Renault, Mary - The Mask of Apollo
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In her masterful new novel, set in Greece of the fourth century B.C. Mary Renault tells the story of the actor Nikeratos. Through the eyes of this warm, sympathetic, and living character we experience the war-weary, self-searching world of his time. Always on his travels Niko, the tragedian, takes with him an antique mask of Apollo, a relic of the theater's golden age, which from being his mascot becomes by degrees his artistic conscience. He refers to it his gravest decisions, when he finds himself at the center of political crises and dangerous intrigues.
Much of the action of the novel is set in despotic Syracuse, in an era of decadence and strife. Dion, philosopher and soldier, with the help of his friend Plato whom he has summoned from Athens, is trying to persuade the young tyrant Dionysios the Younger to accept the rule of law. Niko, immersed in his own on-stage tragedies, yet intimately involved with public figures and affairs, narrates the action of the greater, human tragedy when Plato's fearless integrity sets off the clash between Dion and Dionysios, and looses the pent-up violence which culminates in the burning and sack of the city.
This is a superb story, based on a remarkable knowledge of ancient Greece and told with a compelling, dramatic sweep. But shining through the web of history is always the vivid humanity of Niko, his loves, his devotion to his art. With this beautifully presented character, Mary Renault commands our attention and sympathy as never before. Deep human perception and understanding pervade The Mask of Apollo, and it is these which finally achieve its splendid evocation of the past.