Notes on Mary Renault’s “The Mask of Apollo”

Below are notes on Mary Renault’s “The Mask of Apollo.”  I thought they might be of use to the members of the Great Books KC group.  I have page numbers and brief snippets from the text with commentary.

Some notes on Mary Renault, The Mask of Apollo (NY: Pantheon, 1966).

Quotation from Plato at beginning of book – comes from Greek Anthology.  The philosopher Plato was also a capable poet, despite the fact that he banned poetry from his “republic,” out of concern over its emotional impact (which gets in the way of rational and calm reflection).  He had hoped to create a “philosopher king” to show how things should be done.  That hope did not come to pass with Dion and the younger Dionysius in Syracuse.

The quotation likely refers to the play The Trojan Women or the Hecuba of Euripides.

3 “second roles” – in Greek tragedy, the convention was that all the parts were performed by three actors (plus any number of non-speaking performers). The first actor (protagonist) generally had the most important role (s) in a given play; the second actor (deuteragonist) had the next most important; the third actor (tritagonist) had what was left. In the case of Euripides, the third actor would often do the messengers, which roles had a lot of information and emotional content.  I imagine that the three actors would consult on who would do which role – the protagonist might want a particular set of roles because they matched his skill set, and so he might take roles that would ordinarily go to the second or third actor.

4 “Agave…Cassandra…Niobe” – Agave, the mother of Pentheus, has a great scene at the end of the Bacchae when she comes onto the stage with the severed head of her son on a stick; Cassandra has a great moment in the Agamemnon; we don’t have any surviving play in which Niobe plays a part, but as her myth deals with a woman who foolishly brags she’s a better mom than Leto, because she has 14 kids to Leto’s 2, and then loses all her kids because Leto’s children, Apollo and Artemis, kill the 14, she would make a great emotional role for an actor.

5 Lenaia – there were two festivals in Athens when plays were performed, the City Dionysia (in late March/early April) and the Lenaia, done in February. In the 5th c., the City Dionysia was the more prestigious of the festivals, but by the 4th c. this may not have been the case, as much of the drama was now revival of plays by the big three (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides).

Polyxena – a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba.  In the Trojan Women she gets a great moment where she bravely accepts that she will be sacrificed to the ghost of Achilles by the Greeks.

The Sacrifice at Aulis – this is likely the play we know as Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides.  In it, Agamemnon finds out that he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis to get good winds to go to Troy (they are stuck in Aulis on the Greek coast).  She is tricked into coming by being told she is to marry Achilles.  When Achilles learns of the trick, he is angry and offers to defend Iphigenia against the Greek army.

7 Andromache – the play referred to here is likely The Trojan Women, where Astyanax, the toddler child of Andromache and Hector, is torn from her arms and taken away to be thrown from the city walls (all action happens offstage). This would be a non-speaking role for a child.

8 “Lay down the circled shield of Hector” – in The Trojan Women, the dead Astyanax is brought onto the stage in Hector’s shield. Here the chief actor is reminding Nico to “play dead.”

9 “Be quiet, you little bastard. You’re dead.” — the actor playing Hecuba in The Trojan Women gives a sharp reminder to Nico to remember he’s supposed to be dead.

11: “even as a third actor, one must have the range…” – the third actor has the less important roles, but in most plays, each of the three actors is playing 2 or more roles, and so has to have some range to do different characters in the same play.

“I would be like the little orphan in The Iliad” – in the Iliad, as Andromache weeps over the dead Hector, she laments that her son, now that he has no father, will be treated ill at banquets.  As the grandson of King Priam, I don’t see that happening.  Besides, he gets tossed off the walls of Troy before that happens.

13 The Myrmidons – this play does not survive – it deals with Achilles and his men (called the “myrmidons,” apparently because they are as numerous as ants.

Pappasilenos – the chief satyr in a satyr play might be Pappasilenos (the old Silenus, an elderly satyr).

14 “two or three modern plays, without chorus” – we have none of these tragedies written after the death of Sophocles and Euripides (died 406), so we don’t know what these were like. Some were straight melodramas, with no mythic element at all; others simply dispensed with the chorus. Given that Greek tragedy seems to have developed from the dithyramb, a choral poetic form performed by a chorus/choir, one can see why 5th c. tragedy still had a large role for the chorus, though their presence to us seems strange.  Eventually, it was decided to dispense with the chorus altogether (no doubt to spare expense as much as for dramatic reasons).

