The Mask of Apollo
First edition, 1966
|Cover artist||Claire Williams|
|Publisher||Longmans, Green & Co, London; Pantheon, New York|
Published in English
|ISBN||978-0-09-946941-4 (Arrow paperback UK 2004 edition)|
The Mask of Apollo is a historical novel written by Mary Renault. It is set in ancient Greece shortly after the Peloponnesian War. The story involves the world of live theatre and political intrigue in the Mediterranean at the time. The narrator, Nikeratos, is an invented character, but real historical figures such as Dion of Syracuse, Plato and his nephew Speusippus make appearances.
Nikeratos is a successful professional actor, and the author vividly evokes the technologies and traditions of classic Greek Tragedy. There are detailed recreations of what might have been involved in the staging of a theatrical production of the time, describing the music, scenery, mechanical special effects devices, and especially the practice of the three principal actors sharing the various roles in a performance, along with authentic gossip involved in these casting decisions.
Nikeratos is befriended by Dion, a moderate politician and pupil of the philosopher Plato, who entrusts him with conveying sensitive documents between Athens and the powerful but unstable city-state of Syracuse. Dion is trying to bring stability and democracy to the transitional government there by teaching the capricious young tyrant of the city, Dionysius the Younger, about more tolerant forms of government. Such lessons spark Dionysius's desire, and he invites Plato to Syracuse. Plato and Dion attempt to restructure the government along the lines of Plato's ideal republic, with Dionysius as the archetypal philosopher-king - with dire results. At the end of the book, Nikeratos encounters the young Alexander the Great and his lover Hephaistion, and laments that Plato never tutored Alexander, who might have pursued Plato's social ideals with greater success.