Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Last King : Rome's Greatest Enemy

by Michael Curtis Ford

"To the Romans, the greatest enemy the Republic ever faced was not the Goths or Huns, nor even Hannibal, but rather a ferocious and brilliant king on the distant Black Sea: Mithridates Eupator VI of Pontus, known to history as Mithridates the Great.

At age eleven, Mithridates inherited a small mountain kingdom of wild tribesmen, which his wicked mother governed in his place. Sweeping to power at age twenty-one, he proved to be a military genius and quickly consolidated various fiefdoms under his command. Since Rome also had expansionist designs in this region, bloody conflict was inevitable.

Over forty years, Rome sent its greatest generals to contain Mithridates and gained tenuous control over his empire only after suffering a series of devastating defeats at the hands of this cunning and ruthless king. Each time Rome declared victory, Mithridates considered it merely a strategic retreat, and soon came roaring back with a more powerful army than before. "

Language Visible by David Sacks

In his new book on the history of the alphabet, David Sacks says, "Follow any letter back through time and you glimpse the extraordinary commerce of language across centuries."

"It is extraordinary how far and how clearly we can see back to the origins of our letters. English took its alphabet from Latin (as did many a language that the Romans never heard spoken, from Polish to Zulu to Indonesian). Latin itself was written with letters copied from the utterly dissimilar Etruscan language, a tongue still largely unintelligible to us. A few centuries before this happened, the Etruscans had appropriated the Greek alphabet, even though, again, the languages had little in common. And the Greeks had taken their letters, with minor adaptations, from the Phoenicians, though the two peoples' languages were "as different as Arabic and English".

"The Romans began using the Etruscan H when transliterating Greek words containing sounds without a Roman equivalent. So the Greek theta, representing a sound foreign to Latin, became TH. So too phi, khi and rho became PH, CH and RH, and originally represented breathy sounds that were distinct from F, K and R. Thus we have philosophy, chrome and rhetoric. A thousand years later the Normans used H to eradicate the non-Roman letters of Anglo-Saxon. The letter yogh, representing the breathy English 'g' or 'y' sound was to be GH. So, too, we got TH for the 'th' sound in 'then' and CH for the 'ch' in 'cheese'."

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Trajan & Plotina: A Review

Novel by David Corson
Review by Irene Hahn

Based on Julian Bennett's excellent imperial biography Trajan: Optimus Princeps, the novel is a fount of information about the reign of Trajan. However, it is curiously lifeless at times. This may be due to the characters of Trajan and Plotina, which do not lend themselves to much drama or tension, especially as Mr. Corson chose to ignore ancient gossip about Plotina and Hadrian, and accepts Plotina's quiescence to a sexually unfulfilled marriage. Had he not done this, the story might have had a bit more spark. Among the other characters, only Hadrian comes through as a more complex personality.

The author unfortunately passed away during the--apparently--final draft stage of the book, and the book was published by iUnverse, and thus lacked an attentive editor, who might have tightened the story somewhat.

Nonetheless, for those readers interested in Trajan and his times without wanting to plod their way through a learned biography, the book should be a good read.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Sacred Land

by H. N. Turteltaub

"In Over the Wine-Dark Sea and The Gryphon’s Skull, H. N. Turteltaub brought to life the teeming world of maritime Greece, in the unsettled years following the death of Alexander the Great. Now Menedemos and Sostratos, those dauntless capitalists of the third century B.C., have set sail again--this time to Phoenicia. There Menedemos will spend the summer trading, while his cousin Sostratos travels inland to the little-known country of Ioudaia, with its strange people and their even stranger religious obsessions.

In theory, Sostratos is going in search of cheap balsam, a perfume much in demand in the Mediterranean world. In truth, scholarly Sostratos just wants to get a good look at a part of the world unknown to most Hellenes. And the last thing he wants is to have to take along a bunch of sailors from the Aphrodite as his bodyguards."

Get Out or Die

By Jane Finnis

"Ill-fated legionnaires contend with a ruthless band of guerrillas seeking to rid their homeland of unwanted occupiers. Tensions run high as headless bodies begin appearing along the roadways of remote Brigantia, the adopted home of plucky Aurelia Marcella and her sister Albia, who are keepers of the Oak Tree Mansio, an inn catering to the elite of the empire's 'raw new province.' Crudely carved discs bearing the title's ominous words are hung on each new corpse, and the same menacing phrase mysteriously appears on Aurelia's barn shortly before a savage nighttime attack by the 'Shadow-men,' a rebel group believed to be led by a Roman turncoat."

Friday, December 05, 2003

"The Secundus Papyrus"

"Getorius, a physician, and Arcadia, his beautiful wife and medical apprentice, embark on a journey during a time shrouded in mystery.
Getorius and Arcadia are summoned to determine the monk's cause of death. Shortly after, the couple, along with several other colorful characters, are invited to the palace of Galla Placidia, a Gothic Empress and mother of Flavius Placidus, the Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.
While on an impromptu tour of the palace's new mausoleum, an ancient papyrus is found in a booby-trapped wall niche.
One by one those present at the discovery of the papyrus begin to die.
Getorius and Arcadia know the contents of the papyrus could have a huge and devastating effect on not only the empire, but on the future of mankind as well. Wondering when they themselves could fall victim to the killer, they try to answer seemingly endless questions. Was the papyrus forged? Who hid it in the booby-trapped mausoleum? Who knows about it, and what will they do with its contents? And what is the meaning of the symbol of a cockerel or rooster that keeps appearing in unexpected places?"