The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

Published 1972 chapter 10   set in the 4th century BC

[Bagoas, favourite of the defeated King Darius of Persia, is about to be presented to Alexander the Great

[Nabarzanes said] ‘… You shall have clothes too, not those makeshifts; I am sending to Zadrakarta…’ 

Four days later, our cavalcade rode down to Alexander’s camp. Nabarzanes had been generous… I had two fine suits, the best one, which I was wearing, with real gold buttons and embroidered sleeves… 

I stood before him, my eyes cast down as is proper before a king. He said suddenly, ‘Bagoas!’ and I was startled into looking up, as he had intended. 

As one might smile at the child of a stranger seeing it scared, so he did at me, and said to the interpreter, ‘Ask the boy if he is here of his own free will.’.. 

I replied that I had come freely, hoping for the honour of serving him.

observations: Bagoas is a young and beautiful eunuch. Mary Renault chose to write her historical novel about Alexander from his point of view: she imagines in great detail his feelings for Alexander, and obviously has a very clear idea in her head as to what exactly their sexlife consists of, even if it isn’t always as clear to the reader – not because of any censorship or prudishness, but because, perhaps, of our ignorance about eunuchs.

Renault was in her 60s when it was published, and had been writing about ancient civilizations and what we would call gay love for nearly 20 years. She creates her worlds in a most whole-hearted way, and the book is a very successful portrayal of the extraordinary life of Alexander the Great. Still, it vies in the Unusual Choice of POV stakes with I am the Great Horse by Katherine Roberts – an equally marvellous book which is narrated by Alexander’s horse Bucephalus.

The true role of Bagoas, it turns out, is exactly what was lost from the 2004 film Alexander until director Oliver Stone’s third version, The Final Cut. This differs from the second (The Director’s Cut) only in small ways, except that the relationship with Bagoas is made a lot more explicit. Astonishingly, in this day and age, there was a huge and agonized fuss over the way Alexander’s sexual orientation was portrayed in the film, both with his companion Hephaistion and with Bagoas. The film was not a huge success, partly because Colin Farrell (a fine actor) seems dreadfully miscast. One can’t help feeling that Jared Leto – wonderful as Hephaistion – would have been a much better choice as a less butch Alexander. Bagoas was played by an amazingly beautiful young Spanish actor, Francisco Bosch.

The top picture – from a Moghul manuscript held at the Walters Museum in Baltimore – does show Alexander greeting a captive, although in this case a Chinese warrior who turns out to be a girl. In the West we are more used to seeing Alexander depicted in a more, well, Western style – as for example the Veronese in London’s National Gallery of Alexander greeting the family of Darius – so it is salutary to see other versions.


  1. Moira - Well, perhaps the horse might win that competition for Most Unusual POV. But this one certainly sounds like an innovative 'inside' look at the life of Alexander. And you've reminded me I didn't get the chance to see that film. Hmm...something to put on the rental list.

  2. It's an interesting film but loooong, and a bit messy. I am fascinated by Alexander the Great, but if you're not a big fan, nor a fan of very long and (presumably) authentic battle scenes - well, it could go a way down your list!

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