Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Jamshid and the lost Mountain of Light by Howard Lee

"Jamshid and the Lost Mountain of Light takes you back 2500 years to the palaces of ancient Persia, where a coup is being plotted. Jamshid is the son of the Grand Vizier to the Emperor, who finds his world turned upside-down as the story unfolds. Suddenly his parents are banished from the Empire, leaving Jamshid alone in the care of his tutor, Parthesus. Suliaman is a court official who will stop at nothing to take over the throne of the global superpower. Jamshid and Parthesus discover the plot - but can they save the Empire? The suspense and thrills of Jamshid's struggle against Suliaman - and himself - are guaranteed to grab the attention of readers young and old."

The inspirations and themes of the book were discussed in a recent interview by Darius Kadivar of

"I particularly liked the battle scenes in your book between the mythological animals the Karibu and the flying Griffin Ghoreed or the secret landing on the Persian Gulf shores of the Egyptian Army led by the villainous Vizier Suliaman. It reminded me of some of Ray HarryHausen?s classic films that personally delighted me as a kid such as Jason and the Argonauts or The Golden Voyage of Sinbad or more recently like in the Swords and Sandals film Troy with Brad Pitt. You also illustrated your book with your beautiful drawings. What were your visual references or influences for these scenes?"

Howard LEE: That?s a very perceptive question! I love the Sinbad films, and they were definitely in my mind when I wrote the book. I wanted to have some of the archetypal feeling from the ?Arabian Nights,? the ancient Greek legends, and the Gilgamesh stories in my book. One of the ideas that interests me is how tales move from factual to legendary to mythical over time, which is why I have blended historical fiction with fantasy.

The visual influences for my illustrations were the reliefs at Takht-e-Jamshid, and the tile pictures at Susa. The sculptures are exquisitely stylized to the point where every curve is in harmony, an elegance of form echoed by modern sculptors such as Hepworth, Moore, and Arp. I wanted to keep that style in my illustrations. I also wanted to use the side-view representation of people, in keeping with the style at Takht-e-Jamshid."

Darius Kadivar: "Your book was showcased at the British Museum with the very successful exhibition ?Forgotten Empire? on ancient Persia. Jamshid?s quest for the stolen Royal Kuh-Nur diamond for which his father Daniel (a faithful and competent Vizier of the Persian King) and family are unjustly banished could be a good metaphor for many Iranian expatriates forced into exile since the revolution. Without revealing the end of your story, but isn?t Jamshid?s searching for the diamond revealing an Iranian characteristic in general throughout their history which is: an eternal desire to see the return of harmony, peace and justice in their ancient land?"

Howard LEE: "I think it is an eternal wish of good people everywhere, to see harmony, peace and justice in their land. The question is: what is the driving force? If it is revenge, hatred, or greed then it is unlikely to bring about those goals. In my book I refer to the privileged nature of the royal court, but that at every opportunity the poor were given charity. Of course I don?t know how historically accurate that is, but I do know that the strength of the empire of Cyrus and Darius was built on a sense of fair dealing and, for its day, a revolutionary view of human rights. I was impressed with the book ?Daughter of Persia? by Sattareh Farman Farmaian, who by her own account sought to bring harmony between the two Irans that have been in discord since at least the 1960s. I learned early on in my contact with Iranians that nobody can trick an Iranian like another Iranian, and I see that as a symptom of a deeper ill. Some seek a return to the old days, but the seeds of discord were there then. Some embrace a hatred-fuelled rejection of the old days, but as we know, this also doesn?t heal the rift. Others blame ?The West?. Whilst it is true the West, including my own country, has a long history of interference in Iran (from the ?Great Game? of keeping France then Russia out of India, to the oil and cold war politics of the 20th century), I think the social divisions within Iran also had a role to play in the way things turned out, and how they are now. I believe only the ways of compassion and mercy, at a practical and individual level, such as practiced by Sattareh Farman Farmaian, can bring harmony and peace and justice."

Attila: The Scourge Of God : The story of Flavius Aetius, the last great Roman general, and of his friend who became an enemy : Attila, Ki

Attila: The Scourge Of God : The story of Flavius Aetius, the last great Roman general, and of his friend who became an enemy : Attila, King of the Huns: "This arresting historical novel deals with the rivalry between two great men whose friendship turns to enmity as one (Attila) becomes corrupted by power, while the other (Aetius) is ennobled by it. Ross Laidlaw's masterful portrayal of these two figures is based on his intimate knowledge of the times and is written in a narrative style that vividly evokes the brutality, decadence, and desperation of this fascinating period of history."

"This is a book to get your teeth into, not something to pick up and put down. It is a book about two great men, Attila, King of the Huns and Flavius Aetius one of the great Roman Generals, friends, who turn into bitter enemies.

