The Last of the Wine, typical of Mary Renault’s historical novels, provides voluminous information about notable Athenians—Socrates, Plato, Kritias, Phaedo, Xenophon—but presents it through the eyes of a more ordinary Athenian. Alexias, a youth on the brink of manhood, suddenly has adult responsibility thrust upon him by the report of his father’s death in battle.
When Alexias’s mother dies in childbirth, Alexias is so sickly that his father intends to expose him to the elements, thereby allowing the Fates to decide whether he will live or die. A Spartan attack, however, forestalls this. Alexias grows up with no real father figure until Lysis courts him and becomes his lover, providing the youth with a father surrogate. As was customary, Lysis also informally becomes Alexias’s teacher, helping to prepare him for a manhood in which he will marry and have children, as Lysis himself plans to do.
Alexias’s father takes a young bride and with her sires a daughter. When news of his father’s death reaches Alexias, he is catapulted into being the man of the house, even though he is ill prepared to assume that responsibility. He grows deeply attached to his stepmother, becoming a surrogate husband.
Alexias prevails in the footrace at the Isthmian Games, but his joy at winning soon turns to disillusionment when his beloved Lysis is nearly killed by a wrestler during competition. Renault here shows what happens when...
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