Fire from Heaven is a historical Bildungsroman depicting the career of the boy who was to go down in history as Alexander the Great from the ages of five to twenty, when he succeeded his father, Philip, as king of Macedon. As the novel opens, the child Alexander wakes to find a snake in his bed. Thinking that it is Glaucos, his mother Olympias’ sacred snake, he slips out of bed to return it. It is not, however, Glaucos but a larger snake; they recall the legend of the young Hercules, the patron god of Achilles, one of Olympias’ ancestors. Olympias tells Alexander that the snake has come from the god, and Alexander names him Tyche, “fortune.” Alexander’s father, Philip, appears, drunk, and, flinging off his clothes, approaches the bed. Olympias cannot shield Alexander from his father’s wrath. Philip throws him out bodily, and he is comforted by the guard.
Thus, in the opening pages, Mary Renault establishes the major themes and characters: Alexander’s fearlessness and his attraction to both logic and legend; Olympias’ superstition and sorcery; Philip’s drunkenness, lust, and anger; the parents’ hostility toward each other and rivalry for Alexander; Alexander’s need for love and his ability to inspire the love and loyalty of the soldiers. In the Macedonian court, Alexander grows up quickly. When he is eight, he has two meetings significant for his future. Envoys arrive from Persia; Philip is not there, and the boy receives them. He is somewhat naive and boyish, but he goes through the proper forms and asks some very pertinent questions. Philip, talking with him afterward, is impressed, the episode showing a hint of the mature relationship which is to develop between them.
Alexander also meets Hephaistion, who will act as a Patroclus to his Achilles, though their mature and intense friendship does not begin until some years later. Leonidas, devoted to...
(The entire section is 773 words.)