The book is set in the early 5th century. The German tribes are overrunning the Western parts of the Roman Empire. Nothing and no one can stop the might of their forces. The government of Rome is forced to grant them federate status.

Aetius becomes the power in Rome even over the heads of a weak and viscious emperor and his mother. In a series of campaigns he takes on the might of the Huns and forces them to settle peacefully. His one time friend Attila, now his bitter enemy launches an attack on the Eastern part of the empire and in the ensuring battle both men have everything to lose if they are defeated.

The novel portrays brilliantly the brutality of war and the blatant disregard for human life in this period of history and is a must for anyone interested in that period." - J. Chippindale

The Sword of Hannibal: Books by Terry McCarthy

With Rome and Carthage on the verge of a final confrontation, the mercenary Strabo infiltrates Hannibal's army to rescue a kidnapped kinswoman from slavery in exchange for a fabulous treasure.

"What a fabulous debut for author Terry McCarthy. He brings us characters with uncommon depth and dimension. I felt he brought a sadly overlooked era to life with rich detail and texture and a well-studied examination of the tribes and nations filling the landscape of 200 B.C.
I found myself yearning for greater background on the emerging technologies of this fertile period in history, but it probably would have bogged down a perfectly-paced story." - Guy Gordon

THREE'S COMPANY by Alfred Duggan THREE'S COMPANY (FICTION): Books: "It was the Rome of Cicero, Rome at the zenith of her power. When Caesar was murdered by some of his enemies, Marcus Antonius was the first to seize power, and then appeared the young Octavius who bore the name of Caesar.

Who was the mediator between these two, when a second Triumvirate was formed and recognized? It was Lepidus, whom no one took much account of, and whose name few now remember; a patrician, with no idea of how to command an army in the field.

In this novel the history of the years 49 to 36 BC is seen from the point of view of Lepidus. It is the cruelly fascinating, sometimes funny, and, in the end, curiously moving story of a figurehead who tasted power and began to believe in himself."

An historian's final -- and great -- subject

"Norman F. Cantor, who died in September 2004, was this nation's pre-eminent medieval historian. His 1963 classic 'The Civilization of the Middle Ages' has made that era accessible to generations of history lovers. In this, Cantor's final book, he elegantly and concisely chronicles the life of the greatest conqueror of the ancient world.

Cantor's narrative balances beautifully between the personal and the public as he chronicles the life of the Macedonian leader. He shows us an Alexander who perfectly embodied the dichotomies of ancient Greek culture, a man who combined the harsh warrior ethos of Sparta and the rational, philosophical traditions of Athens."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Isle of Stone, The : A Novel of Ancient Sparta

by Nicholas Nicastro Isle of Stone, The : A Novel of Ancient Sparta: Books: "It is a tale of two cities--the legendary duel between haughty, democratic Athens and brutal, unbeaten Sparta. After seven years of bloody conflict, a barren island in a remote corner of Greece becomes the stage for what promises to become a second Thermopylae. Four hundred Spartan soldiers are cut off by enemy ships on a narrow strip of land, starving, without supplies, yet sworn to uphold their indomitable heritage. Meanwhile, all around them, the powerful Athenian Navy masses for the inevitable assault.

As the war of nerves wears on, Spartan nobles and Athenian demagogues maneuver in the background--and two estranged Spartan brothers serve together for the first time. The eldest, Antalcidas, is a legendary warrior hobbled by a damaging secret. His brother Epitadas is envied, popular, and cruel. Together they must overcome a lifetime of hostility to survive the battle of their lives."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Gladiators from Capua (The Roman Mysteries)

by Caroline Lawrence

"March, AD 80. In Rome the Emperor Titus has announced that there will be a hundred days of games to open the new Flavian amphitheatre (now known as the Colosseum). Suspecting that their friend Jonathan is not dead, as they had thought, Flavia, Nubia, and Lupus organie an invitation to Rome on the pretence of witnessing this historic event.

Their search for Jonathan leads them straight to the games, where they must face wild beasts, criminals, conspirators, and gladiators. It's Nubia's turn to employ all of ther courage and talens, and before the end of the story she is called upon to make the most terrible choice.

A heart-pounding behind-the-scenes account of gladiator fights, executions and beast fights makes this one of the most exciting Roman Mysteries yet."

