Born into a stern farming family on the island of Keos, Simonides escapes his harsh childhood through a lucky apprenticeship with a renowned Ionian singer. Travelling through fifth century BC Greece, Simonides learn not only how to play the kithara and compose poetry, but also how to navigate the political intrigue surrounding his rich patrons. He is witness to the Persian invasion of Ionia, to the decadent reign of the Samian pirate king Polykrates, and to the flourish and fall of the Pisistratids in the Athenian court. Along the way he encounters artists, statesmen, athletes, thinkers, and lovers, including the likes of Pythagoras and Aischylos. Using the singer's unique perspective, Renault combines her vibrant imagination and her formidable grasp of history to establish a sweeping, resilient vision of a golden century.
Mary Renault was educated at Clifton High School, Bristol and St Hugh's College, Oxford. Having completed nursing training in 1937, she then wrote her first novel Promise of Love. Her next three novels were written during off-time duty whilst serving in the war. In 1948 she went to live in South Africa but travelled widely. It was her trip to Greece and her visits to Corinth, Samos, Crete, Delos, Aegina and other islands, as well as to Athens, Sounion and Marathon, that resulted in her brilliant historical reconstructions of Ancient Greece. Mary Renault died in 1983.