Review 1676: The Last of the Wine

It’s the fifth century BC, and the Peloponnesian War has been going on as long as Alexias can remember. As a boy almost reaching manhood, he is more interested in his training as a runner and the teachings of Sokrates. He is often at odds with his father, who has a poor opinion of the Sophists, in which group he includes all the philosophers. Alexias is a beautiful boy who fends off in disgust the advances of his father’s friend Kritias, but he eventually falls in love with Lysis, a man about 10 years older than he, and they form a fast friendship.

Things change as his father Myrom is dispatched to fight against Syracuse. The city of Athens has approved an attack proposed by the charismatic, mercurial Alkibiades. Then, shortly before the fleet is due to leave, someone destroys all the Herms in town, and Alkibiades is accused of this impious act. He leaves with the fleet and is found guilty in his absence without a trial, so he flees, leaving the fleet without the only leader who could have prevailed. Myron is sent with the second wave of warriors.

Before Alexias has even reached his official manhood, he goes off with Lysis to fight Spartans encroaching into the Attican farmlands. The Spartans attack every year to steal or spoil the harvest. The novel follows the two in war, under siege, in famine, and in civil conflict through 10 turbulent years in the history of Greece.

As usual, Renault’s novel is meticulously researched and elegantly written. After so recently reading her Alexander trilogy, though, I began to feel a sameness about her writing. The narration from book to book sounds the same to me, not like different characters (except the one narrated by the Persian boy), and she examines the same themes in Greek culture, although the books are set in different times. Maybe I’m just a little tired of ancient Greece. I read this book for my Classics Club list.

Related Posts

Fire from Heaven

The Persian Boy

Funeral Games

Day 434: Coriolanus

Cover for CoriolanusCoriolanus is one Shakespeare tragedy with which I was previously unfamiliar, and it is a powerful one. More than any other Shakespeare play I’ve read, it is about politics, class dissension, and the fickleness of popularity. It is also about excessive pride.

The play has references to events of the time it was written, for it begins with a riot over corn, the like of which had taken place in Warwickshire the year the play was written. Its war between the Romans and the Volscians is also a reference to the war the English and Spanish had been carrying on intermittently.

Caius Marcius is a warrior who has spent most of his life as a soldier and has no social graces. He is proud and arrogant and disdains the common man. After he soundly beats the Volscians in battle, particularly his bitter enemy Aufidius, and conquers their city of Corioles, the Roman generals rename him Coriolanus and the senate wants to award him a consulship. This office as ruler of Rome is the one that all great men aspire to. Unfortunately, to have the office, Coriolanus must beg the honor from the public and show them his wounds gained in defending the state.

He is reluctant to do so, knowing that he is unable and unwilling to ask for what he thinks he deserves, but his austere mother Volumnia and his supporters talk him into it. Two jealous tribunes, who are representatives of the people, are afraid that Coriolanus will strip them of their offices. So, the two, Brutus and Sicinius, work to enrage the people after they have already sworn to support Coriolanus.

The result is another riot, and instead of receiving the high honor, Coriolanus is declared a traitor. The tribunes even try to have him executed, but he is banished.

The seeds of Coriolanus’ downfall are sown both by the treachery of his rivals and by his own hubris. Things go downhill from there.

It is interesting that in the class divide, Shakespeare’s sympathies seem to align with the men of power even while he deplores Coriolanus’ flaws. There are several speeches about the public not being able to make a decision, about their fickleness, and so on, and the actions of the public seem to bear these ideas out. You can image what Shakespeare would think about a democracy or about our current political situation.