Age group 9 - 12

The Middle East under Rome

by Maurice Sartre

"Histories of the Roman Empire tend to stay close to Rome, so Sartre's summation of what we know about imperial influence in the region then known as Syria is highly welcome. Though the book's heft could be intimidating (and this is but a chunk of a much larger book published in France a few years ago), footnotes and bibliography account for nearly 300 pages, and the main text is skillfully rendered into accessible, almost conversational English. Sartre, a professor of ancient history at the University of Tours, offers an account of major events in the region, but the real treasure is the rich detail about ancient Syria's cultural life. Drawing on archeological evidence as well as historical texts, the author sketches a thriving region dotted by cosmopolitan city-states that were in many cases governed by local rulers with Roman guidance. Sartre traces the early rise of Christianity and the upheaval of the Jewish community following a failed rebellion in A.D. 66?74, placing them within the broader context of a generally "adaptable and flexible" imperial leadership that allowed cultural diversity to flourish so long as Rome received its tribute. Vivid descriptive prose could help this excellent treatise find a readership beyond the world of classical scholars." - Publishers Weekly

Cleopatra and Rome

by Diana E. E. Kleiner

"With the full panorama of her life forever lost, Cleopatra touches us in a series of sensational images: floating through a perfumed mist down the Nile; dressed as Venus for a tryst at Tarsus; unfurled from a roll of linens before Caesar; couchant, the deadly asp clasped to her breast. Through such images, each immortalizing the Egyptian queen's encounters with legendary Romans--Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian Augustus--we might also chart her rendezvous with the destiny of Rome. So Diana Kleiner shows us in this provocative book, which opens an entirely new perspective on one of the most intriguing women who ever lived. Cleopatra and Rome reveals how these iconic episodes, absorbed into a larger historical and political narrative, document a momentous cultural shift from the Hellenistic world to the Roman Empire. In this story, Cleopatra's death was not an end but a beginning--a starting point for a wide variety of appropriations by Augustus and his contemporaries that established a paradigm for cultural conversion.

In this beautifully illustrated book, we experience the synthesis of Cleopatra's and Rome's defining moments through surviving works of art and other remnants of what was once an opulent material culture: religious and official architecture, cult statuary, honorary portraiture, villa paintings, tombstones, and coinage, but also the theatrical display of clothing, perfume, and hair styled to perfection for such ephemeral occasions as triumphal processions or barge cruises. It is this visual culture that best chronicles Cleopatra's legend and suggests her subtle but indelible mark on the art of imperial Rome at the critical moment of its inception.

In this beautifully illustrated book, we experience the synthesis of Cleopatra's and Rome's defining moments through surviving works of art and other remnants of what was once an opulent material culture. This culture best chronicles Cleopatra's legend and suggests her subtle but indelible mark on the art of imperial Rome at the critical moment of its inception."

A Walk in Ancient Rome : A Vivid Journey Back in Time

by John T. Cullen

"What would it be like to return to Ancient Rome and discover what things were really like? A Walk in Ancient Rome is a fascinating journey that takes you back to a world so similar to ours, and yet totally different. A place where people asked the same questions about life, careers, current events, and gossiped much like we do today. A Walk in Ancient Rome contains a narrative so rich that you can almost smell the fresh leather of harnesses, of flowers, perfumes, and baked goods; the sounds of the clatter of hooves on stone, the chatter of gossip and business transactions, and so much more. A Walk in Ancient Rome reveals the daily life in a unique way that puts you on the streets of Ancient Rome, in its shops and neighborhoods, in its forums and Colesium, on its boats and barges, and so much more!"

The Fall Of The Roman Empire: A New History Of Rome And The Barbarians

by Peter Heather

"The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Rome generated its own nemesis. Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors it called barbarians into an enemy capable of dismantling the Empire that had dominated their lives for so long. Heather is a leading authority on the late Roman Empire and on the barbarians. In The Fall of the Roman Empire, he explores the extraordinary success story that was the Roman Empire and uses a new understanding of its continued strength and enduring limitations to show how Europe's barbarians, transformed by centuries of contact with Rome on every possible level, eventually pulled it apart. He shows first how the Huns overturned the existing strategic balance of power on Rome's European frontiers, to force the Goths and others to seek refuge inside the Empire. This prompted two generations of struggle, during which new barbarian coalitions, formed in response to Roman hostility, brought the Roman west to its knees. The Goths first destroyed a Roman army at the battle of Hadrianople in 378, and went on to sack Rome in 410. The Vandals spread devastation in Gaul and Spain, before conquering North Africa, the breadbasket of the Western Empire, in 439. We then meet Attila the Hun, whose reign of terror swept from Constantinople to Paris, but whose death in 453 ironically precipitated a final desperate phase of Roman collapse culminating in the Vandals' defeat of the massive Byzantine Armada: the west's last chance for survival. Peter Heather convincingly argues that the Roman Empire was not on the brink of social or moral collapse. What brought it to an end were the barbarians."

