The Last of the Wine

The Last of the Wine - Mary Renault [These notes were made in 1992:]. A homophile friend of mine long ago recommended Mary Renault, and I picked up one of her books - The Praise Singer, I think - and did not greatly enjoy it. But this one fully justified my friend's praises. If the reading of it had one drawback (and it was my failure, not Renault's), it was that my background in Greek literature & history is not strong enough to experience the full deliciousness of her reinvention of the characters of Athenian and Spartan history. I know a little of Sokrates & Plato, of course, and other names like Alcibiades at least had a familiar ring. I suspect, tho', that those who have read more widely than I would appreciate even more the bold and vivid characterizations. Renault also tells a good story, and slides us easily into a very unfamiliar cultural context. The first person protagonist of this story is named Alexias - he is a beautiful youth, a follower of Sokrates, an Athenian soldier in the wars with Sparta, and the lover of Lysis. Renault is both restrained & unsentimental in her depiction of the relationship - this is a long way off in sensibility from, say, the romantic friendships in Broster's novels, and poles apart from modern depictions of modern-day gay relationships. What Renault's characters & Broster's have in common is a very strong sense of idealism - moral idealism - pervading & giving the relationship substance. Whereas Broster's characters subscribe to a rather quixotic, romantic & individualistic "honour", however, Renault's are struggling towards Platonic, or perhaps one should say Socratic, truth. Renault is honest, tho' not brutally so, about the second-class position of women in Greek society. Perhaps that was easier to write about in 1956. Through this long novel, I was never bored. There is lots of incident. I think I might try The Charioteer next, just to see what she does with a modern setting.