What cultural patterns and issues are expressed in Mary Renault's The Persian Boy? What other cultural and social implications are found in the book? What is the book's central message or theme,...

What cultural patterns and issues are expressed in Mary Renault's The Persian Boy? What other cultural and social implications are found in the book? What is the book's central message or theme, and what is the author revealing about the human condition?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A cultural pattern is a standard of behavior specific to only one particular culture. However, it's also important to note that cultural patterns are dictated by either government or religion. One example of a cultural pattern would be the fact that Muslim women must wear head coverings. There are definitely a few different cultural patterns found in Mary Renault's The Persian Boy that relate to both Greek and Persian culture.

One example can be seen with respect to the way the characters behave due to the Greek concept of love. Based on Greek philosopher Aristotle's definition of love, love has three separate categories: (1) agape, which is the highest form of love, a brotherly love so strong one would lay down one's life for the other; (2) philia, which is the love between friends, a love in which one values another's mind and character; and (3) eros, which is considered the lowest form of love and essentially equates to lust or passion,especially between men and women ("Philosophy of Love"). The way in which Greeks treated each other in relationships stemmed from their philosophical beliefs concerning love, so it can be said that their actions in relationships are cultural patterns. There are several relationships in the book that are characteristic with Greek cultural patterns based on philosophies of love. For instance, once the slave and narrator of our story, Bagoas, is given as a gift to Alexander the Great, Bagoas begins to develop a true fondness for Alexander.  Alexander in return develops a fondness for Bagoas. The relationship between Bagoas and Alexander is two-fold. On the one hand, it is a sexual relationship and therefore erotic; however, their loyalty to each other also shows that they see their love as a love between two equals, which is philia; they even have a willingness to sacrifice for each other, which is the highest form of love. In keeping with Greek traditions, their relationship is sexual, just as a relationship between a mentor and mentee is sexual, as we see in Plato's dialogue the Symposium. Hence, the relationship between Alexander and Bagoas certainly portrays cultural patterns. A second relationship that fits in with cultural patterns is the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion, who have been lifelong friends and lovers. The love between Alexander and Hephaistion was classified by the Greeks as philotinos, which was a specific masculine friendship and physical and emotional love between warrior-heroes, much in the same way that Achilles loved Petroclus in Homer's Iliad. Plus, just like Achilles mourned the death of Petroclus, Alexander is nearly driven mad by Hephaistion's death. Hence, we see that even Alexander and Hephaistion's philotinos relationship portrays cultural patterns. It should also be noted that friendship, loyalty, and love are central themes in the book.

Alongside cultural patterns, other cultural and social implications found in the book concern both the Persian and Greek religions and, for both cultures, the cultural importance of accepting one's fate.

All in all, the book's central message is to reveal the social importance of loyalty, love, friendship, and even bravery. We particularly see the importance of loyalty at the end of the book when, to show their devotion to him, Alexander's entire army marches past his deathbed to say goodbye.

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The Persian Boy

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