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The Praise Singer by Mary Renault

The Praise Singer (1978)

by Mary Renault

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6971421,059 (3.8)39
In the story of the great lyric poet Simonides, Mary Renault brings alive a time in Greece when tyrants kept an unsteady rule and poetry, music, and royal patronage combined to produce a flowering of the arts. Born into a stern farming family on the island of Keos, Simonides escapes his harsh childhood through a lucky apprenticeship with a renowned Ionian singer. As they travel through 5th century B.C. Greece, Simonides learns not only how to play the kithara and compose poetry, but also how to navigate the shifting alliances surrounding his rich patrons. He is witness to the Persian invasion of Ionia, to the decadent reign of the Samian pirate king Polykrates, and to the fall of the Pisistratids in the Athenian court. Along the way, he encounters artists, statesmen, athletes, thinkers, and lovers, including the likes of Pythagoras and Aischylos. Using the singer's unique perspective, Renault combines her vibrant imagination and her formidable knowledge of history to establish a sweeping, resilient vision of a golden century.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)

A joyous read. Though a bit dated, this book gave both an excellent feel for the pre-Persian wars Aegean, and also very nice reading. My only qualm is with her use of the words 'thrall' and 'knight,' which pulled me out of the novel. Her foreshadowing and phrasing were wonderful. I certainly felt that I was there, and had full sympathy for the main characters.

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  ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
"The Praise Singer" is Mary Renault’s take on the life of Simonides, a real lyric poet who lived in Ancient Greece from 556 BC to approximately 468 BC, a fairly hefty life span for that period in time. Details of his early life and family are sketchy, which gives the opportunity for a good historical fiction writer like Ms. Renault to imagine those details, keeping in mind whatever knowledge historians have about the period in question. Most of the characters in this book were also real people; only close associates such as housekeepers, courtesans and pupils are invented by the author. I won’t go into the details of the story, which essentially covers about the first half of Simonides’ life, except to say that he was present for a lot of events that occurred during that time, both politically and socially, and Ms. Renault does a great job of taking the information historians have about those events and filling in the details. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, particularly fiction about Ancient Greece, you probably have run across this author before (I believe she was most active from the 1950s to early 1980s, in terms of her historical fiction at least); if you’re not a fan but are curious about life in the ancient world, her work is a good starting place. My only quibble with this particular novel is that it ends quite abruptly; still, it’s quite impressive and definitely recommended. ( )
  thefirstalicat | May 14, 2018 |
The Praise Singer is the story of Simonides, a great lyric poet who lived in sixth-century Greece. The novel is historical fiction, told in the first person, as an elderly Simonides looks back on his life and the tumultuous events of ancient Greece during his lifetime. I enjoyed the book and learned a lot about ancient Greek history and society. However, I feel like it would have been more interesting if I already had some knowledge of the time period. As I read the book, I became a little bored with the first person style. I felt like the narrator was telling the story to someone who already knew the people and events he was recounting. I also began to realize that it was a case of an unreliable narrator and that I would enjoy the story more from a character's perspective that was less naive about the political atmosphere surrounding him. However, this flaw is also the greatest strength in the novel. You learn a lot about Simonides from his interpretation of events. As the author begins to hint that he may not realize the whole story you see how his perspective changes and how he is eventually caught off guard by events. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in historical fiction or ancient Greece. ( )
  Cora-R | Jan 13, 2016 |
Fictional retelling of the story of Simonides, the ancient Greek lyric poet and bard. I've read several novels on Welsh bards of the Dark Ages, so this was a departure for me. Simonides tells his story from childhood, through apprenticeship to another bard to learn his trade, how he wins and keeps his fame, then the cycle starts again, with his travelling with his talented nephew as apprentice. Another of Renault's masterly works with ancient Greek theme. ( )
  janerawoof | Oct 4, 2014 |
My introduction to Mary Renault was The King Must Die, the first of two novels about Theseus--it was actually assigned reading in high school. What impressed me so much there was how she took a figure out of myth and grounded him historically. After that I quickly gobbled up all of Renault's works of historical fiction set in Ancient Greece. The two novels about Theseus and the trilogy centered on Alexander the Great are undoubtedly her most famous of those eight novels, and I'd add The Last of the Wine.

I wouldn't put The Praise Singer in the first tier of Mary Renault's historical fiction with the novels mentioned above, but it's heads above most historical fiction you can find on shelves. And in a way you could see this as a prequel to The Last of the Wine. While that dealt with Athens during the the Peloponnesian War, this is mostly set in Athens during the beginning of the Persian War. The central title figure, Simonides, is a real historical figure, an important lyric poet who wrote the famous epitaph for the 300 Spartans who fell at Thermopylae: Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie. The Praise Singer is a great portrait of the early Classical period. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Aug 26, 2013 |
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So I shall never waste my life-span in a vain useless hope, seeking what cannot be, a flawless man among us all who feed on the fruits of the broad earth. If I find him, I will bring you news. But I praise and love every man who does nothing base from free will. Against necessity, even gods do not fight. - Simonides
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A good song, I think. The end's good - that came to me in one piece - and the rest will do.
What a deal of reed-paper poems do take up, that will lie in a man's head as small as a bee-grub in the comb.
Never mind, I thought; we are wanderers all, from Homer onward. One sings, and one moves on.
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Historical about Simonides
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