In her latest novel of ancient Greece, Mary Renault turns to the world of
the poetthe bard who since the time of Homer had sung his verses
from memory for the occasions of the court. This is the life of
Simonides, who lived in sixth-century Greece during the time of the
tyrants, the Persian wars, and a great flowering fo the arts. With her
usual brilliance, Mary Renault builds on the little source materials
available and transforms it into a marvelously rich and full re-creation
of the world of ancient art.
It is on Keos that the boy Simonides follows a sign from Apollo and finds
his master and teacher, Kleobis the bard. He accompanies him to Samos,
where, amidst the rich and colorful life of that sumptuous island, he
carries out his apprenticeship. After the death of Kleobis, he goes to
Athens to the court of the Pisistratids under the patronage of
Hipparchos, who gathers to him a glittering group of artists of all
kinds. Tyrants in only the ancient sense of the word, the Pisistratids
had come to power as the people's friends, and they seem so to the
Athenians almost to the end, when Hipparchos's folly preciptitates murder
by Harmodios and Aristogeiton and the court's eventual fall from power.
Simonides once again survives upheaval and finally retires to Sicily,
where he looks back over his long and eventful life.
Mary Renault has again worked her magic to re-create a landscape of
ancient history filled with the living substance of passions, politics,