15 Thebans throwing Spartans out of their citadel. After the Peloponnesian War (ended 404 BCE), both Sparta and Athens were quite weak. The city state of Thebes rose to prominence from 371-362 BCE (period called the Theban Hegemony).  During this time, the Thebans under Epaminondas and Pelopidas defeated the Spartans.  This gives us our time for the novel – in the 360s BCE.

16 Agathon and Sophokles – Agathon has the bad fortune of being the 4th best Greek tragedian, as the Library at Alexandria kept only official copies of the top three. Agathon has some meaning for this group in that Plato’s Symposium takes place at the victory banquet/drinking party for Agathon following his first first place prize at the City Dionysia in 416 BCE. Sophocles is one of the famous three.  Both Agathon and Sophocles were attracted to young men.

17 Philokles’ Hector – I know nothing of this play. If it is not made up by Renault, it is a play which has not survived.

19 first revival of Aischylos’ Eumenides … time of Alcibiades and Nicias: there are some things here I find puzzling – would the Eumenides (Part III of the Oresteia trilogy, following the Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers) be performed alone? Maybe.  The time of Alcibiades and Nicias is likely 416 BCE or so.  The original production of the Oresteia was in 458 BCE, and Aeschylus won first prize.  As Aeschylus died in 456 BCE, it may be that by 416 the dearth of tragic talent was being felt and so revivals began.  Apollo has a big part in the play – he advises Orestes to go to Athens for trial, and he serves as Orestes’ defense counsel at Athens.

21 battle between the Greeks and the Kentaurs – the battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs was a common artistic motif on temples. At the temple of Athena on the Acropolis, the scene serves as metopes (short panels on the outside of the temple beneath the pediment, separated by triglyphs) – here’s a brief video: https://www.ancient.eu/video/173/battle-of-the-lapiths-and-centaurs-parthenon-metop/ – I always think of “Stations of the Cross” in a Catholic Church – it also serves as the sculptural group of one of the pediments on the temple of Zeus at Olympia – see here: https://museum.classics.cam.ac.uk/collections/casts/temple-zeus-olympia-west-pediment. At the wedding of Pirithous, king of the Lapiths (you remember him from The Bull from the Sea), the centaurs tried to kidnap the bride and the female wedding guests, and a battle broke out between the Lapiths and the Centuars.  It was a popular motif as it represented to the Greeks the battle between Greek rationality and control and barbarian excess.

24 Aeschylus’ Persians – the oldest tragedy we have in its entirety. It was first performed in 472 BCE. Aeschylus himself fought at Marathon, and likely at Plataea.  The play is set in the Persian court, and the messenger delivers news of the Persian loss at Salamis (a sea battle).

25 “In vain man’s expectation; God brings the unthought to be, as here we see.” I don’t know what play this might come from. I don’t recognize it from any Euripides’ play.  The sentiment, though, is key to Greek tragic thinking – even people who have a good run of it can have everything turned over by the gods.  It fits the Persians, as Xerxes and the Persian court think they are invincible, until the Greeks give them what for.

28 Great War – this is the Peloponnesian War

Theodektes’ Amazons – we don’t have any play by this tragedian surviving.

29 “the revolves turn smoothly; the reveal runs out on oiled wheels” – in Greek tragic performances, scenes could be changed (e.g. the Eumenides begins in Delphi, and then moves to Athens) by having painted backdrops done in panels that could be turned (the “revolves”). What Renault refers to as “the reveal” is generally known as the ekkyklema (the “wheeled thing”) – it would be used to reveal an interior scene. In the Agamemnon, for instance, the audience and chorus can hear the killing of Agamemnon and Cassandra taking place inside the palace.  When it gets quite, the doors of the palace open up, the ekkyklema is wheeled out with the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra (here played by extras) and Clytemnestra standing bloody and triumphant over the bodies atop the platform.  Here’s a diagram showing the mechane and ekkyklema: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjVxoH6zpTkAhVGb60KHdO_ArgQjRx6BAgBEAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Ffobisia2019.weebly.com%2Fgreek-history.html&psig=AOvVaw0X9YdlYUwDyTHXzQSvptW-&ust=1566499337631679

32 “most famous sponsor in the world” – this refers to Dionysius of Syracuse, who like his predecessor, Hieron, spent quite a bit on getting first quality art, music and drama, to his court and to his city. It was in Syracuse (under Hieron) that Aeschylus died in 456, as he did his victory tour of Oresteia – the story goes that an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head as he sunbathed, taking his bald head for a rock.

