(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Beginning with the year 323 B.C., Funeral Games chronicles the disintegration of Alexander the Great’s empire following his death in Babylon at age thirty-two. Although it is generally believed that he died of a fever, the novel suggests that he was poisoned at the hands of Iollas, the brother of Alexander’s enemy, Kassandros. As he lies dying in the palace at Babylon, he is too ill to name a successor. Before his death, he manages only the ambiguous gesture of giving his ring to Perdikkas, the ranking commander among those on the scene.

The Macedonian custom being for the army to decide the succession when none is designated, the soldiers assemble to deliberate the question. They face a difficult decision because Alexander has left no descendants, though he has left two pregnant wives, Roxane and Stateira, whose children will have a claim to the throne. Another claimant, Alexander’s half brother Philip Arridaios, is mentally retarded and afflicted with epilepsy. Nevertheless, the common soldiers support him, largely because of his resemblance to his father, Philip II; they name him king, despite the opposition of Perdikkas. After some struggle and confusion, it is agreed that Philip will bear the title “King of Macedon,” at least until Alexander’s children are born; actual power, however, remains with Perdikkas, designated as regent.

This arrangement is imperiled when Meleager, an opponent of Perdikkas, gains the King’s signature on a document charging Perdikkas with treason. Having been forewarned, Perdikkas takes his cavalry outside the city and lays siege. Following overtures designed to patch up matters, Meleager emerges from the city with his followers onto the plain, where a ritual sacrifice to the gods has been arranged to promote concord. After the ceremony, Perdikkas, his force in battle formation, seizes thirty of Meleager’s followers, binds them, and has them trampled underfoot by a charge of elephants as a lesson to other potential traitors....

(The entire section is 821 words.)

Funeral Games Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Adams, P.L. Review in The Atlantic. CCXLIX (January, 1982), p. 87.

Brunsdale, Mitzi M. “Mary Renault,” in Critical Survey of Long Fiction, 1983. Edited by Frank N. Magill.

Burns, Landon C., Jr. “Men Are Only Men: The Novels of Mary Renault,” in Critique. VI, no. 3 (1963), pp. 102-121.

Cooke, Judy. Review in New Statesman. CII (November 20, 1981), p. 22.

Dick, Bernard F. The Hellenism of Mary Renault, 1972.

Ricks, Christopher. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI (January 17, 1982), p. 7.

Wolfe, Peter. Mary Renault, 1969.