The Mask of Apollo
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The Mask of Apollo

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  1,093 ratings  ·  60 reviews
In her masterful new novel, set in Greece of the 4th century BCE Mary Renault tells the story of the actor Nikeratos. Thru the eyes of this warm, sympathetic & 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 fro...more
Paperback, 285 pages
Published 1968 by New English Library (first published January 1st 1966)
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John Nevola
Most of the poor reviews for this book are from disgruntled schoolchildren forced to read it as a mandatory assignment. One must have a taste for this period and a desire to learn more about it before it could be fully appreciated.

Mary Renault immerses the reader in the art, culture, habits and times of ancient Greece. Told through the eyes and thoughts of an actor (all of whom wore masks on stage), Renault tells of the conflicts between logic and passion, good and evil and power and weakness. S...more
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rating: 5.5/5

I'm awestruck. In short, this is an (ancient Greek) political thriller. It is probably my new favorite from Mary Renault (although I always get excited when I pick up one of her books); I just couldn’t put in down. For days I carried it with me everywhere, reading every free moment I could find.

Nikeratos (Niko), a 4th century B.C. Greek tragic actor finds himself in a middle of a political drama involving among others the famous Plato and Dion. He carries with him a mask of Apollo,...more
Simon Mcleish

The Mask of Apollo is one of my favourite straight historical novels (using the word "straight" to distinguish it from crossover historical crime novels, which seem to have taken over fiction set in the past since the sixties).

Set in the fourth century BC, the narrator of the novel is a notable Athenian actor named Nikeratos, who travels to Syracuse (then a Greek city) and accidentally becomes involved with the city state's turbulent politics. Syracuse was ruled by a tyrant, Dionysius, who is dy...more
Christy English
This is one of my favorite books of all it now and loving it yet again...
Brenda Clough
A wonderful book. Mary Renault is as good as your own personal time machine (if you do not mind only ever traveling to classical Greece). She is also a total whiz at taking you into a specialized world -- in this case, the theater -- and making its thrills and excitements your own.
My first venture into non-Alexander Mary Renault. I can't help but be sucked in by the first page. Something about her work... it just takes you by the hand and gently leads you into the world and you never ever want to leave. At least, I don't.
Gary Foss
It's taken me a while to write this review, mostly because I'm not confident that I can really do this book justice. My first attempt devolved into a series of gushy praise, so I figured I'd best get a little distance before giving it another go....

Rather than leap into a bunch of blind admiration, I’m going to let you decide for yourself why Mary Renault’s version of Greek history through literature is worth reading. This is the speech attributed to Dion by Plutarch before the battle to retake...more
I love the historical fiction of Mary Renault and this is the first of her novels that I read. At the time I already had begun to acquire a love of ancient Greece from a wonderful Latin teacher in high school. Luckily for us in addition to teaching us Latin she imbued a an interest in learning about everything classical that grew for me into more reading and eventually led me to Mary Renault. The story involves the world of live theatre and political intrigue in the Mediterranean at the time. Th...more
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Interesting but not very engaging book. It might be caused by POV character who is an actor. This allows to describe Hellenistic culture from quite fresh angles, but overall it proved to be a bit hard to get into. I was reading the book very much because of Plato, but he is there always somewhere out of reach or saying something that the actor does not understand so it is not included in the text. What a pity...
Faith Justice
Mary Renault is a favorite of mine and I couldn't remember if I had read this one way-back-when. I don't think I have - it didn't strike any memory chords and I'd like to think I haven't gotten so old, I'd forget the books I read in my youth.

The story is told from an actor's point of view during the waning years of Plato's Academy and follows the experiment of democracy in Syracuse after the overthrow of a dictatorship. Although written decades ago, it resonates in today's political milieu. A fi...more
Matt Benzing
Many years ago a theater history professor recommended this to me, and I have just now gotten around to reading it. Very enjoyable book for anyone with an interest in theatre or classical civilization. The author creates a credible ancient world and builds her story of political intrigue out of real people and events; her protagonist is just alien enough in his assumptions and attitudes to make a believable citizen of a world far from our own, while being just modern enough to allow the reader t...more
Richard Wise
Rich with historical detail and the taste and smell of everyday life, at least as Renault interprets it. This is one of the many reasons that I enjoy the genre. The protagonist is an actor, so there is a great deal of detail about the classical theatre. Much of the action centers around Syracuse and Plato's attempt to establish his friend Dion as Philosopher King. Those who have read The Republic will find this plot of particular interest.

Happened on the book in a discount pile at a bookstore in...more
This was my first Mary Renault novel and I loved it a lot. I read everyone's praises of her extraordinary ability to describe places from thousands of years ago like she had been there, and I agree wholeheartedly. The 400 B.C. Greece comes to life on the pages of this novel. It is so seamless, so perfect, that it is hard to believe that it was written in the previous century. Even more amazing is that most of the characters were real persons.

However, the protagonist is Renault's own creation. Ni...more
In one quintessentially Greek moment from this superb novel, the narrator recalls the story of a father of two Olympic champions. At the moment when his sons are crowned, the crowd chants to him to "Die now," because, of course, no moment of his life could ever again be so good.

So, in finishing The Mask of Apollo am I tempted to chant to myself: "Give up reading historical fiction now."