34 “Lysias the orator” – we have speeches by Lysias, who was a famous orator at the end of the 5th c. and beginning of the 4th c. BCE. He is a master of the plain style.

37 Hippolytus with the Garland – this was the 2nd play of Euripides that told the story of Hippolytus (which we saw in The Bull from the Sea) – the first was Hippolytus Kalyptomenos (Hippolytus Veiled). It does not survive. The second. Hippolytus Stephanophoros (Hippolytus carrying a garland) does survive.  It was first performed in 428 BCE and won Euripides 1st Prize (he only won 4 times in his career).  It’s my personal favorite of the Euripides’ plays.

Helen in Egypt, Medea, Alkestis – All three plays of Euripides survive – the Helen was performed in 412 BCE – it is a tragedy with a happy ending – it’s a rescue play, with Menelaus finding Helen in Egypt (the gods created a phantom Helen who went with Paris to Troy, while Helen was whisked off to Egypt for the duration of the conflict – the idea seems to have originated with Stesichorus, a lyric poet who wrote a play about slutty Helen, was then blinded, and who then wrote the “palinode” (“retraction poem”) in which he said that all that stuff about “slutty Helen” was a lie, and that Helen was a good wife, who remained loyal to Menelaus while stuck in Egypt, while a phantom went to Troy.  He then got his eyesight back.  The Medea is Euripides’ most famous play, and was performed in 431 BCE.  Euripides came in third, I think in part because the play gets us to sympathize with Medea (a woman and a foreigner) who then goes on to kill her kids.  I think that Euripides may have been the author who first suggested Medea killed the kids (the kids die in Corinth, but not necessarily at Medea’s hands), so the original audience might have been blindsided and found that Euripides had tricked them.  The Alcestis (438 BCE) is the oldest surviving play we have of Euripides.  It has a happy ending and is largely comic.  It may served in place of the satyr play.  The play features a great scene with a drunken Hercules.

41 Apollo Longsight – Apollo is a god marked by his distance.  The most common epithet for Apollo in Homer is “who shoots from afar.”

42 age of Pericles – Pericles was a strategos (lit. “general”), an elected official in Athens in the 430s BCE – he recommended the Athenians stay within their city walls while the Spartans attacked and let the Spartans wear themselves out.  The strategy backfired when a plague broke out in Athens, killing many, including Pericles himself.

44 Nico playing Apollo in the Myrmidons – we have here one of the perils of playing a god on the stage – gods often “flew” onto stage held aloft by a crane off stage. This practice was called the theos ek mechanes, which becomes in Latin, deus ex machina – lit. the god from the crane.  Euripides’ tendency to end some of his plays with a god coming in to save the day, or set the story back on the correct path, is what gives the deus ex machina its current meaning as an unexpected positive turn of events (e.g. the cavalry coming to the rescue in a Western).

59 “Did Achilles grieve for Hector? And here’s only a Thersites dead.” The point here is that Nico should be happy that someone who did him wrong is dead (just as Achilles was glad of killing Hector). The villain here, though, was more like Thersites, the only common soldier who has lines in The Iliad – he’s a guy who heckles Agamemnon, but gets the beat down by Odysseus in Iliad, Book II.

60 Hector’s Ransom – we don’t have this play, and there may have been no such play. The plot, though, is obvious. It would be a play in which Priam goes to Achilles to ransom his son’s body, based on Iliad, Book XXIV.

64 “show men and women as they really are” – this alludes to a quotation regarding Sophocles and Euripides. Sophocles, the most heroic of the tragedians, “showed men as they should be,” while Euripides “showed men as they really are.”

66 Delphi Peace Conference – I’m guessing this has something to do with peace negotiations between Thebes and Sparta during the war for Theban hegemony.

