rest of Theseus' life and adventures.


The Mask of Apollo--a Greek actor narrates the story of Greek drama (including Plato, Dionysus the Younger, and Alexander).

Fire from Heaven--the boyhood through adolescence of Alexander the Great.

The Persian Boy--Alexander after he had conquered Persia, as seen through the eyes of his young eunuch.

The Praise Singer--a pseudo-autobiography of the lyric poet Simonides at a time when the oral tradition was being replaced by the written word.

Funeral Games--the in-fighting of Alexander's several successors after his death.


If you’ve already read all of Renault's books then try some of these other notable historical authors:

Gillian Bradshaw--Dark North (Roman Britain, 208 AD) and London in Chains (English Civil War).

Elizabeth Chadwick--The Greatest Knight (William Marshall) and Summer Queen (Eleanor of Aquitaine).

Dorothy Dunnett--Game of Kings (1st in Lymond Chronicles, 1547 Scotland) and Niccolo Rising (1st in House of Niccolo series, 1460 Bruges).

Diana Gabaldon--Outlander (1st in epic series set in 18th century Scotland).

Philippa Gregory--The Constant Princess (early life of Katherine of Aragon) and The White Queen (Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV in 15th century).

Cecelia Holland--The King's Witch (Richard the Lionheart and a mysterious healer).

David Malouf--Ransom (Achilles and Priam).

Steven Pressfield--The Afghan Kingdoms (invasions by Alexander the Great in 330 BC) and Last of the Amazons (epic story of the Amazons).

Judith Tarr--Pillar of Fire (Ancient Egypt through the eyes of a slave) and White Mare's Daughter (clash between tribes in Prehistoric Europe).











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