– Review Essay, Research Paper
“The Mask of Apollo” revolves around the adventures of Nikeratos, a young actor who travels the countryside of ancient Greece and Sicily while performing in various plays. In one play, Kadmos by Sophokles the Younger, Nikeratos is required to wear an old mask of Apollo as part of his costume. The mask is fifty years old and is rumored to bring good luck. Nikeratos is impressed with the mask and comes to believe that it possesses special powers. He begins to make reverent gestures toward it as when he places a bay-sprig above it and sprinkles drops of wine on the floor in front of it.
During one performance of the play a battle breaks out with a neighboring town. As the actors continue performing, Nikeratos touches the mask for luck and promises to make an offering to Apollo if the god helps him get through the scene. The superstitious townspeople spotting Nikeratos in the mask begin calling on Apollo to help them win the battle. In the end they are successful in their fight. From this point forward Nikeratos carries the mask with him and defers to it when he needs guidance.
Accounts of Greek history are dispersed throughout the book with the politics of the ancient Greek world of Syracuse playing a major role in the story. Nikeratos attempts to ignore politics as he sees himself as an actor who is separate from the government scene. Through his travels in various plays however, he finds himself being pulled into the civil turmoil by his relationships with the powerful people of the age including Plato and Dionysios.
Dion of Syracuse, a rich and powerful man, befriends Nikeratos and uses him to carry messages between himself and Plato after the ruler Dionysios the Elder dies. This places Nikeratos in the middle of the political turbulence involving Dionysios the Younger and the rule of Syracuse. Faction fights begin which result in Dionysios exiling Dion. Plato is moved into a house in Palace Park where Dionysios can keep a watchful eye on him. Nikeratos is also forced to end his traveling around the country because of the fighting. Plato is later released when the Carthaginians attack and war begins.
After several years, peace is declared. This is good news for Nikeratos and other actors because tours can now be scheduled again. This allows Nikeratos to once again travel and interact with the powerful people of the era. At the same time, Dionysios is resolved to have Plato return. Dionysios uses Plato’s loyalty to Dion as a method of manipulation. Dion encourages Plato to return to Syracuse in the hope that Plato can secure his own return. When Plato refused to return to Syracuse, where he is hated and threatened by the soldiers, his relationship with Dion becomes strained.
Eventually, as the pressure Dionysios and Dion put on his friends builds, Plato agrees to return. Despite the return, Dion’s property is sold and Dionysios shows no sign of recalling him. Dionysios is reportedly jealous of the relationship between Plato and Dion, as he himself now desires to be Plato’s favorite.
Dionysios continues his grudge against Dion by declaring him divorced from his wife who is Dionysios’ sister. When Dion learns of this and the loss of his fortune from Plato, he is incensed. Word spreads and fighting begins between Dion’s followers and the army of Dionysios.
Eventually after twelve years and much fighting, the war ends. Dionysios now runs a boy’s school in Corinth, and Plato has died. Tyranny follows tyranny in Syracuse, and the theatre continues to tour. The story ends with a scene of Nikeratos at Plato’s grave.
In this period of ancient Greek life, many people took basic jobs for a living. While Nikeratos was an actor, many other people were carpenters, laborers, and especially farm-workers. Women were resigned to caring for their family and possibly cooking and helping with farming. People, as a whole, were very religious. Classical Greek Gods were worshiped, such as Zeus, Hera, and Apollo. Each God held a different importance to the people, and all must be appeased. Families would give sacrifices of animals, food and material goods to the gods. The richer the family, the more prestigious would be the sacrifice.
The gender roles of ancient Greece were patriarchal in structure. Men were the powerful, dominant sex. Women were valued for their role in maintaining the family unit and for their ability to care for the men and children. Homosexuality among men was common. In the political and theatrical world of ancient Greece, homosexuality was especially prevalent. Most strong male relationships described in “The Mask of Apollo” were either homosexual or homoerotic. The majority of the time however, these relationships were alluded to by the use of terms such as “mentor” or “teacher”.
The theatre of ancient Greece was a groundbreaking time for dramatic and comedic writing. Writer/philosophers as Sophocles and Plato held meaningful places in the era’s literary forms. Men performed all parts during this era as no women were allowed to participate in the theatre. This practice would continue for many years as evidenced by the actors in Shakespearean-era plays when males still portrayed the female roles.
The era of ancient Greek life discussed in “The Mask of Apollo” was a time of great turmoil and change. Political changes, social struggles, and leaps in philosophical ideas occurred with great frequency. The author uses the character of Nikeratos as a method of engaging the reader in an exploration of Greek life. Rather than cite dates and events in a textbook manner, the author uses a storybook style to teach the reader about this segment of history.