'Nuff said.
A Pagan book if ever there was one. Mary Renault confronts the joy of life and the joy of philosophy in the life of Niko, a Greek actor, who gets to meet Plato and his Academy, philosopher king Dion of Syracusa and , in the end, young Alexander the Great.
Packed with adventure and very deep at the same time, I consider it to be one of Renault's masterpieces.
This is a fascinating look at theatre in ancient Greece and the part actors played in the politics of the time. I also dig the way the author writes about the sexual mores of the era. Same sex relationships were fairly commonplace and that is how they are portrayed in the novel. A bold move for a writer in the fifties.
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 23, 2010 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of Historical Fiction
My introduction to Mary Renault was The King Must Die, the first of two novels about Theseus--it was actually assigned reading in high school. What impressed me so much there was how she took a figure out of myth and grounded him historically. After that I quickly gobbled up all of Renault's works of historical fiction set in Ancient Greece. The two novels about Theseus and the trilogy centered on Alexander the Great are undoubtedly her most famous of those eight novels, and I'd add The Last of...more
Cody VC
3.5 stars, more like. felt like the prose was much better than in "the persian boy" - simple, straightforward, with some nicely plain descriptions here and there. ("he was thinnish, and held himself like a man with a stoop who had never before pulled back his shoulders. sometimes he forgot, and let his neck poke forward.") the environment is richly detailed; you can tell that she's done her work in both research and imagination, and i particularly enjoyed her incorporation/presentation of the co...more
Renault's classic tale gives us Greek actor Nikeratos, who participates in and observes the fall of the tyrants of Syracuse. Nikeratos is an admirable character--talented, loyal, compassionate, insightful into human frailty, and capable of understanding philosophy. This leads him to cross paths with one of Athen's great treasures, Plato's Academy. He meets Plato and many of his followers, becomes a trusted friend, and an acolyte of sorts to Plato's "ideal king," Dion of Syracuse. Dion was the la...more
Kit Dunsmore
Aug 14, 2010 Kit Dunsmore rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of classical Greek culture
Shelves: fiction
I'm currently on a ancient Greece/Roman kick, having just finished a lecture series on Classical archaeology, so this seemed like a good time to read this. Enjoyed it, although it feels a lot more uneven than I remember her other books, which I really liked (The King Must Die and Bull From the Sea). Of course, it's been years since I read them.

The main story is about political events happening around the main character, who is an actor and only indirectly involved. She has to work to get her cha...more
It took me a while to get through his book, I had to check it out three times, but it was an interesting look at Ancient Greek society and politics and philosophy as espoused by Plato and applied to non-Greek peoples as told through the eyes of a famous actor. It was thought-provoking enough to have me thinking about reading Plato now, but it was also so beautifully written as to make me love the characters (and feel like I was back in Delphi!) The story spans most of the lifetime of actor Niko,...more
Patrick Lacey
Mar 30, 2007 Patrick Lacey rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Yes
This is one of my touchstone books, one I return to frequently, and always enjoy. Mary Renault is a favorite author, this is probably my favorite book of hers. There is so much here for me to sink my teeth into; Greek history, some great stuff about acting and theatre, the question of what constitutes a good life and a good person, how that can be helped or hindered by art, what one's responsibility is to public life, it's all explored sensitively and intelligently. It's also just a great story;...more
It's been years since I've read this book (15 . . . 20 years?). So, this review suffers from memory (loss) but benefits from the memory of a good, fun, read.

A fictional account that takes place in Ancient Greece, and centered on an actor.

Simply, I remember it as enjoyable and incredibly interesting—the recreation of "how things were," and "what things were like."

My rating probably should be three (3) stars instead of four (4); but again, the memory of a pleasant experience boosts it.

And again, I...more
Erik Graff
Jul 21, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all interested in ancient Greek theatre and in Syracusan politics in the time of Plato
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
I read Renault's Mask of Apollo during the Christmas break from seminary during 1976 along with her Last of the Wine, Pesian Boy and Fire from Heaven and not long after The Bull from the Sea and The King Must Die. While I remember reading all of the others and the gist of their contents, this one, while recorded in my listing of book's read at the time, made no lasting impression. Perhaps I knew too little of Syracusan politics of the era, having not yet read through all of the Platonic dialogs...more
This historical fiction helped me live in Ancient Greece, and understand some weighty matters in a personal way. "Elegy on his Friend, Dion, Tyrant of Syracuse" attributed to Plato, found in poems from the Greek Anthology:

Tears were for Hecuba, friend,
And for Illion's women, spun into the dark web on the day of their birth.
But for you our hopes were great
And great the triumph,
cancelled alike by the gods at the point of glory.

Now you lie in your own land
Now all men honor you
But I loved you, O Di...more
I enjoyed reading this book, but I don't feel that this was as strong as some of Renault's other novels. Niko, while enjoyable to read, seemed flat and predictable in comparison to the other characters. Dion and Plato were fascinating, and I wish I had more time to read them. By squishing the political side of the story and the theatrical side, Renault downplays both storylines, and I wasn't entirely interested in the plot when politics and theatre combined. Overall, it was good, but not Renault...more
i am halfway through this, and it's so good that i find myself going slowly, so that it won't end. it's cheerfully queer, which i really appreciate in a book of this vintage (it doesn't feel any need to justify itself, it just *is*). it also probably wouldn't be half as fun if i hadn't spent a whole semester immersed in reading Greek drama back in college; the story definitely presumes the reader's familiarity with Greek theatrical conventions. it is delicious prose, elegant, spare, impactful. g...more
Given that I've never liked historical fiction and so kind of poo-poo'd it for a long time, I'm kind of embarrassed by how much I like Mary Renault books. This one focuses on the philosophical differences between an actor's conception of his craft and Plato's vision of how men should be ideally portrayed.

ps. I picked this up at a hostel in Mexico City and then I saw another copy of the same edition sitting in the home of Robert Brady in his museum in Cuernavaca. Crazy!

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Mary Renault was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander...more
More about Mary Renault...
The Persian Boy (Alexander the Great, #2) The King Must Die (Theseus, #1) Fire from Heaven (Alexander the Great, #1) The Last of the Wine The Charioteer

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