Rome at War: Caesar and his Legacy

by Steven Saylor (Foreword), Kate Gilliver, Adrian Goldsworthy, Michael Whitby

The story of a small town that rose to become the most powerful empire of the ancient world has been an inspiration to generations of people. Even after the collapse of the Roman Empire, many nations and their leaders have styled themselves 'heirs of Rome', emulating its society, technology and warfare. This book details the wars that shaped the Roman Empire, from the Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar and the subsequent civil war between Caesar and Pompey which tore apart the ageing Republic, through the expansion of the early Empire to its 'decline and fall'.

Rome And Her Enemies: An Empire Created And Destroyed by War

by Jane Penrose

"Spanning over a thousand years and an immense geographical area, the Roman Empire was the greatest in world history. At its most powerful, the Empire cast a shadow across the known world, and its legacy continues to influence politics, art and culture around the world today. Romeâ??s power was won on the battlefield, and the greatness of the Empire is reflected in the warlike reputations of the enemies it subdued. Hannibal, the Carthaginians, Mithridates, the Gauls, the Sassanid Persians and the infamous Goths are amongst the forces that battled the might of Rome. Rome and Her Enemies juxtaposes the society and military structure of each of these peoples with those of the contemporary Roman army. Using previously published Osprey material, this book is divided into four chronological sections focusing on major wars and battles, is lavishly illustrated throughout, and colour photographs, artwork and maps support the text to provide a comprehensive introduction to the rise and fall of an empire created and destroyed by war."

The Fall Of Rome: And The End Of Civilization

By Bryan Ward-Perkins

"Was the fall of Rome a great catastrophe that cast the West into darkness for centuries to come? Or, as scholars argue today, was there no crisis at all, but simply a peaceful blending of barbarians into Roman culture, an essentially positive transformation? In The Fall of Rome, eminent historian Bryan Ward-Perkins argues that the "peaceful" theory of Rome's "transformation" is badly in error. Indeed, he sees the fall of Rome as a time of horror and dislocation that destroyed a great civilization, throwing the inhabitants of the West back to a standard of living typical of prehistoric times. Attacking contemporary theories with relish and making use of modern archaeological evidence, he looks at both the wider explanations for the disintegration of the Roman world and also the consequences for the lives of everyday Romans, who were caught in a world of economic collapse, marauding barbarians, and the rise of a new religious orthodoxy. The book recaptures the drama and violence of the last days of the Roman world, and reminds us of the very real terrors of barbarian occupation. Equally important, Ward-Perkins contends that a key problem with the new way of looking at the end of the ancient world is that all difficulty and awkwardness is smoothed out into a steady and positive transformation of society. Nothing ever goes badly wrong in this vision of the past. The evidence shows otherwise. Up to date and brilliantly written, combining a lively narrative with the latest research and thirty illustrations, this superb volume reclaims the drama, the violence, and the tragedy of the fall of Rome."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Malta: Phoenician, Punic and Roman

Malta: Phoenician, Punic and Roman:
Malta: Phoenician, Punic and Roman, the second book in the series 'Malta's Living Heritage' published by Midsea Books Ltd has just been released. Author Prof. Anthony Bonanno traces the island's past from the end of the Prehistoric Bronze Age down to the end of the Roman period. Photography by Daniel Cilia and reconstructions of existing remains, particularly from the Roman period, help the reader visual the cultural development around the trading activities that made Malta an important center in the classical world.

Sand of the Arena: A Gladiators of the Empire Novel

I had the pleasure of meeting author Jim Duffy last Spring at the first North American conference of the Historical Novel Society in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jim was working on the final edits of his book "Sand of the Arena" that will usher in a new series of novels, "Gladiators of the Empire". Jim was kind enough to send me a pre-release galley of his new book and I have enjoyed reading it. Jim has conducted extensive research in the life and training of gladiators and it shows in the depth of detail he has woven into his novel. His action scenes are very well paced and draw the reader quickly forward, rewarding him with a believable and gratifying conclusion to each encounter.

I found the protagonist's Ethiopian friend Lindani's almost miraculous feats of prowess in the beast hunts particularly fascinating and the shipwreck scene graphically realistic and immersive (no pun intended). Duffy's experience in writing for television has given him insight into the entertainment aspect of historical fiction and his tightly written prose provides a literary adrenaline rush that is seldom experienced in a first novel.

I do think as the series progresses, however, he will need to balance the glorification of victory and the rush of audience acclaim with the bittersweet aspects of belonging to a social class that is considered the lowest of the low, and the obstacles that this creates in the pursuit of other objectives.

