Alexander and the Palace Setup
Chapter one of the book Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault introduces the reader to the main characters of the book. It introduces life in the palace by giving the reader a description of how the palace was organized as well as governed in terms of security of the royalty.
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Philip, the king, is the husband to Olympia. Together, they have a four-year-old son called Alexander and a daughter called Cleopatra. The kids have their own rooms where their Spartan nurses take care of them at night away from the royal bedroom. The setting of the book is in a Greek society where Philip is the king. Olympia is the king’s wife who practices witchcraft. At this point, she has introduced her son Alexander to the art of snake charming against his father’s will. She keeps a snake called glaukos.
When Alexander finds a snake coiled around him, he thinks it is glaukos only to realize that it is a new one when he takes it to his mother’s room. He names it tayche (Renault 1). While in the royal bedroom, Alexander witnesses firsthand the feuds between his parents. When he steps in between his parents, though on his mother’s defense, his father throws him mercilessly down the stairs out of the room.
Philip is a one-eyed king full of battle scars that make his own son view him as ugly: His son likens him to Polyphemos. Alexander is a smart child who knows how to have his way in the palace and places where he may not be allowed to access. Philip loathes his wife’s witchcraft.
Alexander has a friend called Ptolemy whom he has heard guards say that he is Alexander’s brother. However, Ptolemy does not want to talk about it at all. Alexander shows how bright he is when he engages the envoys to his father in hard questions some of which they refuse to answer.
He explains to them that they do not need to greet his father by lying on the ground with their faces touching it. Philip’s empire is exceptionally large spanning across Europe, Asia, and Africa from where he draws his soldiers of war. He rules above kings making other kings of certain kingdoms become mini kings to him. The chapter ends with Alexander attending a worship ceremony at the temple of dionysos.
Alexander and Leonidas, the Tutor
As Renault writes, King Philip is at war again. This time, it is on the north east of the Chilkadian coast. One thing that torments him most is the idea of his wife practicing witchcraft (24). Olympias has grown forceful in stamping her place in the royalty. She has send out spies who inform her on every move her husband king Philip makes towards other women.
The thought of the king taking another wife or just a concubine sends her to perform rituals in the tomb as a way of invoking a curse on to the king who loves young women. The king enlists the services of the well-travelled Leonidas to be young Alexander’s teacher since he has attained the age of seven. He does this as he leaves for the battlefront. Leonidas is a well-travelled man and Olympia’s uncle who has stayed in Athens and learnt the elegant Aristocratic lifestyle of the Greek aristocrats.
He is even more Hellenized than Philip himself. He therefore sets out to appoint Leonidas as a governor before proceeding to war. Leonidas would be in charge of Alexander’s education as well as his discipline. He would flank Alexander when he goes wrong thus making it his duty of ensuring that the young prince grows up perfectly as a Spartan. Alexander has been accorded teachers for different subjects with Epikrates being the music teacher and Naukles being the mathematics teacher (Renault 31).
Philip realized he could not find these rare teachers on his own thus conscripting the services of Leonidas. Alexander was therefore provided with some of the best teachers fit for a royalty. Alexander’s tutors are not accustomed to strong drinks the way Spartans are. They often excuse themselves whenever the drinking becomes too much during the evenings to the amusement of the Spartans who are their hosts. They discuss among themselves about their student. They agree among themselves and sometimes disagreeing entirely.
Their shyness towards the drink causes amusement among their Spartan hosts. Alexander is loathsome on how his teachers treat him. He even contemplates killing some of them. When he cannot do it, he runs away to the wild where a woodcutter picks him while injured to take him back to the palace. The king holds parties to celebrate his wins by inviting Alexander to sit with him to the point when the drinking starts.
Encounters between Philip and Alexander after the War
The king has taken a break from the war. He can be found sitting with his staff in the court of his palace. At this stage, Alexander is a ten-year-old boy who is remarkably sharp for his age. He knows almost all the guards’ names even for the ones who are barely a few days old at the posting in the palace.
As Alexander enters his father’s court after being summoned, he displays the gait of a real Spartan man as trained by Leonidas (Renault 48). The king brings his son a present. As part of his training, he requires him to be around when the envoys come. Philip son’s interests and attitudes towards him disturb him. He asks himself if all his enemies are his son’s heroes due to his quest to have his son stop following his mother’s footsteps to grow up a real Spartan with all the Spartan civility.
