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The Mask of Apollo

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,038 ratings  ·  148 reviews
Set in fourth-century B.C. Greece, The Mask of Apollo is narrated by Nikeratos, a tragic actor who takes with him on all his travels a gold mask of Apollo, a relic of the theater's golden age, which is now past. At first his mascot, the mask gradually becomes his conscience, and he refers to it his gravest decisions, when he finds himself at the center of a political crisi ...more
Paperback, 372 pages
Published February 12th 1988 by Vintage (first published 1966)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  2,038 ratings  ·  148 reviews

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Henry Avila
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Knowledge of ancient Greek theater or if you prefer theatre ( blame the different spelling on American Noah Webster) may to many seem trivial pursuit in the modern world of cell phones, the internet and high tech Broadway plays more like special effects films than a live performance. However the remote beginnings of anything has a certain charm others call it quaintness, not I. To learn is to be human, darkness is just the lack of light....Back to our novel by Britisher Mary Renault; she was fas ...more
Clif Hostetler
This historical novel is set in Ancient Greece circa 360 to 340 BC toward the end of Plato's life and the beginning of Alexander the Great's life. The story is told in the first-person voice of a fictional character who is an actor. His theatrical profession leads him to travel through various parts of the Greek world and particularly between Athens and Syracuse. His life seems to always intersect with several historical characters and becomes a witness to the political conflicts of the time, pa ...more
John Nevola
Sep 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Simon Mcleish
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned

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
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

I am not sure if you could find a better, or more entertaining, tour guide to ancient Greece than Mary Renault. I am constantly surprised by Renault’s ability to balance the fine line between immersing me in a world that is ultimately foreign to my own, and yet one that still often feels surprisingly ‘modern’ and relatable given the era in which the stories are set. I never feel, on the one hand, as though the ancient Greece she has created is simply our world doing cosplay, and yet on
Xia Xia
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Xia Xia by: Teal
Review later because I am so emotional right now I can't even...
And those last two chapters... gah!


Thanks a lot for the buddy read, Teal!
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,
In the fourth century B.C. a gifted actor of tragedy, Nikeratos becomes involved with Plato and the fateful events which culminate in the bloody struggle for the city of Syracuse.


All across the Isthmus cities were being captured and freed in alternating times. Armies marched where they willed.
People are always saying what fine free lives we actors lead, able to cross frontiers and go anywhere. This is true, if it means that hired troops have nothing against us, and others respect the sacred edi
Shirin Tondkar
Nov 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-fa, mythology
A beautiful book about theater and an actor in 400 BC. I had pictured an exciting and adventure story before I started reading it. BUT, this was more history than I expected with a slow narrative and more or less similar to Plato's books, it was hard for me to finish it. However, I don't say any negative traits about this book, just I had imagined a different story. ...more
Jack Massa
Jul 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Christy English
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books of all it now and loving it yet again...
If I said I was reading a historical novel by Mary Renault, written in first person, with a male protagonist who has an inauspicious start in life and an attitude of personal honour and excellence, I might be talking about any one of them. It’s true that Renault seems to have a defined pattern in the stories she tells and the types of main characters she writes, and The Mask of Apollo does not break the mould in that regard. As this is the last of Renault’s ancient Greek novels that I have final ...more
Dec 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Brenda Clough
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Such a wonderful book! I read The Praise Singer, my first foray into Renault's novels of Greece, in September last year and loved it. I wonder why I waited so long to pick this one up! The story is a fleshing out of the history of Greece in the mid-4th century BCE. The main character (who is fictional, like much of the book, but not all!) is an actor. Having chosen such a character for her novel allows Renault to travel all over the Mediterranean and to explore life much more fully than if she h ...more
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Following the life of actor Nikeratos and his various adventures touring the classical world, in particular his friendship with Dion of Syracuse and Plato the philosopher as they try to forge a Republic in Syracuse.

Once again Renault creates and inhabits a character who seems to in turn inhabits and evokes his world perfectly, and more than that who lives and breathes the theatre, which informs every aspect of his life and outlook. It's a breathtaking achievement, seemingly effortless, utterly
Woody Burchett
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book has everything I look for in good historical fiction. It doesn't fall into the trap of projecting modern character motivations or storytelling tropes into a fundamentally different world, but instead concerns itself with the issues of the time period. What is the ideal system of government? Is the Platonic idea of a philosopher-king viable? Is it possible for a ruler to govern a base people without debasing himself? How should the gods be portrayed in the theater? Is it best for drama ...more
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Matt Benzing
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Renault did not capture the essence of Greece for me... her writing was boring for me, she never described things as I wanted her to. I liked the main character and a boy he mentors later in the story. I liked the diversity, an openly gay character, a girl who dressed as a boy to learn philosophy with Plato, and a black character written in a positive light. This is pretty significant for being written in the 60s. I liked the premise. And you can tell she did a lot of research. But it was lack l ...more
Jun 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
James Henderson
I love the 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 passion for ancient Greece from a wonderful Latin teacher in high school. Luckily for us in addition to teaching us Latin our teacher imbued in us an interest in learning about everything classical that grew for me into more reading and led me to the discovery of Mary Renault and her historical fiction set in ancient Greece. The story of The Mask of Apollo involves the ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Ivan Stoner
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exceptional book! Mary Renault is a fine writer--something of a rarity in historical fiction. She's also a very good historian from what I understand. The Mask of Apollo is the life of an Athenian actor during the time of Plato. It specifically concerns dramatic political events in Sicily as seen through his eyes. It's also a very interesting look at Classical Greek theater.

The book is also fascinating because
(1) it was published in 1966 and involves an overtly gay protagonist and frank disc
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Another in my Mary Renault re-read.

I blow hot and cold on this book, set in the post classical-pre Alexander period of Greek history, a period I know little about other than the history of Plato's Academy.
The story of an Athenian actor and his adventures with the great and near great men of the day, it is richly described and you do come to know the protagonist quite well. The history and hopes of the time are well fleshed out, but I feel that more than any of her other books, she has shadowed
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing story, woven with rich detail that made me feel like I was in Ancient Greece, experiencing the journeys of an actor. And an interesting one at that. Culture and fiction are blended perfectly in an elegant story. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!!
Wendy MacKenzie
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Re-reading this wonderful novel for perhaps the dozenth time. There really is no-one comparable to Mary Renault in the field of historical fiction.
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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

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As we wrap up our 2018 Reading Challenge, we decided to ask our Goodreads coworkers a simple yet tough question: What were the...
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“In hatred is love, we grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul.” 23 likes
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