Book description:

"In 63 AD the long arm of the Roman Empire stretches across the European continent and the gladiatorial games are awash in blood and glory. For Quintus Honorius Romanus, son of one of the richest men in Rome, everything is as it should be--as long as he can sneak off to the amphitheater for a little entertainment. Things go drastically wrong, however, when Quintus loses his family, his social standing, and his name to an imposter. Faced with a life of menial slavery, Quintus joins a gladiatorial school instead and begins a game of unimaginably high stakes, as he vows to bring down the usurper who stole his life. But first he must survive his training. Together with the deadly African hunter Lindani and the lethal gladiatrix Amazonia, Quintus learns the hard way what it means to live--and die--in the arena.

Rough-and-tumble, fast-paced, and unrelenting, Sand of the Arena brings the Roman Empire to life and sheds light on its most controversial form of entertainment. Quintus, Lindani, and Amazonia face the ultimate test of courage and skill inside the arena--and out. For the Gladiators of the Empire, the goal is simply to survive!"

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lest Darkness Falls

I was up on Amazon yesterday looking for bargains on non-fiction books about the Roman Empire and stumbled across a recommendation for a time-travel story in which a 1940s era man travels back in time to the 6th century and subsequently tries to prevent the fall of the Roman Empire. Of course, I dearly love time travel stories and stories that deal with time traveling to the ancient world most of all. So I couldn't resist checking reviews of it and finally ordering it for myself.

Last night I got a call from my son, a sci-fi writer and officiando, and mentioned the book to him. He told me that Sprague De Camp and his wife Catherine, who were contemporaries of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, gained more recognition for his series about Conan the Barbarian than some of his more classic works like this title. Apparently they recently passed away which led their publisher to rerelease some of their earlier works. Judging from Harry Turtledove's glowing recommendation below, I'm glad they did.

"Lest Darkness Fall is the best Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court-type story ever written, with the possible--by no means certain--exception of the Connecticut Yankee itself. The tale of a modern man struggling to introduce technology in sixth-century Italy--where theology and war dominated affairs, and concern for knowledge was a tiny afterthought at best, with best not coming along very often--grips from the first page. Like any of de Camp's heroes, Martin Padway has no easy time of it, having to cope with the ignorance and foibles of a great many people, himself emphatically included. It's no wonder that Lest Darkness Fall, which first appeared in abridged form in the December 1939 issue of Unknown and was published at full length in 1941, has been in print almost continuously ever since, and no wonder that Baen Books has chosen to put it in print once more.

The plot of Lest Darkness Fall was not the only thing about it that grabbed me. I also found fascinating the world of sixth-century Italy that de Camp depicted with such loving attention to detail--including a lot of the unpleasant, smelly details that often get omitted from fiction dealing with the past. At the time, I knew nothing about such things, and had no real notion of how much of the background of Lest Darkness Fall was real and how much de Camp was making up. I started trying to find out, and soon discovered that, except for the introduction of Martin Padway, de Camp was making up next to nothing. He had done his homework, and done it well."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

Guardian Unlimited Books: "Tom Holland showed in Rubicon, his book on Julius Caeasar and his age, that he could master a complex and fast-moving narrative from ancient history and make it a pleasure for both general readers and the learned. There is not nearly the same body of evidence for the Persian wars as there is for the breakdown of the Roman republic, but what there is is to die for.

Beside the nine books of Herodotus, there is Aeschylus's tragedy of 472BC, The Persians. The playwright had fought at the decisive sea-battle of Salamis and the high point of the drama is a report of the battle from the Persian point of view. There are also Plutarch's lives of the chief Athenian statesmen, and his account of the Spartan system of government, written much later under the Roman empire. From Iran, there are rock inscriptions of royal conquests above all at Bisitun in Kurdistan.

All the ancient sources are partial, with a bias towards Athens even in Herodotus, but Holland succeeds in writing an account that is clear and uncluttered. His technique is to present his narrative as an uncontested succession of events, and leave the evaluation of sources and the scholarly reservations to notes.

He likes to cut and splice Herodotus's account when the chronology doesn't suit his narrative purposes, but he explains what he is doing and the effect is often fresh and interesting. (The exception is at Salamis, which is a very hard battle to understand, and even harder when Holland introduces a complex Persian night manoeuvre that doesn't appear to be in any ancient source at all.) Similarly, the evacuation of Athens is full of anachronistic detail. But some of the set pieces, such as the charge of the Athenian heavy infantry at Marathon and the Persian army crossing the bridge of boats strung across the Dardanelles, are thrilling."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In Kithairon's Shadow: A Novel of Ancient Greece and the Persian War In Kithairon's Shadow: A Novel of Ancient Greece and the Persian War: Books: "In 480 B.C., Xerxes I, king of the Persian Empire, led a vast and uncountable army intent on the domination of Europe. Only a tiny collection of Greek city-states stood in his path. At Thermopylae the Persians annihilated a small holding force commanded by King Leonidas of Sparta, then quickly marched on to Athens, reducing the city to ruins. Outnumbered and beset by treachery, Sparta, Athens and their allies gathered near the town of Plataea for one final battle. The future of Western civilization hung on the outcome. In Kithairon's Shadow is the story of five men from ancient Greece and the parts they would play in determining their future, and ours."

