Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Athens. Ancient Greek city-state that is the capital of Attica at the time in which the novel is set. Standing on the southwestern coast of the Attican Peninsula, Athens is a walled city, in the center of which is a flat-topped hill known as the High City, or Acropolis, on which most of the city’s temples are built. The most famous of these temples now is the Parthenon; it figures into the novel but is known only as the Temple of Athena.

Steps lead up to the High City, from where can be seen the harbor at Piraeus. Dominating the High City is the statue of Athena of the Vanguard with her triple-crested crown and huge spear. The statue of Athena in her temple is gilded, and sunlight seeping through the thin ivory tiles of the roof made her features gleam. The Anakeion is the precinct of a temple to Castor and Pollux at the foot of the High City and is the mustering place for the army, whose cavalry horses are assembled here.

Another high rocky outcrop within Athens’s walls is the Pnyx, to the west of the High City. On its top is the Assembly where citizens meet to discuss the governance of the city. Orators address the people from the public rostrum there.There is a theater lying against the south flank of the High City where plays are performed.

Outside Athens’s Dipylon Gate is the Academy, whose gardens are frequented by philosophers such as Sokrates. A sacred olive and the statue of the hero Akademos is found here. The palaestras, or gymnasia, are places youths are trained in athletic skills, including dance. The Sacred Way, near which is Lysis’s house, runs to Eleusis and is the road along which the dead are carried to the cemeteries.

The Agora is the main public market place, along whose western side runs the colonnaded Stoa of Zeus, where Sokrates and his students often retire to talk. Outside the city walls are the farms that supply the markets. Further away the land is mountainous and cut with steep gorges.

Alexias’s house

Alexias’s house. Athens family home of the protagonist, the young Athenian Alexias. The house stands in the Inner Kerameikos, near the Dipylon Gate, on the northern wall of the city. The house has a colonnaded courtyard, a fig tree, and a vine. There are stables behind it. The house’s gabled roof has a border of acanthus tiles, and a herm, or small guardian statue, stands at the gate. The family also owns a farm in the foothills beyond Acharnai. The slope...

(The entire section is 1022 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Renault learned well from the master sculptors of the Parthenon, who worked with both Greece's incomparable light and the deep shadows it...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Renault explained her refusal to use the past as a metaphor for the present in a 1973 essay, "History in Fiction": ". . . if what you are...

(The entire section is 173 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Bernard Dick traces Renault's novelistic technique to Herodotus, the fifth century B.C. military historian, chronicler, and ethnographer, who...

(The entire section is 263 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The King Must Die

Theseus, as the protagonist of Renault's tragedy, passes through five stages of his tragic development...

(The entire section is 1180 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Burns, Landon C., Jr. “Men Are Only Men: The Novels of Mary Renault.” Critique 6 (1963-1964): 102-121. Evaluates Renault’s early historical novels, defending them as fiction meriting critical approbation. Commends Renault’s reconstruction of the period, her development of the theme of growth and maturity, and her style, particularly her use of imagery and symbol in The Last of the Wine.

Dick, Bernard F. The Hellenism of Mary Renault. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972. Essential study of Renault’s work; his comments received her personal approbation. Discusses her use of language, the authenticity of historical background, the novel as Bildungsroman, and the novel’s themes and symbols.

McEwan, Neil. Perspective in British Historical Fiction Today. Wolfeboro, N.H.: Longwood Academic, 1987. A chapter on Renault’s fiction interprets her earlier novels and emphasizes historical accuracy, immediacy of first-person narrative, and writing style as features contributing to the success of The Last of the Wine.

Sweetman, David. Mary Renault: A Biography. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993. Detailed biography with strong personal references. Provides illuminating commentary on the novels and clarifies the introduction of homosexual love in the novel as both historically and thematically correct.

Wolfe, Peter. Mary Renault. New York: Twayne, 1969. Useful insights, such as viewing the book as an epic in reverse and focusing on its historical authenticity, but too wedded to reading historical parallels, especially of the literary 1930’s, into the novel.