Thursday, August 21, 2003

Rubicon by Tom Holland

Reviewed by Harry Eyres

"In September 1939 Ronald Syme brought out The Roman Revolution, his great account of how the feuding and excessive lust for power of Rome's leading clans, long before the emergence of Augustus, betrayed the Republic, that supposed template of virtuous self-government, and ruined the Roman people. It was a sombre warning to a world that had just plunged into war of how a power-crazed oligarchy, blindly caught up in its own jostling, could lead inexorably to civil (indeed world) war and dictatorship, and the suppression of political freedoms for centuries.
Tom Holland's engrossing new retelling of the Republic's last gory century, though very different in tone and intended audience (Syme's book was aimed at a narrow elite of academics, opinion-formers and politicians, Holland writes for a general readership) is also meant partly as a warning, with at least half an eye on the present era of American global domination."

Friday, August 15, 2003

Ancient Marriage Rituals Examined

This post started innocently enough when I read an interesting tidbit about the use of honey in ancient Persian marriage rituals. Apparently, newlyweds in ancient Persia were expected to drink honey mead every day for one "honey month" to get in the right "frame of mind" for a happy marriage, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry. I searched for additional information about ancient marriage customs and found this interesting piece detailing the findings of Lance Rancier, author of The Sex Chronicles: Strange-But-True Tales From Around The World (General Publishing Group), a look at courtship rituals in more than 300 ancient cultures.

Ancient Persians who died as virgins were married before burial. The corpse's spouse received a fee.

In central Europe, a Teutonic woman prided herself on standing by her man, even on the battlefield. According to superstition, she proved she was marriage-worthy by killing one of her beloved's enemies.

In ancient Britain, women married in their finest dresses, but the groom wed "skyclad" — in the nude. This practice might explain the tradition of June weddings. (Maybe they were part Betazoid?)

The book also answers such eternal questions as "Why did Tibetans splash newlyweds with yak grease?"

I also came across another site describing the history and symbolism of an ancient Persian wedding:

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Gods and Legions

I like historical novels that develop the individual characters rather than focus on just a series of events. I am presently close to finishing “Gods and Legions” by Michael Curtis Ford and appreciated his very personal portrayal of the Roman Emperor Julian. I do wish his narrative character, Caesarius, a Christian physician and longtime friend of Julian, had been more understanding of the followers of the ancient religions rather than behave as the typically intolerant believer of the period but I guess that personification was more historically accurate.

I felt much more sympathy for the local priest of 5th century Noviodonum, depicted in John Gorman’s “The King of the Romans”, who compassionately helped the aged local priestess remember the steps of her rituals when her mind would wander.

Overall, however, I have found this to be an excellent novel and would agree wholeheartedly with reviewer Paolo Villasenor, who writes: "...the second novel by Michael Curtis Ford, has an uncanny ability to draw in modern readers with its vivid imagery, fascinating characters, and well written dialogue that would appeal to even those who lack any prior background to the era. Although the story of Emperor Julian is well chronicled in history, it is not necessarily well known. The tale of the unlikely heir, banished to await his execution, and rising unexpectedly to the throne would be fascinating enough. Yet the story that Ford tells progresses towards even more surprising and compelling twists beyond the ascension of the young Emperor. Ford exhibits a fantastic ability to paint a picture of ancient warfare, and adeptly contrasts different armies' strategies, techniques, and dispositions, creating a graphic description of ancient times. Just as easily, Ford shifts gears to provide wonderful dialogue between the protagonists, influenced by classical authors and philosophers. The complex character that is Julian will confuse and dumbfound readers as his bizarre behavior leads to his demise. What motivates his actions? That is left for the reader to interpret. Although it would be easy to summarize the plot, the true art is found in Ford's writing. Overall, Ford's second book is a must read for those who enjoy a well-told story lush with action, imagery, and intellect. One need not be a classical scholar to enjoy this fine tale."

Ford himself attributes his realistic depictions of ancient warfare to two books by Victor Davis Hanson, The Soul of Battle & Carnage and Culture. Hanson is Professor of Classics and Coordinator of the Classical Studies Program at Fresno State.

Ford is working on his third book entitled The Last King of Greece. "It takes us back to the 1st century B.C. & recounts the life of Mithridates, again a man little known in our times, but who was a brilliant barbarian king & general whom Rome considered its most fearsome enemy ever -- even greater than Hannibal, " says Ford.