argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Mary Renault's The Praise Singer is told through the eyes of the historical poet Simonides, who is perhaps most famous for his epitaph for the Spartans who died at the Battle of Thermopylae: 'Tell them in Lakedaimon, passer-by, that here, obedient to their word, we lie.'

Two things made this novel stand out from the rest of Renault's Greek-based books. First, it is surprisingly short -- less than 200 pages in the format I read. And second, rather than narrate continuously, Renault focuses on specific points in Simonides' life. Surprisingly, I did not find this technique jarring, even though I had not expected to spend so many pages on an event that perhaps lasted two days in real time while entire years were mentioned only in passing; I credit Renault's prose and her ability to create scenes that draw you in and feel real for holding the novel together.

My favourite part of the novel was the last half, which was set in Athens and featured several brief yet unforgettable appearances by Harmodius and Aristogeiton. At the same time, my least favourite part was also the last half, mainly because the ending felt too abrupt while there was so much potential for further expansion.

Despite this, I enjoyed The Praise Singer almost as much as The Mask of Apollo. Simonides is quite astute, which makes for much more introspective reading than Theseus' point of view allows in The King Must Die.

Below are some quotes from The Praise Singer that I found memorable enough to write down while reading.

Praise Singer quotes. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
This is the last of the Maurice posts I have planned, but it's a topic I wanted to comment on as soon as I saw the reference by name in Maurice. It's also a topic that has become very personal to me through The Charioteer. Plato's Phaedrus can be read online here; Maurice is by E. M. Forster and The Charioteer is by Mary Renault.


Plato's Phaedrus, similar to the Symposium, is a dialogue about love, particularly of the homoerotic sort. It begins with Phaedrus recounting a speech made by Lysias on how the non-lover is better than the lover for lovers spoil their beloveds by flattering them with undeserved praise, try to control the life of the beloved out of jealousy, and so on. Socrates follows suit and makes his own speech on the detriments of love. Then, coming upon a realization, Socrates chastises Phaedrus ("That was a dreadful speech which you brought with you, and you made me utter one as bad.") and makes a second speech praising love, which is the apex of the dialogue.

It is in this second speech that Socrates introduces the idea of a three-part soul symbolized by a charioteer and two horses -- one horse is clean and white and loves virtue, the other horse is mangy and black and loves anything that satisfies his desires, and the charioteer is the leader who must control the horses and preserve balance between all three. If it sounds similar to Freud, it is, with the charioteer as the ego, the white horse as the superego, and the black horse as the id. Socrates then describes how the charioteer and horses of both lover and beloved act when near each other.

Since this is Plato, self-control and a refrain from sexual acts are strongly encouraged for both the lover and his beloved. However, Plato says that even those who have been active sexually "are dear, but not so dear to one another as the others" and "when the time comes at which they receive their wings" both chaste and unchaste couples "have the same plumage because of their love."

In short, the Phaedrus presents a beautifully written (and highly idealistic) view of love spoken of in terms of a couple (a lover and a beloved) formed by two males.

The impact of Plato's Phaedrus can be seen in both Forster and Renault, who mention the Phaedrus by name in Maurice and The Charioteer, respectively. However, while Forster mainly introduces the Phaedrus for Clive, who is presented as a Hellenist, the Phaedrus is one of the central, continuous themes of The Charioteer, which derives its very title from the dialogue.


The Phaedrus in Maurice. )


The Phaedrus in The Charioteer. )


I've been considering it a lot lately and, if it's true that everyone has that one special book that they identify with, I think The Charioteer is mine. It wasn't always. Even after I started reading Renault, Fire From Heaven was my immediate favourite. But the things that Laurie goes through, his gradual and sometimes painful quest to discover who his is and his place in the world . . . Sometimes I think it's all there, only in an altered form, shaped by the time period in which we each live.

"At some stage of a broken midnight conversation, he had said, 'I've often had a feeling that there's nowhere I really belong.' He had hardly known himself what he wanted; but Ralph had said, without a moment's hesitation, 'You belong with me. As long as we're both alive, this will always be your place before anyone else's. That's a promise.'"

