Yes, nearly forty years ago we were on summer holiday on that wonderful Greek island, staying in a not-so-wonderful taverna. Nevertheless, I still fondly remember buying this book in an open air stall, somewhere near the waterfront of Aghios Nikolaos, quite early on in the holiday. I had read it before we left about ten days later.
Somehow we had conspired to be away when Lady Diana Spencer married the heir to the British throne – but enough of that.
Judging By The Cover
As a lover of history (so-called) and art, I was initially drawn to the cover. Few figures in ancient history are as iconic as Alexander The Great, who conquered much of the then known world by his untimely (or timely) demise in 323 BC in Babylon.
But of course, supposed facts are one thing, but weaving them together in an entertaining narrative is quite another. In my opinion, Mary Renault succeeded brilliantly. She is of course most associated with being a fine historical novelist with a penchant for ancient Greece, prerequisites for writing this acclaimed biography.
I remember vividly (I have yet to re-read it) that it was easy to read, making me almost believe that I too was being tutored by Aristotle and later courting the beautiful Roxanne.
The fact that I did most of my reading on the hot sand or in a shady cafe, only added to the experience of travelling relentlessly eastward in my imagination.
Most especially the notion of conquest, that it is in fact a product of the mind, came across very strongly – to the point that by the end of the book I felt as if I had personally known this clearly insatiable and charismatic man — doubtless testimony to a great writer.
Maybe that day when I finally re-read this book is not too far away, though somehow I don’t think it will be in Crete.