(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Persian Boy is the central novel of Mary Renault’s trilogy on the life of Alexander the Great. Fire from Heaven (1969) deals with his boyhood and young manhood, Funeral Games (1981) with his death and its aftermath. Each work can be read independently. The Persian Boy, dealing with the last seven years of Alexander’s life and his conquest of the then-known world, is told through the perspective of Bagoas, a young Persian of noble family and exceptional beauty. Bagoas is captured at the age of ten when his father is accused of treason and given the Persian traitors’ execution, his nose and ears cut off before death—an image which is to haunt Bagoas. Made into a eunuch and sold into slavery, Bagoas is purchased by a jeweler, and by the time he is twelve, he is forced into a life of prostitution as payment for services rendered to his master’s friends and business associates. From this life, he is rescued by a mysterious purchaser, who prepares him to be a slave to the Great King Darius himself.

Bagoas rapidly becomes a favorite of Darius and learns the ways of the court, including the precarious position of favorites who lose their beauty or manage to displease the Great King. When Darius is defeated by Alexander and betrayed and killed by rival Persian nobles, Bagoas is rescued by Nabarzanes, one of the courtiers who has captured Darius. He takes Bagoas as a propitiatory gift to Alexander.


(The entire section is 546 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Persian boy in this novel, Bagoas, is a beautiful eunuch who seduces the swashbuckling Alexander the Great, cleverly making Alexander think that he is the seducer. In this middle novel of Renault’s three books about Alexander, the pair’s love is intense but very brief. Alexander dies in Babylon, with Bagaos whispering in his ear that he loves him.

There is a sense in this novel of love’s conquering all. Bagaos is exactly what Alexander needs. Given Renault’s residence in South Africa when she was writing this book, one cannot ignore the fact that Alexander and Bagaos are ethnically different and that their love transcends such considerations. The two are loyal to each other, as Renault and Mullard were throughout their nearly fifty years together. The novel in many ways mirrors their unwavering relationship.


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Brunsdale, Mitzi M. “Mary Renault,” in Critical Survey of Long Fiction, English Language Series, 1983. Edited by Frank N. Magill.

Dick, Bernard F. The Hellenism of Mary Renault, 1972.

Renault, Mary. “History in Fiction,” in The Times Literary Supplement. March 23, 1973, pp. 315-316.

Renault, Mary. The Nature of Alexander, 1975.

Wolfe, Peter. Mary Renault, 1969.