68 — there is a famous bronze statue of a charioteer – this is the one Renault is thinking of: https://ancient-greece.org/art/chiarioteer.html

71 Plato’s lecture – Plato, like Aristotle, gave lectures. Where we have only lecture notes for Aristotle, we have only dialogs of Plato (starring Socrates), but Aristotle wrote dialogs (don’t survive) and there likely were lecture notes of Plato (don’t survive).

73 Academy – this was the name of Plato’s school, which met in a gymnasium and olive grove just outside Athens, named after a hero, Academos.

77 The Drinking Party – this is a dialog of Plato’s we know as Symposium. It is the discussion of Eros – “what is Eros?” at a drinking party in honor of Agathon’s first first prize at the City Dionysia in 416 BCE.

78 Harmodius and Aristogeiton – these were two young men (lovers) who killed the tyrant Hipparchus in 514 BCE, and they are grouped with Achilles and Patroclus and Orestes and Pylades, two pairs of best buds from Greek legend/myth.

85 passed by the selectors – at the City Dionysia and the Lenaia, only a certain number of plays were chosen for performance. In the case of the City Dionysia, three tragedians were chosen, each of whom got one day of the festival in which to mount 4 plays (3 tragedies and a satyr play). After the 5th c. I’m not sure that the selection process was quite the same, as it seems individual works were chosen, and maybe fewer plays were performed.  But anyone planning on putting on a show would go to a board of selectors who would choose the plays (or playwrights), and then they would assign a rich person to be the choregos (lit. chorus leader, but more like a producer) to outfit the show and train the chorus.  The playwright would generally get the actors he wanted to perform, though in a period of revival this may have been done by the selectors.

87 the quotation “A young man fallen on the field” – this comes, perhaps indirectly, from the Iliad. It’s a common trope in Greek poetry about the handsome corpse of the fallen young warrior, contrasted with the shriveled old corpse of an old guy.

Odeion – lit. “music hall” – this is a smaller roofed theater on the Acropolis, located near the Theatre of Dionysus.

88 “my chariot entry after Hermes” – in the Iliad, Hermes, in disguise, guides Priam and his chariot through the Greek camp to Achilles’ tent.

90 “Bellerophon” – this hero rode Pegasus to fight the Chimaera. No surviving play has Bellerophon in it, but there likely was a tragedy about him. The key moment would be the moment where, using the crane, Bellerophon, riding a painted mock-up of Pegasus, would be swung in – if something went awry, it would be the cause of much laughter and cat-calling.

92 Parodos – the entry ramp on either side of the stage, the word can also stand for the opening of the play, when the chorus enters.

96 skolion – a drinking song, which would be sung in succession, with each person adding a stanza.

98 mumming in the Italian style – there was some native Italian farce called the “Atellan farce” which would have been quite a bit broader than the comedy Greeks would have seen in the 4th c. (generally comedy of manners). Not sure that the Atellan farce was going on in the 4th c. BCE, though.

Zeus with a big nose and phallos – this may refer to a satyr play, or a Greek old comedy, where characters or the chorus had great big clown phalli (think of knee-length socks filled with something to make them floppy), or perhaps Renault is alluding to Plautus’ play, Amphitruo, a comedy of errors in which Jupiter (Zeus) and Amphitryon, Alcmena’s husband, show up on the same night to have a little nookie with Alcmena. As Jupiter is disguised as Amphitryon, and Mercury (Hermes) is disguised as the servant, we have a comedy of errors situation of mistaken identity multiplied.  NOTE: Plautus was around in the 2nd half of the 3rd c. BCE, which is quite a bit later than this.

100 Great Harbor… Great War – in 416, Athenian forces set out to take the city of Syracuse, which was allied to Sparta. As Sicily had food to spare, which could be given to Sparta to aid in the war effort, Athens had to take it out. The general, Nicias, though, was not a good general.  And Athens’ best general, Alcibiades, had fled to Sparta to escape capture and prosecution for the mutilation of the Herms.  Though the war went on for another 10 years, and Athens rebounded somewhat from this loss at Syracuse, this battle was seen as the turning point in the war.