Shades of Artemis : A Novel of Ancient Greece and the Spartan Brasidas

"Shades of Artemis recounts the life of Brasidas, Spartas most audacious commander, from his upbringing in the Spartan military school called the Agoge to his induction into the ranks of the ancient worlds finest warriors. Overcoming petty jealousies and the politics of his own country, he finally rises to the rank of general and embarks on a daring mission to bring Athens to its knees and an end to the Peloponnesian War. With the death of Pericles, the politician Kleon becomes the architect of war policy in Athens, directing the strategy against Sparta. Thucydides, the Athenian general and chronicler of the conflict, bears witness to the brutality of ancient combat, the devastating plague that strikes his city, and the ambition of fellow Athenians that rely on war to sustain them. In the last quarter of the fifth century BC, these three men would meet in battle on the plains of northern Greece and determine the course of Western Civilizations first world war."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Isle of Stone, The : A Novel of Ancient Sparta

"It is a tale of two cities--the legendary duel between haughty, democratic Athens and brutal, unbeaten Sparta. After seven years of bloody conflict, a barren island in a remote corner of Greece becomes the stage for what promises to become a second Thermopylae. Four hundred Spartan soldiers are cut off by enemy ships on a narrow strip of land, starving, without supplies, yet sworn to uphold their indomitable heritage. Meanwhile, all around them, the powerful Athenian Navy masses for the inevitable assault.

As the war of nerves wears on, Spartan nobles and Athenian demagogues maneuver in the background--and two estranged Spartan brothers serve together for the first time. The eldest, Antalcidas, is a legendary warrior hobbled by a damaging secret. His brother Epitadas is envied, popular, and cruel. Together they must overcome a lifetime of hostility to survive the battle of their lives."

This novel is scheduled for release on December 5, 2005.

Friday, November 04, 2005

A.D. 69

Review by M. Gwyn Morgan

"The period between June 68 and December 69 saw four different men claim the imperial throne, aided by murders, suicides, conspiracies, mutinies, civil war and no small amount of happenstance. Five ancient historians recorded these events, chief among them Tacitus, Suetonius and Plutarch. Since their accounts do not always agree, it falls to their present-day counterparts to adjudicate fact from fiction and history from invention. Morgan (Classics and History/Univ. of Texas, Austin) does an admirably thorough job of guiding his readers through the minutiae of political intrigue and the conflicting chronicles that have come to define the year 69.

Few details escape his purview: A precise account of the emperor Galba`s incongruously pompous march into Rome is representative of the narrative`s tenor, as is the patient sifting through different versions of the suicide of Galba`s usurper, Otho. In addition to supplying a near-forensic level of detail, the author also considers how contemporary historians have misunderstood their predecessors. Literary conventions shaped the ancient historical method, he argues. Failing to acknowledge this, 20th-century studies of 69 A.D. in general and Tacitus in particular have drawn erroneous conclusions about both the facts of the period and Tacitus` opinion of them. Famous for his curt and epigrammatic style, the senator and orator emerges here not so much as disdainful or obscure but rather as a literary stylist of the first order.

Unfortunately, Morgan`s dedication to fleshing out the ambiguous moments in the lives of Tacitus and others slows the book`s pace considerably. Only scholars and the most diehard Roman aficionados will feel compelled to read it cover to cover.

Informative, but heavy as a sack of Roman coins."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pompey by Robin Seager

I see Oxbow books is also offering this revised edition of Seager's biography of Pompey for only half price. I've read quite a bit about Caesar but my knowledge of Pompey has been limited to a view of him from the Caesarian camp. His sensitive portrayal by British actor Kenneth Cranham on HBO's new miniseries "Rome" has peaked my interest even further. So I ordered this book as well.

