The second volume in her Alexander trilogy, Mary Renault's historical novel *The Persian Boy* must surely be ranked as one of her finest books. Many of the reviews which greeted its original (delayed) publication, reflecting the mores of the time, were openly and unambiguously hostile. As may be expected, this disapproval by and large centred on what by any objective measure must be considered the very discreet treatment of a possible physical relationship between Alexander of Macedon and the young eunuch presumed in the sources to be his *eromenos*, the Persian Bagoas. Interestingly, given the gaps in the historical record concerning this individual, even recent students of Alexander's life and career have adopted a predominantly pejorative attitude towards Bagoas. Whatever the truth about him, it seems that Alexander's Persian boy continues to cause unease among those whom, as Mary Renault would put it, such thoughts disturb. The non-judgmental among us, however, may rightly view *The Persian Boy* as one of Renault's most accomplished works and, within the parameters of her own interest, surely also a statement of personal significance to the author. Its cyclical structure, thematic resonances, beautifully observed psychological tensions and human dilemmas, unfold in what Dylan Thomas called a `colour of saying' which is at times the match of anything she wrote.
As other reviewers have noted, the book is not without its flaws, both artistic and historical, and Mary Renault herself was fully aware of these. But because *The Persian Boy* is not simply an historical novel but a safe place of generous beauty created by an author of not inconsiderable courage-and this in the teeth of contemporary distaste for such themes-other critical standards should also be applied. It can be argued that *The Persian Boy* is as significant for an objective appreciation of a complex and important writer as it may be for a study of the development of the modern historical novel itself. A close reading of *The Persian Boy* reveals more than Mary Renault's own understanding of the nature of Alexander.
Although portrayed through the eyes of Bagoas himself, the story's creative power and tension as much concerns Hephaistion's relationship with Alexander as it does that of Bagoas. The infatuated (and, at times, potentially murderous) youth must learn to grow up, to surrender his selfishness if he is to retain what has been real. At the last, Bagoas is depicted as rising to the challenge his declared love has set him: to allow his beloved the freedom to love another more. The vengeful possessiveness of the mythical Achilles for Patroklos, juxtaposed with the unresolved ambiguities of Alexander's love for Hephaistion, find a counterpoint in Bagoas' selfless care of the dying Alexander. Even a final kiss is given as Hephaistion would have offered it, wanting Alexander to receive it from whomever his heart wishes, steady in the knowledge that the love which matters is that which is given unreservedly. All lovers come to this place; Bagoas' love has travelled far to become worthy of the name.
There will be many views of *The Persian Boy*, some more unfavourable than others. But there are also older readers who say of her books that they comforted them at a time when little comfort else was to be found. When the necessary critical analysis of Mary Renault's work is accomplished, perhaps this too should not be forgotten.