111 “a web of guest-friendship…” – the concept of xenia (“guest friendship”) is a key one among the Greeks. One sees it a lot in Homer’s Odyssey – one is supposed to treat the stranger as an honored guest, and the stranger is supposed to return the favor when his host shows up at his door. It makes sense that actors would share such a bond.

112 Iatrokles – interesting name for a doctor as it means “physician glory.”

115 hundred and third Olympiad – the only common reference point the Greeks had to date events was the Olympic Games, which started in 776 BCE and happened every four years after that. Other than the Olympic Games, each city-state had its own way of determining year based on who was ruling at the time (it would be like us saying things like “in the third year of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency”). The date here seems to be 364 BCE or so.

116 “Not quite Sophokles – except where it is Sophokles…” There were no laws against plagiarism in the ancient world. And it was quite common to recycle great lines and put them in a new context. The idea would be that such inclusion would bring to mind the previous context of a famous line so that the alert audience member would be rewarded and catch additional sub-text. These days, you can see a certain amount of this in various superhero films where there are oblique references to things outside the plot proper, and the careful viewer is rewarded because s/he picks up on the references.

125 Praxiteles – perhaps, along with Phidias, the most famous Greek sculptor. It was Praxiteles who first did a female nude statue of Aphrodite, and Aphrodite was afterwards always depicted nude.

143 Orpheus – we don’t have such a play extant, and I don’t know the name Eucharmos. I do like that Nico pretends to play the cithara, but they have a real citharist off-stage actually playing the music.

150 grasshopper’s summer – likely a reference to Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ant

153 Roman cohort – as this book takes place around 460 BCE, I’m not sure that Rome would have much of a presence (if at all) in Sicily. Rome is not really a power in the area until their victory against Carthage in the 1st Punic War (ends 241 BCE).

162 Eurpides’ Orestes in Orestes – this is a wild play (originally performed in 408 BCE) that goes so far off the rails, the deus ex machina at the end of the play forcibly wrenches the story back to its normal parameters.

174 Rupilius – again this seems to be an anachronism – why would a Roman be a mercenary serving in Sicily?

Karneios, Metageitnion – these are the Spartan (Dorian) and Athenian names for a month that roughly corresponds to August (keep in mind that the Greeks are not following the Julian or Gregorian calendar).

178 “one cannot go everywhere with Euripides…” – the point here seems to be that Euripides is the tragedian of the big three most affected by the time in which he lived.  His Trojan Women (Troades) is actually an attack on Athenian power politics in the Melian incident (Athens killed all the men on Melos and enslaved all the women because Melos wanted to remain neutral in the Peloponnesian War and would not ally itself to Athens).

181 Alcibiades and Socrates – this is hinted at in the Symposium – Alcibiades was probably the most gifted Athenian politician of his generation, but he was something like Bill Clinton, a sort of bad boy, but with charisma.  His association with Socrates was one of the bits of ammo the prosecution had when they went after Socrates for “corrupting the youth.”

189 Tiresias “has a blind-man mask” – I don’t know of there being such a mask, but all Greek masks would have made visibility an issue.  I once played in Aristophanes’ Wasps in a mask, and I had no peripheral vision at all, which made movement about the orchestra challenging to say the least.

193 thyrsos – this is the staff that followers of Dionysus carry about.  It’s a long staff, with a large pine cone affixed to the top.

Know yourselves – this is an allusion to the inscription at Delphi – gnothi sauton (“know thyself”).

195 “Euripides wrote this play in Macedon…” – Euripides left Athens and spent the last few years of his life in Macedon.  Plays he would have written there would have included the Iphigenia at Aulis and the Bacchae and the posthumous production of these plays got Euripides one of his four first prizes.

202 “Portrait masks are for comedy” – in the production of the Bacchae described, Pentheus is shown in a mask that is clearly the face of Dion.  Tragedy did not have masks based on individuals, but comedies, especially the highly political comedies of Aristophanes, did.  Aristophanes’ The Clouds, for instance, which makes fun of Socrates and his work at the “Thinkery,” would have a Socrates mask on the main actor.

205 “he found a pack of paper with dead flowers pressed in it…”  This seems to me to be anachronistic.  Greek books were papyrus rolls, and though papyrus was made in sheets (which were glued together to form rolls of 30-50 sheets).  Pressing flowers seems to be something for a culture familiar with the codex (books with paper, papyrus or parchment sewn together with a binding).

