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The Praise Singer (1978)

by Mary Renault

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8651725,137 (3.83)47
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)
  1. 20
    Wandering Poets in Ancient Greek Culture: Travel, Locality and Pan-Hellenism by Richard Hunter (gwernin)
    gwernin: Provides the real background for many of the characters in The Praise Singer.
  2. 10
    Marathon Looks on the Sea by Olivia E. Coolidge (themulhern)
    themulhern: The events in "The Praise Singer" precede, but also overlap with those of "Marathon Looks on the Sea". Simonides, the protagonist of "The Praise Singer' is able to look back after a long life; Metiochos's life ends with the novel.
  3. 00
    The Court Poet in Medieval Wales (Welsh Studies) by J.E. Caerwyn Williams (gwernin)
  4. 00
    Sappho's Leap by Erica Jong (nandadevi)
  5. 00
    Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd Edition, Part II: Literature of the Classical World by Elizabeth Vandiver (themulhern)
    themulhern: The lecture series contains one whole lecture on the lyric poets of "The Praise Singer"s time. There is a lecture on Thucydides as well; Thucydides is the first historian to explicitly correct a popular myth: that Harmodios and Aristogeiton were motivated by a preference for democracy.… (more)
  6. 00
    The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton (themulhern)
  7. 00
    Farewell, Great King by Jill Paton Walsh (themulhern)
    themulhern: The historical eras overlap; the lyric poet Simonides is in both books.
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» See also 47 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
A typical Mary Renault. Ancient Greeks drily accept their circumstances and numerous barbaric cruelties, while staying pious somehow. A good re-telling of the events preceding the Persian Wars; the conquest of the Ionian cities by Cyrus, the death of Polykrates of Samos, the ascendancy of Pisistratus and the murder of his son, Hipparchos, who seems to have become very Nero-like to provoke the assassination. Simonides is telling the tale many years later while living in Sicily; every so often he like to remind us that a large part of the beautiful Athens he knew was burned by the Persians. For him there is no going back to those lyric days of yore. ( )
  themulhern | Mar 27, 2022 |
Renault has a beautiful way with descriptions of land and society, and effectively creates the social, political, and geographic climate of ancient Greece, particularly ancient Athens, in this novel. Her willingness to leave her hero in the dark is one of the ways she does this so effectively. As a poet, Simonides would have been hyperaware of the court's status, but not necessarily high enough to know all the secrets of the tyrants. It is this exchange of information, and the way Simonides collects and responds to this information, which make her rendition of the social setting so persuasive. The arc of Simonides' travel, which structures the book into sections by his geographic location, is also very effective, as the reader follows him in growing knowledge of the Athenian climate from his ignorant rural boyhood to favor and acceptance for his talent. ( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
This was a great read, even if it wasn't one of my favorite Renault novels. She always manages to transport me back in time. The section on the Olympics was especially interesting, as was the final downfall of the Tyrants. Fascinating stuff! ( )
  bugaboo_4 | Jan 3, 2021 |

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.


In service to community,
ShiraDestinie
William James MEOW Date: Monday, July 16. 12014 H.E. (Holocene Era) ( )
  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 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Renault, MaryAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mendelson, CharlotteIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
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
Dedication
First words
A good song, I think. The end's good - that came to me in one piece - and the rest will do.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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Historical about Simonides
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