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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 4 February 2017

"The Last of the Wine" by Mary Renault

Alexias is a beautiful young Athenian who becomes friend and gay lover of Lysis, a man about ten years older than him. Through these well-off young men, students of Socrates and later soldiers together on horseback and then at sea, we follow the story of the later days of the thirty year war between Athens and Sparta and the political upheavals in Athens. It's all here: competing in the Corinthian Games, learning logic at the Academy, fighting, seafaring, starvation under siege, modelling for sculptors, birth and death. And the cast of characters includes the greats: from walk on parts for the famous Olympic wrestler Sosotris to major characters such as Plato (first met as a wrestler, later as a wannabe playwright, still later as the kinsman of Kritias, one of Athens tyrants, a man who has tried to molest Alexias at a banquet) and Socrates; Alcibiades who is traitor, hero, playboy and victorious general all rolled into one; Xenophon; and fascinatingly Phaedo, title character of one of Plato's dialogues, who appears as a slave in a male brothel who uses his spare time to become a pupil of Socrates (and apparently this is true!).

I found the start of this book heavy going because there are a lot of characters thrown at you all at once and Athenian politics was always massively convoluted. But I was enjoying it by the quarter mark (the first kiss between Alexias and his lover comes at exactly the quarter mark) after which the soldiering starts and the athletics and the sailing and it becomes better and better. I found it unputdownable at the end (although it is still not as good as Renault's masterpiece, The Persian Boy or Madeline Miller's brilliant The Song of Achilles).

I definitely now want to read a 'proper' biography of Socrates and Alcibiades.

  • "There was a change in the sky; I turned and saw dawn smouldering." (p 15)
  • "war is sweet to the untried" (p 42)
  • "Let the body be hungry, or thirsty, or in desire, and what is his soul but the dog's nose that leads it to flesh?" (p 114)
  • "it had all become such a weariness and disgust as the oar is to the rower" (p 118)
  • "Truly love may be likened to the Sphinx of the Egyptians, with the face of a smiling god and a lion's claws. When he had wounded me, all my longing was to leap into his darkness, and be consumed." (p 133)
  • "He used to stand looking as if his face was something he had dressed in." (p 139)
  • "He began to tell his tale quite clearly; then he lost the thread of it, and became confused among things of no purpose ... A little later again he forgot I was there and sat looking before him." (p 163)
  • "Why does one walk in the City except to meet and talk?" (p 236)
  • "We must do the work of the season, as Hesiod says." (p 258)
  • "the hill behind the city was the colour of the skins of lions." (p 258)
  • "I was thinking ... of time, and change, and that a man must go with them as with a river, conforming to what is. And yet at last, if we are never so obedient, or if we call defiance, the last change is still to death." (p 258)
  • "it takes two to celebrate the rite of Aphrodite" (p 309)
  • "If Fate were moved by tears, men would offer gold to buy them." (p 346)
  • "What is there that will season salt?" (p 358)
  • "Must we forsake the love of excellence, then, till every citizen feels it alike?" (p 404)

A difficult start but well worth persevering. February 2017; 406 pages

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