Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Through both characterization and narrative technique, the interaction of the tragic and heroic permeates The Persian Boy. Another major and related theme, central to most of Renault’s Greek novels and a number of her modern ones as well, is the Greek concept of love. The Greek—or at least the Platonic—ideal was a sublimated bisexuality. Central to Platonic thought is the notion that all reality is but a shadowy representation of the Ideal. In the ideal of love, lust and even simple heterosexual love (eros) are at the bottom of the ladder. Philia, or friendship, is between equals. For the Greeks, with rare exceptions, this would have been a masculine friendship. A very special version of philia, philotinos, is the friendship and love that exists between warrior-heroes. Ideally, these lovers are beyond eros; their bond is spiritual; their ideal, death together on a worthy battlefield. Such were Achilles and Patroclus. Renault does conclude that Alexander and Hephaistion were lovers in the sense of eros as well, though she emphasizes the ideal nature of their love. Bagoas’ relationship with Alexander, though unashamedly erotic, is sensitively presented, and it too stresses the ideal. Throughout, the emphasis is on love, fidelity, and honor rather than sexuality as such. Love is part of the ideal of the good (arete), the true (alethia), and the beautiful (to kalon).

Elements of the Persian religion are a minor theme, interwoven with and either reinforcing or counterpointing the main themes. The Persians worship fire and the sun and also reverence water and the undefiled stream. Bagoas becomes accustomed to the Greeks’ bathing in rivers and...

(The entire section is 682 words.)