Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Fire from Heaven is a study in contrasts between a philosophical and rational outlook and that of the ancient religions, between barbarian Macedon and civilized Athens, between reason and superstition. Alexander’s development is a major focus of these themes, of which the other characters embody facets. Aristotle and Hephaistion, after Alexander, most clearly approach the balanced ideal. Renault here seems to endorse the great man theory of history—“events are made by men”—and the value of unification by conquest. Though choosing to mirror as accurately as possible the time in which she writes, she is not uncritical. It is in keeping with Alexander’s character that he at once seeks glory and honor and is horrified or saddened by the aftermath of war. As commander and victor, he pardons enemies, though not traitors, and founds, rather than sacks, cities.

Ancient religions, traditions, and superstitions are also presented as the characters experience them, creating an atmosphere of comprehension and acceptance of the role these play in the characters’ lives. Alexander questions his own paternity, especially before he reaches some understanding of Philip. Some of the other characters do the same—notably those who stand to gain by Alexander’s not being Philip’s heir. Philip’s relationship with Alexander silences most of these. Alexander finally questions Olympias, insisting on the truth about his birth. Her answer is not...

(The entire section is 502 words.)