"First published in 1979, this is a revised edition of Seager's comprehensive biography and analysis of Caesar's son-in-law and rival, Pompeius. A general introduction to Roman politics has been added, along with a glossary, chronology, maps and an afterword which outlines recent research developments, has rendered this study more accessible to a wider readership. Much of the original text remains unchanged and it still provides a useful and interesting survey of one of Rome's more extraordinary characters who is often overlooked in favour of his contemporaries Caesar and Cicero. 269p, maps (Blackwell 2002)"

The Brothers of Romulus by Cynthia J. Bannon

David Brown Book Company: "The Brothers of Romulus
by Cynthia J. Bannon

A study of fraternal pietas in Roman law, literature and society. Bannon examines the relationship between brothers in both the public and private spheres, arguing that the notion of fraternity, with the concept of pietas at its heart, was very important in Roman society and that it became a model for Romns of relationships between friends, lovers and soldiers. She illustrates her arguments with some famous Roman siblings: Cicero and Quintus, Scipio Africanus and Scipio Asiagenus, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus and the most infamous of all: Romulus and Remus. 234p (Princeton UP 1997)"

I noticed this interesting-sounding book that retails for a hefty $49.95 is now on sale for only $14.98. Roman relationships are particularly fascinating to me so I ordered this book.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization

Review by John Sledge (abstract)

"...revisionists have emerged to suggest that the fall [of the Roman Empire] was less a scenario of invasion than one of peaceful transition to Germanic rule, which had its own distinctive culture and traditions worthy of study and respect.

Bryan Ward-Perkins, a British archaeologist, believes this is going too far, and in his new book, "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization" (Oxford, $28), he demolishes the revisionists' assertions in detail. "Some of the recent literature on the Germanic settlements reads like an account of a tea party at the Roman vicarage," he huffs. "A shy newcomer to the village ... is invited in. There is a brief moment of awkwardness, while the host finds an empty chair and pours a fresh cup of tea; but the conversation, and village life, soon flow on." The reality, he counters, was that "the process of mutual accommodation was painful for the natives, was to take a very long time, and ... left the vicarage in very poor shape." According to Ward-Perkins, Rome's fall was a catastrophe and in its wake economies were wrecked, standards of living plummeted, and theretofore sophisticated institutions destroyed. Furthermore and not least, individuals suffered unspeakable horrors.

He begins with a liberal sprinkling of eyewitness narratives that leave little doubt to the disruption and difficulty the empire's citizens endured. One observer wrote, "There was Death, Misery, Destruction, Burning, and Mourning. The whole of Gaul smoked on a single funeral pyre." While Ward-Perkins admits that some of these accounts were likely exaggerated, the totality of descriptions, he insists, suggest "the experience of invasion was terrible."

He examines the archaeological record for evidence that the fall led to poorer living conditions, and he finds it in everything from pottery to roofing tiles. Before the fall, complicated trade networks delivered well-made goods to the farthest reaches of the empire. Even the ordinary inhabitants of distant Britain enjoyed nicely fashioned dinnerware and amphorae, and their barns were roofed with quality clay tile. Conversely, after the fall, crude, locally made pots replaced the fine imports, and barns were roofed with thatch.

There is other evidence as well. Declining crop yields and agricultural capacity are reflected in the diminished sizes of cow bones, and the near-disappearance of literacy is demonstrated by the absence of graffiti and business signs, once common in even small Roman towns of the late empire.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Review: The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

A historical fiction review by  © 2015

I first listened to an unabridged version of Lindsey Davis' "Iron Hand of Mars" back in 2005 and wrote an article about the historical context then. But, I've incorporated and rewritten much of that information in this review following my current review format.

Of all of the Falco novels, this one turned out to be one of my favorites, probably because it included more military adventures than other Falco books and swordplay.

This tale of intrigue is set in Germania where Falco, Vespasian's agent, is tasked with attempting to derail a rebellion led by the Batavian leader Civilis and win over a mysterious prophetess. Since most of my study of Rome has concentrated on the late Republican period, I was not familiar with this major insurgency that arose during the reign of Vespasian. So, I did a little research.

Gaius Julius Civilis was the leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69 AD. Although his name indicates he was Romanized by Augustus or one of the other Julian emperors, Civilis was twice imprisoned on a charge of rebellion, and narrowly escaped execution. During the tumult that followed the death of the emperor, Nero, Civilis took up arms under the pretense of siding with the Flavian emperor, Vespasian, and induced the inhabitants of his native country to rebel.

The Batavians, who had rendered valuable aid under the early emperors, had been well treated by subsequent emperors. They were exempt from tribute, but were obliged to supply a large number of men for the army. This conscription and the oppression of provincial governors, however, ultimately led to revolt. The Batavians were immediately joined by several neighboring German tribes, the most important of whom were the Frisii.

The Roman garrisons near the Rhine were driven out, and twenty-four ships captured. Two legions under Mummius Lupercus were defeated at Castra Vetera (near modern Xanten) and surrounded. Eight cohorts of Batavian veterans joined their countrymen, and the troops sent by Vespasian to the relief of Vetera threw in their lot with them as well.

The result of these accessions to the forces of Civilis was another uprising in Gaul. There, the Roman commander, Hordeonius Flaccus, was murdered by his troops and the remaining Roman forces were induced by two commanders of the Gallic auxiliaries--Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor--to revolt from Rome and join Civilis in a new independent kingdom of Gaul.