Alexander develops a tendency to take firm stands against his own mother. He accomplishes this attempt when his mother tries to influence the clothes he should wear when the envoys come. Renault writes, “I have to dress,” he told her, “for the Athenian envoys…I’ll wear blue” (50). Alexander tries as much as possible to please his father by looking at what his father wants him to look like.
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Alexander uses his determination to satisfy his curiosity when he forces Phoinix to take him out to see the envoys as they arrive at night on their mules with torches.
The envoys arrive in the night. When they wake up in the morning, they are amazed at the splendor of the palace guesthouse. Demosthenes, who is one of the envoys, witnesses Alexander’s smartness when he comes into the guest room asking questions beyond his age and size with a unique demeanor. Demosthenes recites his points on how he will talk before the king.
Alexander and Epikrates
Alexander is about twelve years old. By him is Epikrates who is his music teacher. They spend a lot of time together though Epikrates tells him that he will never make a good musician. Epikrates is a renowned music scholar who feels wasted. Although he is paid to teach Alexander how to play music instruments, the student has no interest.
He feels it would be better to teach a child with a little talent for free than to teach a young rich royalty who has no interest at all. Epikrates feels resigned for the turbulence that he finds at the palace thus making a conclusion that he has to go away soon for his soul to find some balance (Renault 71). Alexander is supposed to perform at the dinner. However, his father comes late with an extremely filthy mood. Whispers go round that he is coming from seeing his wife who gives him a hard time.
Alexander fails to break his voice as a young adolescent. His father blames this on his sorcerer mother. He blames any defect on his son to his mother. Alexander performs before his father at the dinner table leading to a standing ovation from guests and other members of the royal court. To him and everyone’s amazement, his father dismisses the music as not coming from a man.
Once more, his anger rises based on the quarrel he has just had with his wife and the resemblance his son has of his mother when she would laugh sarcastically at him. Alexander runs away into the wilderness longing for a war at just twelve years old. He takes the hostage of Gyras who is one of the intermediaries who have taken the time off duty to visit their family. Alexander makes Gyras swear by a piece of meat he took away from the sacrifices that Gyras would not tell of him back in Pella, or betray him in his adventure.
Alexander’s urge to go to war led by the voice of Herackles leads him to sleep in a peasant boy’s bed full of fleas as he leads the scorpion army against the Kimolians. He invokes his father’s name. With Gyras’ support, the headman listens to him. Alexander puts the skills he has learnt to use during the war against Kimolian’s thus killing his first man in a war: a son of a Kimolian’s headman.
Aristotle the Philosopher
The chapter opens with the departure of Leonidas and the entry of Aristotle a distinguished philosopher and a student of Plato. Alexander hopes that he is better than Leonidas. Alexander realizes that, just like Leonidas, Aristotle too has not just come to teach him, but has come for political reasons. The only person with his welfare at heart is Phoinix. Alexander’s mother is against a philosopher being his son’s teacher though she does not know that Aristotle is one.
She believes that philosophers make men reason away from the gods (Renault 94). Alexander considers Hephaistion his dearest friend. The new tutor comes in with his conditions for students during his time. He asks that they be boarded somewhere away from the court and its distractions. Therefore, they are taken to a hose on a hill away from the palace from where Aristotle would conduct his studies for them. The house is twenty miles away at the foot of mount Bermion.
Philip had the house restored, and a garden too cleared for Aristotle, the tutor. Philip leaves Olympias to welcome the tutor. For the first time, the two agree on an issue. To his utter surprise, Alexander decides that he will do it now that he is the man of just about fourteen. This attempt sends his mother into a spin of madness by feeling betrayed by a son who she has fought for all the time in her marriage.
Alexander expresses himself when he is with Hephaistion (his best friend) by revealing his deep thoughts about his mother’s thinking that she can rule on his behalf based on how he made her cry by his firmness. Aristotle arrives by a whole ship, which had been sent to pick him. On arrival, he finds a waiting escort at the wharf to take him to the palace. The school is set in Mieza. Philip has some of his friends’ children join Alexander at the school as long as they are not too young as per the philosopher’s standards.
Some are young Alexander’s friends while others are not. For instance, Kassandros has been forced by his father to join the class. Alexander starts to develop emotions for girls. However, he does not know how to go about it other than what he has heard the soldiers say. He meets a girl called Gorgo who he later finds out to be having an affair with his father. His mother destroys the girl later.
