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
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 main actors sharing the various roles in a performance, along with authentic gossip involved in these casting decisions.
Nikeratos befriends Dion, a moderate politician, 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, but the young heir to the tyrant of the city, Dionysius the Younger, instead attempts ineptly to apply Plato’s theories of an ideal republic, with disastrous results.