The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Alexander is the most completely and complexly drawn of Fire from Heaven’s characters. Not only is he the central figure but also he is seen from boyhood on; the others, except for brief glimpses of Hephaistion, are adults whose characters have been formed. With Alexander, Renault carefully builds detail upon detail, foreshadowing in the episodes of childhood the leader to come. Each of the other characters is shown in relation to Alexander; from each, a facet of his character is reflected and developed.

Established at the outset are Alexander’s fearlessness, resourcefulness, intellectual acuity, kinship with Achilles, and worship of Hercules. Most important, Alexander, while reverencing the gods and aware of his descent from heroes, possibly even from a god (Achilles was half god), nevertheless always has a practical interpretation of events and portents as well. His inquiring mind and his moderation save him from the excesses of his parents. As he grows older, he becomes more sympathetic to Philip, but the latter’s excesses stand in the way of their ever developing a genuinely close relationship. Olympias is uncontrolled in her religious passions; as a priestess of the cult of Dionysius, her excesses are physical as well. Alexander grows to distrust her, particularly her practice of black magic. Philip, while hostile to her barbarous superstitions, has his own barbarisms: his lust and his ill temper. Alexander’s moderation is in some...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Alexander III of Macedon

Alexander III of Macedon, later known as Alexander the Great, the son of Philip II and Olympias of Epirus. Nearly five years old at the beginning of the novel, he is twenty at the time of his father’s assassination, when this narrative closes. (The story continues inThe Persian Boy [1972], which covers the period of Alexander’s conquests in the east.) Physically smaller than his fellow Macedonians, he combines the fiery spirit of his mother with his father’s canniness on the battlefield. From early childhood, he is repelled by his father’s coarseness, seeing him as something of a Polyphemus (Philip’s injured eye contributes to this perception). His hardy constitution, physical courage, athletic self-discipline, and lightning reflexes provide the perfect instruments for his keen and sensitive personality. Like Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, Alexander is capable of affection and loyalty—as seen particularly in his relationship with his lover Hephaistion—but he is also wary of intrigue and increasingly distrustful of his obsessive mother, Olympias. He is obsessed with the idea, suggested to him by his mother, that he is the son not of Philip but of some god, perhaps Zeus himself, Dionysus, or the demigod Herakles.

Philip II

Philip II, the king of Macedon, Alexander’s battle-scarred father. Black-bearded and blind in one eye from a wound received in the battle of Methone, he has the roughness of the mountain warlords from whom he is descended, tempered by military and diplomatic genius and a genuine love of Athenian culture. Philip and his son share only a few occasions of personal closeness, but Philip is at pains to provide Alexander with the best available teachers (including Aristotle), and he recognizes his son’s abilities in war, giving him a key role in the Battle of Chaironea, which establishes Macedonian control over Greece and sets the stage for his planned conquest of the...

(The entire section is 811 words.)