The Mystery of Dionysio
The students go back to Mieza sometimes after the sacrifices to Dionysio. To Aristotle’s amazement, Alexander looks sharper than it is usual after such a sacrifice (Renault 128). Alexander reconciles himself with what he saw his mother do to Gorgo by accepting that it was her way of revenge just like when men go to war and kill.
While at school, his parents write him letters thinking his quietness is due to the Dionysio experience not knowing that it is due to some form of shame he feels his father is taking him through. To this situation, Alexander feels that he might never love a woman. Hephaistion still worships his friend Alexander by going a long way to impress him by importing him a book.
On his part, Aristotle keeps his duty of training the young lads while taking the time to make observations on the nature besides making notes on the deer’s coupling. Hephaistion discovers a vixen’s den. Together, they scout the vixen. The cubs seem to be the only thing that would make Alexander smile between long moments of silence, which makes his friend Hephaistion happy when he smiles because he has made it his loyal duty to keep Alexander happy.
Alexander yearns for war. From his conversations with his friend, he talks about how he dreams of marching into Greece as a general after the war. He is good at javelin and sword. However, he prefers the sword as his favorite weapon for a face-to-face combat. Philip has a disdain for his son’s south-like behavior when he comes in clean-shaven to which he does not consider Macedonian.
However, he restrains himself from saying anything that might offend him due to the business at the table. Alexander’s father startles him when preparing for war. He informs him that he will remain behind to do the administration work. He further tells him that he might be ripe maybe two years from then. He is left with the royal seal of Macedon, which is a symbol of the king’s authority.
Though the king makes it look like he wants his son to do administration before he can go to war, he feels from deep inside himself that his son is not man enough. Once again, when his father is away, his mother tries to influence him to do a favor to her henchman’s son. However, Alexander refuses with reason much to his mother’s disdain.
Alexander’s first War
As Alexander prepares to go to war, he goes to his mother to find answers to lingering questions about his paternity. Alexander goes to war with his father as they lay siege Thebes. On the way, Alexander comes across Leonidas’ grave to which he pays his respect though he never respected him as a general (Renault 170). Alexander observes that the southerners covet each other because they land starved. Thus, it makes them come out in a united front.
Philip gets the wall of Elatia put up again and makes it his fort. From here, he sends envoys to all cities he has laid siege on asking them to surrender. Philip lays siege to Thebes. This case brings out the experience in him in matters of war. Thebans debate over the idea of giving Philip a passage to Athens by considering him an ally though they are dismayed by the way he puts up Elatia. Thebans voted in favor of tearing the treaty with Macedon. They allied themselves with Athens thus counting Philip as an enemy.
Demosthenes, the king of Thebes, consults oracles as they prepare for Philip’s southern march. Athens prepare for war. However, when they consult an oracle, it shows the odds against them to which Demosthenes declares that someone among them is Philip’s traitor. Philip is simply trying to test his ally’s loyalty to which Thebes fails. Philip gives Alexander a Calvary to lead as his birthday present on his 18th birthday.
Demosthenes inspects the army as files of strong young men stand guard. They start falling on their spears due to fatigue as they keep watch for invasion from the Macedons. Demosthenes himself is a politician and not a fighter. Therefore, he has to account for everything that happens. Alexander leads the army in war as his father watches from a distance on the hilltop the way a shepherd looks over his ship.
Young Alexander has the voice to command. Demosthenes had instilled fear in the Athenians by telling that Philip would blot them off the face of the Earth. Therefore, they have to fight for their city’s survival. Philip and his father win the battle against Thebes. With it, they take prisoners from among the fighters. Father and son have a good relationship at this moment as the father avoids picking him.
Philip’s new Wife Eurydike
Eurydike, who is King Philip’s newest wife, gets a baby girl. To Philips relief, his new wife is a total opposite of Olympias. He mulls over a thought of having her killed by justifying that she has blood in her hands. Hence, it would be justice anyway.
This thought stops when he realizes that his son Alexander would one day come to know about it however discreet the plot would be. Alexander and his mother leave the palace for a place called Epiros. From there, Alexander sends his father a letter asking him to restore his mother’s place before they can come back (Renault 205).
