The world of ancient Greece has been a favorite subject for film, television, and literature almost since that time itself. The past fifty years in particular has seen a rise in the number of films and books depicting this period, and if you’re interested in historical fiction you’re probably wondering: which of these books should I read? This article, the first in a series, discusses some of the best (fictional) books about ancient Greece.
“The Persian Boy”-This book written by the incomparable Mary Renault, is the poignant story of Bagoas, the Persian eunuch who eventually became one of the lovers of Alexander the Great. Told in first person narration, it follows Bagoas life as he goes from being the sex slave of the Persian Emperor Darius III to one of Alexander’s most beloved and trusted intimates. Both wryly humorous and sad by turns, this is a truly touching novel of ancient Greece.
“Helen of Troy”-This magnificent epic, penned by the American novelist Margaret George, puts a new spin on the old tale of Helen and the fall of the splendorous city of Troy. Told from Helen’s perspective, something that has rarely been attempted and achieved with skill, this novel is almost as stirring and powerful as the original epics on which it is based. Helen emerges from these pages as a semi-divine woman who nevertheless has a sense of her own mortality, and it is this very mortality that allows her to fall in love with Paris, with all of the chaos and destruction will ensue. A must-read for anyone interested in the world of Homer and the events of The Iliad.
“The Troy Series”-This series of novels, written by the late David Gemmell, is also set in the world of ancient Greece during the Trojan War, although it has a decidedly different twist than most. in this series, Gemmell tries to recapture the historical essence of the Trojan War, rather than focusing on the fantastic of the intervention of the gods. Although he plays fast and loose with the chronology at times, this is nevertheless a fascinating and fast-paced read.
“The Last of the Wine”-This novel, set in the classical Greece of Socrates and Plato, is also written by Mary Renault. Like many of her novels, it deals explicitly with the love between men that was such a hallmark of classical Greek society, and it goes to great pains to show just how much the two men of the novel truly loved one another. Although it does not have an entirely happy ending, it is nevertheless a stirring and touching portrait of love in the ancient world.
These novels, whether they place in the world of Homer and the Trojan War or that of Alexander and his conquest of the world, are powerful and touching in various different ways. If you’re looking for a way to transport yourself back in time, then be sure to pick up one of these decidedly enjoyable volumes for a trip back in time.