210 Pythagoreans against flutes – this is also a festival in honor of Apollo, and Apollo is associated with the lyre and cithara, stringed instruments.  Flutes and wind instruments were seen as wild, and the notes were blended together, which is quite different from music on a stringed instrument, where there is a mathematical progression from string to string, and where each note is sounded individually, allowing for a clearer sound.

214 Aphareus’ Atalanta in Kalydon – I know nothing of this play; it may be made up.  The basic story of Calydon is that of Meleager, a man who is killed by his mom.  Atalanta, the most famous of ancient tomboys, was a huntress who went on a great boar hunt with Meleager.  After he killed the boar, he presented Atalanta with the boar’s skin and head as a trophy – you can see a statue showing this in the Nelson-Atkins.

215 Ariadne Forsaken – I know nothing of this play, but it would be a good topic for a Greek tragedy.  Ariadne is left on the island of Naxos by Theseus and then found and saved by Dionysus.  The story has been turned into opera.

221 Plato put on a choral ode – we don’t have much in the way of verse by Plato, but he was apparently a pretty good poet.  Apparently there were choral odes (narrative poems sung by a chorus or choir) that were part of the City Dionysia.

222 Euripides’ Chrysippus – this play does not survive.  Chrysippus was a young man that Laius (the father of Oedipus) fell in love with.  He kidnapped the youth, but the young man’s father cursed Laius that he would die at the hands of a son.  Chrysippus himself commits suicide.  Here Nico suggests that Euripides wrote this while he was courting Agathon (the # 4 tragedian, whose victory party is the setting of Plato’s Symposium), which suggests some unrequited love action going on.

223 “we are citizens since last year” – I’m not sure how this would work – my understanding of Athenian citizenship was that there was no naturalized citizenship among the Athenians.

224 “young Troilus pleading to Achilles…” – the Troilus we know, either from Chaucer or Shakespeare, is in love with Cressida.  When Cressida proves false, Troilus angrily goes into battle, where he has the misfortune of meeting Achilles.

Daidalos – there is a story of Daedalus getting rid of a clever apprentice like this.

225 Epidaurian festival – the best surviving Greek theatre is the one at Epidaurus.

233 “a written scheme of his oral teaching” – this sounds like something we do have in the case of Aristotle, but not in the case of Plato.

241 Aischylos has departed from him … — in the Iliad, it is clear that Patroclus is the elder of the two, and that he was sent to Troy to be a clearer head for his hot-headed young friend, Achilles.  But outside of Homer, no doubt with the idea of the veteran soldier and his young protégé, I think people generally think that Patroclus is the younger of the two.

249 Madness of Herakles – this is likely the play by Euripides, sometimes called Heracles, sometimes Heracles Maiomenos (Heracles Enraged).  If so, the play is by Euripides.

258 Achilles Slays Thersites – Thersites is the only common soldier who gets a line in Iliad.  He mocks Agamemnon and Odysseus beats him silly, to the amusement of the troops.  This play does not exist.  I find it interesting that there is discussion on whether to make Thersites sympathetic.

261 “gnawed by rats…At least he deserves a vulture.”  Prometheus was set upon by Zeus’ eagle that came every morning to eat his liver.  As Prometheus was immortal the liver would grow back overnight.  Modern painters sometimes have a vulture (or two), as other myth figures are beset by vulture(s).  I’m thinking that the sentiment here is that a vulture, at least, is a bird and more imposing than a rat.

262 “for the fourth” – there are only three actors, but it is possible a fourth was there to serve as an understudy.  Some scholars feel that Pylades in Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers would have been played by a fourth actor, but that’s the only one I can think of, and it may be that Aeschylus just had a silent actor speak Pylades’ two lines (which would itself be pretty radical).

264 “rota for rehearsals” – I’m not sure what a rota is – ordinarily it would be some sort of wheel (what the word means) or spinning thing, like a stage platform that can be turned, but that doesn’t seem to be what the author is saying here.

269 Polymachos’ version… the Barnstormer’s Delight:  I’m guessing that this is a particularly memorable version of the death scene from Sophocles’ Ajax, that Polymachus was a famous actor, but I don’t know.

