Places: The Last of the Wine

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1956

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 430-402 b.c.e.

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Athens

*Athens. Last of the Wine, TheAncient Greek city-state that is the capital of Attica at the time in which the novel is set. Standing on the southwestern coast of the Attican Peninsula, Athens is a walled city, in the center of which is a flat-topped hill known as the High City, or Acropolis, on which most of the city’s temples are built. The most famous of these temples now is the Parthenon; it figures into the novel but is known only as the Temple of Athena.

Steps lead up to the High City, from where can be seen the harbor at Piraeus. Dominating the High City is the statue of Athena of the Vanguard with her triple-crested crown and huge spear. The statue of Athena in her temple is gilded, and sunlight seeping through the thin ivory tiles of the roof made her features gleam. The Anakeion is the precinct of a temple to Castor and Pollux at the foot of the High City and is the mustering place for the army, whose cavalry horses are assembled here.

Another high rocky outcrop within Athens’s walls is the Pnyx, to the west of the High City. On its top is the Assembly where citizens meet to discuss the governance of the city. Orators address the people from the public rostrum there.There is a theater lying against the south flank of the High City where plays are performed.

Outside Athens’s Dipylon Gate is the Academy, whose gardens are frequented by philosophers such as Sokrates. A sacred olive and the statue of the hero Akademos is found here. The palaestras, or gymnasia, are places youths are trained in athletic skills, including dance. The Sacred Way, near which is Lysis’s house, runs to Eleusis and is the road along which the dead are carried to the cemeteries.

The Agora is the main public market place, along whose western side runs the colonnaded Stoa of Zeus, where Sokrates and his students often retire to talk. Outside the city walls are the farms that supply the markets. Further away the land is mountainous and cut with steep gorges.

Alexias’s house

Alexias’s house. Athens family home of the protagonist, the young Athenian Alexias. The house stands in the Inner Kerameikos, near the Dipylon Gate, on the northern wall of the city. The house has a colonnaded courtyard, a fig tree, and a vine. There are stables behind it. The house’s gabled roof has a border of acanthus tiles, and a herm, or small guardian statue, stands at the gate. The family also owns a farm in the foothills beyond Acharnai. The slope above the valley is terraced for vines, but the principal crop is olives. Barley is also grown in the olive fields and there is a well on the hillside.

Lysis’s house

Lysis’s house. Home of Alexias’s lover and mentor, Lysis. Located near Athens’s Sacred Way, the large house has many marble and bronze fixtures but is now becoming shabby. Its dining room has an inlay of the goddess Athena fighting a Mede. The house also has a pleasure garden beyond which are the fields of flower sellers. The harness room has old yokes for chariots, leftovers from the days when Lysis’s father raced.


*Piraeus (pi-REE-us). The port serving Athens. The road between Piraeus and Athens is protected by long walls that enable citizens to move freely between the two cities. These walls are lined with huts all the way to the harbor. Rich foreigners build houses here, and the air smells of spices hemp and pitch until trade ceases because of a Spartan siege. At Piraeus’s slave market, Phaedo is taken to be sold. On the hill above Piraeus is Munychia fort, where young men are sent for garrison duty during peace time.


*Corinth. City overlooking the isthmus between the two major parts of Greece. Its port is Isthmia, where the Isthmian Games are held under truce. The Corinthian citadel is on a round-topped mountain, on the summit of which is the Temple of Aphrodite. The games are held in the precincts of the Temple of Poseidon, which is surrounded by gymnasiums and palaestras, a stadium, and a hippodrome. The dressing places and baths in Corinth are finer than their counterparts in Athens, with marble everywhere and bronze waterspouts. Corinthian shopkeepers set up stalls around the temple precinct.

Corinth’s Acrocorinth is higher than the Acropolis of Athens. The sacred way winds up between shrines and holy springs. The crown is carpeted with heath and mountain flowers. The image of Aphrodite is armed with a shield and spear. Her temple is small and delicate with a terrace from which the slopes fall gently. From this height, the shipping channel is visible and Alexias and Lysis can see Spartan ships being hauled on rollers across the isthmus from the western to the eastern sea. It is just possible to see the High City of Athens from this point.


*Samos. Island in the east Aegean Sea, close to Ionia (modern Turkey), built on a spur jutting into the sea. On its western strand is the Temple of Hera. Its eastern hillsides are terraced for growing barley. Samos is used as a base for the Athenian war fleet, and the Athenian camp is built on the shore where the ships are beached, between the town and the temple. Originally tented, it becomes more permanent with huts of wattle and daub, thatched with reed. An ancient city, Samos is expanding during the period in which the novel is set. Painters, sculptors, and masons are busy along the streets, as new marble buildings are built on the city’s hillsides.


*Phyle. Stone fortification on the border between Attica and the Theban city-state that overlooks the pass between the territories. The postern, from which the rubbish is thrown, overlooks the gorge known as the Cleft of the Chariot. Between Phyle and Athens is the Acharnian Plain which is crossed by a road. It is used as a gathering place for the army that retakes Athens from the Spartans.

BibliographyBurns, Landon C., Jr. “Men Are Only Men: The Novels of Mary Renault.” Critique 6 (1963-1964): 102-121. Evaluates Renault’s early historical novels, defending them as fiction meriting critical approbation. Commends Renault’s reconstruction of the period, her development of the theme of growth and maturity, and her style, particularly her use of imagery and symbol in The Last of the Wine.Dick, Bernard F. The Hellenism of Mary Renault. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972. Essential study of Renault’s work; his comments received her personal approbation. Discusses her use of language, the authenticity of historical background, the novel as Bildungsroman, and the novel’s themes and symbols.McEwan, Neil. Perspective in British Historical Fiction Today. Wolfeboro, N.H.: Longwood Academic, 1987. A chapter on Renault’s fiction interprets her earlier novels and emphasizes historical accuracy, immediacy of first-person narrative, and writing style as features contributing to the success of The Last of the Wine.Sweetman, David. Mary Renault: A Biography. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993. Detailed biography with strong personal references. Provides illuminating commentary on the novels and clarifies the introduction of homosexual love in the novel as both historically and thematically correct.Wolfe, Peter. Mary Renault. New York: Twayne, 1969. Useful insights, such as viewing the book as an epic in reverse and focusing on its historical authenticity, but too wedded to reading historical parallels, especially of the literary 1930’s, into the novel.
Categories: Places