Heracles Pontor, Decipherer of Enigmas in ancient Athens, is asked to investigate the death of Tramachus, the son of his old friends. It appears the young man was attacked by wolves while out hunting, but Diagoras, his tutor at Plato's Academy, insists he was terrified of something and was consequently murdered. Heracles takes the case, mainly to satisfy his own curiosity about the state of the corpse.
Heracles and Diagoras question the dancer Yasintra at Piraeus, then go to the gymnasium to interview Tramachus's friends Antisus and Euneos. All seem nervous but deny any knowledge. By all accounts Tramachus was a normal young man, both virtuous and religious, participating with his family in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Heracles later discovers that Antisus and Euneos are performing in forbidden plays and attending orgiastic parties at a sculptor's studio. He deduces that Tramachus was silenced to prevent him from revealing this shameful secret.
Euneos's body is discovered on waste ground near the studio. It is said he slashed himself to death in a drunken frenzy. Heracles observes that the body was re-dressed and moved after death, which suggests murder. Dinner at the Academy leads to a confession and a rational explanation. More deaths seem only to confirm the guilt of the logical suspect and the case goes to trial. But Heracles is dissatisfied.
Haunted by doubts and dreams, Heracles finds his rationality challenged by his old schoolfellow Crantor, who once burnt his own hand to prove that reason does not rule human conduct, and by the sculptor poet Menaechmus who asserts the vitality of creativity against the sterility of the Platonic Realm of Ideas.
Alongside the main narrative, displayed as a series of footnotes, another story emerges, set in a later time. The translator of the Greek novel about Heracles Pontor is convinced a secret message is hidden in the story. He sees surreal images running riot in the text, often unnoticed by the characters themselves. He comes to believe the message directly relates to his own life, and that he is in imminent danger.
The review of this Book prepared by Maureen Evans