270 Arch-Druid:  not sure how much contact the Greeks or Romans would have had with the Gauls at this point that they’d know about Druids.

273 like sailors everywhere, democrats: I guess sailors are seen as more egalitarian than soldiers, as their time on ship makes them an entity unto themselves and all have to work together.  In Mutiny on the Bounty, though, there doesn’t seem to be any democracy at work.

278 “All the great festivals are holy to Hermes the Light Fingered.”  I’m guessing this is a way of saying that there was a lot of pickpocket action at festivals, so that smart travelers deposited their money at a bank which would be more secure.

280 Isokrates: I don’t know who this figure is.  The most famous Isocrates (a famous Attic orator) was working decades later than the time of this novel.

281 “by casting pebbles”: one form of divination involved casting pebbles.  Unlike the oracle at Delphi where Apollo was seen as the god of prophecy, the pebble casting method (sort of like the I Ching, I guess) was associated with Hermes (god of luck, and also a god associated with pebbles).

Leonideion, with the other lions: here we have a pun, as the name of the state hostel, Leonideion, means lion’s den.

282 Diagoras the Runner: don’t know of this figure.  There was a famous Olympic athlete, Diagoras of Rhodes, but he was a boxer.

283: on the west gable stood Apollo, stern and beautiful: this is the West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.  It features a ramrod still Apollo, one arm outstretched, putting a stop to the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs who are shown in animated battle all about the rigidly still Apollo.

291: The wolf, as everyone knows, is a creature of Apollo:  I have to say, I don’t know this.  The wolf does not seem to be an animal one would associate with Apollo.

303 “a man with gravitas (a Roman word, which I think means dignity of soul)”: Gravitas is one of the key Roman virtues – it usually means “seriousness of purpose,” and is opposed to levitas which indicates the opposite.  In the story of the grasshopper and the ant, the grasshopper demonstrates levitas, and the ant gravitas.

311 “Having found a quiet clean inn…” ancient inns had a really bad reputation.  This must have been quite the popular inn, if it was really clean and quiet.

315: “It is the nightmare of every touring actor that he may be caught in some town during a sack.”  I can’t imagine this was that common of an occurrence.  There would have been cities that got sacked, but I’m thinking that most actors would avoid such towns.

320 “clutching the earthquake lever…” – I’m not sure what to make of this.  There were likely some devices that would make sounds (like thunder, or the rumbling of earthquakes), but a lever sounds like something that would cause some shift, to suggest an earthquake.  And I can’t imagine such a device in ancient theatre (even one that big bucks had been spent on).

336 Know yourself. Nothing too much.  These are the two famous inscriptions at Delphi: gnothi sauton and meden agan.

341 “I as Ulysses”: say what?  Ulysses (Ulixes) is the Roman name for Odysseus.  I can think of exactly 0 reasons why a Greek would say “Ulysses.”  I’m also not sure if Ulysses was even a thing, yet.  Roman literature, which began with a translation of Homer’s Odyssey into Latin by Livius Andronicus around 260 BCE, is still 200 years in the future, and I’m not sure if the word Ulysses (Ulixes) even exists at this point.

347 “The Offering Bearers” – I’m not sure but I’m guessing that this is Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, the second play in the Oresteia trilogy, which would be an unusual standalone play.

353 “masks of the Furies in The Eumenides” – this story about women having miscarriages when the Furies appeared is usually told of the first performance of the play, in Athens in 458 BCE.  I have to say that it only makes sense in the first instance – we don’t see the Furies at first, so there would be a reveal to their masks.  Once the play is famous, though, the audience is ready for it.  The story is likely made up, as women probably were not allowed in the theatre in Athens in 458.

Chapter 24: On Alexander – it was said that he slept with a copy of the Iliad (my guess is one roll, as twenty four rolls would be too tough to sleep with or on).  He did actually offer a sacrifice to Achilles at Achilles’ supposed tomb when he attacked Persia.  And it does make sense that he would not quite understand why Achilles, the better man, did not simply strike Agamemnon down, as being a lesser man who brought his troubles on himself.


1 Response to “Notes on Mary Renault’s “The Mask of Apollo””

  1. 1 Marilyn Whitlock
    August 30, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Very helpful.

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