The king’s plans for another war are affected by the news of bands of men or soldiers sighted in different parts of his region thus leaving him undecided on what step to take. This happens after Alexander has fled with his mother. Hephaistion is with Alexander as they live through a life of squalor since they are in a self-imposed exile. He tells him how much his father adores him and how he wishes he went back. Alexander dismisses this as just a plot to have him back to hold as his father goes out to war in Asia.
He puts a condition that his mother’s place must be restored before he can go back. Alexander ponders on how to get back home to his father, as he is apparent the heir who sends Demaratos to his father as a go-between for reconciliation. Philip is ready to reconcile with his son. However, the biggest impediment is his wife whom he does not want near him at all. At the end of the day, Philip is convinced by Demaratos to bring back his wife and son.
Eurydike, the new wife, has an affine house built for her a few meters away from the palace. Alexander feels ashamed of his father for going for a 15-year-old girl at his age. Olympias learns of Arridaio’s marriage plans, and sends her son immediately to relay the news.
Alexander is startled by the news of his half brother being made heir by his father though the boy is a halfwit. Alexander’s relationship with his father deteriorates after he tells him in his face that he should find inheritance for himself. This leads to a conspiracy between the mother and son. The situation leaves Philip dead so that Alexander can inherit the throne despite his bastard nature.
Author Mary Renault is a Hughes and Bristol college trained nurse born in 1939. She is an acclaimed author with many novels penned under her name. She was made a flow of the Royal literature in 1959 due to the work she had contributed in literature. As a writer, Renault comes out strong with the way she presents her story.
It is captivating in such a way that it keeps the reader’s attention to details. Her work is fiction. From the book Fire from Heaven, the reader finds that it takes so much knowledge about the ancient Greece for someone to come up with such a masterpiece. Though the story meanders a lot before it takes shape, the writer seems at home with the lifestyle of the old Greece.
The writer has experience with the subject as she has also written other pieces on ancient Greece besides this work. Renault is prejudiced in a way that she has a negative bias towards Olympia, the mother of Alexander. Though she pays so much tribute to Alexander, she paints his mother as a sorcerer.
The purpose the writer has on this book is to expose the intrigues of the ancient Greek’s royalty, which was a mix of heroes, villains, and gods. The lines between the gods and the people are so thin that kings would be referred to as gods. The book also exposes the reader to the ancient dark art when rituals were performed to please the gods.
Informative Nature of the Book
The book is informative about the ancient royal life and society in general. From this book, it is evident that education then was for the privileged few being the royalty and the aristocrats. It informs readers on the art of war. The book also enlightens readers on how battles were planned and executed during the ancient times. Small communities would unite against a common enemy or they would simply pay allegiance to the stronger ones in society.
The book informs readers on the art of diplomacy, its origin on how treaties were cut, and how submission was made. The book is convincing as it uses real life characters. It uses real life settings to create a picture of how things would work then. Although the book is a work of fiction, it is almost convincing in the way it has cast people like Aristotle who were real persons during that time.
The book is not particularly easy to read due to so many intertwined characters that have been used. The names of many places are mostly in Greece making it difficult to read easily. However, as the story line continues, there is more clarity as the main characters are used repeatedly. The piece is suitable to anybody who wishes to read both for fun and for academic purposes.
It offers an overview of historical Greece culture. It also enumerates practices, which would be good for anyone trying to understand the world of civilization and its origins as people live today. The masterwork is also good for literature students. Language students would profoundly benefit from the book due to the literary styles employed in executing the plot. The storyline leaves one curious for the next step.
It is full of tension. The work is recommendable to students in different fields of study spanning from literature, history, religion, as well as geography. It can also be a good recommendation for students studying English as a foreign language. Students who wish to improve on their vocabulary should also read the book. The subject is covered fairly with in-depth descriptions that bring out the picture the writer is trying to create.
Conclusion/My lesson from doing the Report
The lesson learnt from doing the report is that a person needs to have enough vocabulary that would enable him or her make a summary of work. To make a report, one needs to read the subject. The reader should understand the subject so that the summary he or she comes up with is a representation of the whole work.
Additionally, the reader should be able to give the picture of the entire story. One also needs to filter out what will make sense in the report. This summary should be used to prepare the report. A report should be brief in this sense, but loaded to the brim with the information it is trying to put across. The experience leaves a reader believing in him/herself with regard to the amount of work this assignment is and the time required to execute it.
Renault, Mary. Fire from Heaven. Arrow, London, 1970. Print.