The fulfillment of the Phaedrus, only not so optimistic, but so much more real.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Maurice had two dreams at school: they will interpret him.

In the first dream he felt very cross. He was playing football against a nondescript whose existence he resented. [...]

The second dream is more difficult to convey. Nothing happened. He scarcely saw a face, scarcely heard a voice say, "That is your friend," and then it was over, having filled him with beauty and taught him tenderness. He could die for such a friend, he would allow such a friend to die for him; they would make any sacrifice for each other, and count the world nothing, neither death nor distance nor crossness could part them, because "this is my friend." [...]

Maurice's secret life can be understood now; it was part brutal, part ideal, like his dreams.

--From the 2006 paperback edition of Maurice


I bought Maurice this past Thursday evening and had it read by Friday night. It wasn't planned that way; I usually live in books, savouring each one by reading it over a period of weeks or even months so that by time I reach the end, I've become so immersed in the novel that it takes a few weeks before I'm ready to start the next one.

Maurice was different in large part because of the writing style used. Forster's writing is very straight forward and the narration moves along at a moderately quick pace. It's quite different from Renault's, which demands careful reading (and re-reading) if one is to catch the sheer amount of subtleties and layers involved. Another departure from Renault is that Forster writes from third person omniscient while Renault's third person is still mostly through her main character's eyes. The overall result is that Forster's writing feels more like narration while Renault's has an intimate quality based on personal introspection.

So as not to seem like I'm trying to undermine Forster here, his narration is very good narration and he also has a way of using nature and the weather to reflect the current atmosphere and Maurice's state of mind, particularly near the end of the novel. There is something to be said for not having to wade through subtlety and which writing style you prefer strikes me as a matter of personal preference.

Seeing the film beforehand was the other factor that made Maurice a quick read. Most of the scenes from the movie (including the deleted scene) are lifted right from the book, dialogue and all. Moreover, I found that I actually preferred the film to the book, which is relatively rare for me.

Comparison of the novel and the movie, including spoilers, behind cut. )

The novel also features an interesting commentary written by Forster in 1960 at the back.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
I first heard about Maurice when someone mentioned it during a discussion of Mary Renault's The Charioteer on [livejournal.com profile] maryrenaultfics. Intrigued, I looked it up on Amazon and, thinking the plot sounded vaguely reminiscent of The Charioteer, albeit set in an earlier time period, and seeing that the reviews were almost universally five stars, I added it to my wish list.

Maurice is a simply beautiful film that fully deserves its own detailed scene-by-scene review. I'm not very fond of the summary on the back of the DVD, but the first line is perfect: "Set against the stifling conformity of pre-World War I English society, E.M. Forster's Maurice is a story of coming to terms with one's sexuality and identity in the face of disapproval and misunderstanding."

Continue with the Maurice commentary, including plot spoilers and a comparison to parts of The Charioteer. )

Screencaps. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Have you ever felt like updating, but not had anything in particular to say?

I finished re-reading Mary Renault's The Charioteer while backing up my computer on Thursday and read more from Fire From Heaven today. Our Alexander textbook, believe it or not, doesn't have a map of Greece or Macedon in it, so I've been bringing Fire From Heaven to my Alexander class so I can consult the map inside the front cover.

It's amazing how many subtexts I missed while reading both these books for the first time. I finally understood what was happening in the last chapter I read from Fire From Heaven, which is one of Renault's more subtle ones. Her portrayal of Hephaistion gets to me every time. It's partly why I'm in such an odd mood right now; too much identification . . .

Seconds in silence, last half of forever
searching for glimpses lovers embraced
how close and how distant, we stand to each other
knowing that nothing here can ever be replaced
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
This is something I've been meaning to post for a while, but never got around to.

Mary Renault's been my favourite author ever since I read Fire From Heaven for a high school project about four years ago. While flipping through it again, paying special attention to the dog-eared pages, I came across a passage that struck me. It was significant the first time I read it, but even more so now; I could see hints of how I've chosen to interpret Gon and Killua in the text.

I don't really expect any comments on this, but I wanted to share.

Selection )

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