The conspiracy of the Batavians under Civilis by Rembrandt 1661-1662 CE.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The prophetess Veleda predicted the complete success of Civilis and the fall of the Roman Empire.   Veleda was a virginal holy woman of the Germanic tribe of the Bructeri.

"The ancient Germanic peoples discerned a divinity of prophecy in women and regarded prophetesses as true and living goddesses. In the latter half of the 1st century CE Veleda was regarded as a deity by most of the tribes in central Germany and enjoyed wide influence. She lived in a tower near the Lippe River, a tributary of the Rhine. The inhabitants of the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (now Cologne) accepted her arbitration in a conflict with the Tencteri, an unfederated tribe of Germany." - Wikipedia

Veleda by Laurent-Honoré Marqueste.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Like the pythia of ancient Greece, envoys were not admitted to her presence; an interpreter conveyed their messages to her and reported her pronouncements. So, it is not known whether Veleda just prophesied the victory or actively incited the rebellion.

But, ultimately, tribal disputes ended any chance for success and Vespasian was able to put down the rebellion with the arrival of Quintus Potillius Cerealis and a strong force. Civilis, himself, was defeated at Augusta Treverorum (modern Trier) and Vetera, and forced to withdraw to the island of Batavia. It is thought Civilis negotiated an agreement with Cerialis whereby his countrymen obtained certain advantages, and resumed amicable relations with Rome, although Civilis disappears from the historical record at this point, an ominous sign.  However, Cerialis, like Julius Caesar, was known for his clementia so the outcome may not have been dire after all.

As for Veleda, she was either captured by Rutillius Gallicus or "offered asylum" in 77 CE.  She is thought to have negotiated the acceptance of a pro-Roman king by her tribe, the Bructeri, in 83 or 84 CE.

Note: The chief authority for the history of the insurrection is Tacitus, Histories, iv and v, and Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, vii. 4.

So, there is quite an opportunity for Falco to strut his stuff on a scale far greater than his usual activities in  back alleys.  I think that is why I was drawn into this story more than some of his other adventures.  Although I knew Falco had once served in the legions, he was far more physical in this tale than the others and his sardonic personality was kept relatively in check because of the heightened danger of his circumstances.  I highly recommend it!

Friday, September 30, 2005

Fire and Bronze : A Novel of Carthage Books: "Her name was Elisha, and she was born eight centuries before the time of Christ. Fire and Bronze is her story, full of passion, intrigue and adventure, brought to vivid life by a new star of historical fiction: Robert Raymond. He tells the dramatic story of Elisha's failed coup against her brother, the king of Tyre, and her escape to Cyprus with her supporters and a good portion of the royal treasury. From there she launches her greatest and bloodiest endeavor: the foundation of the 'Queen of Citites' which changes the course of civilization and establishes Elisha as one of the dominant forces on the continent."

Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow Books: "This hefty historical fantasy opens a trilogy dealing with the Trojan War but without the usual number of variations on the theme readers have come to expect from prolific and popular fantasist Gemmell. The title character is Aeneas, not outwardly the Trojan hero, however, but a Trojan ally using the name Helikaon. He and the Greek Odysseus are on terms of mutual respect, and he is also in love with Andromache, the betrothed of Hector, Troy's greatest warrior. When relations between Troy and Mycenae start deteriorating dramatically, Helikaon/Aeneas is in several kinds of dilemma. We soon learn that Gemmell's isn't the Homeric scenario of the Iliad, however, because this book's Hector doesn't survive the battles of this preliminary book, and those occur before Agamemnon sets sail for Troy. Gemmell is a master of fast pacing and original, not to say offbeat, takes on legendary and mythical characters. The alternate Iliad he launches here does honor to his reputation and promises to lift it higher while adding notably to readers' pleasure. - Roland Green, Booklist"

The Enemies of Jupiter

By Caroline Lawrence

"The fever that started in Ostia is sweeping through Rome, and Jonathan, Flavia, Nubia, and Lupus are called by the Emperor to investigate. The friends' investigations take them from the Imperial Palace to Tiber Island, but Jonathan is distracted by a secret mission of his own. Suddenly, he finds that everything is terrifyingly out of control. This is the seventh volume in the popular series of mysteries set in ancient Rome, which have been widely praised for their fast-paced plots, well-drawn characters, and authentic Roman setting."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

THE NIGHT ATTILA DIED: by Michael A. Babcock Ph.D.

Review by Thomas R. Martin

This is a unique book. Michael Babcock has written what amounts to a minutely detailed crime scene investigation of the mysterious death of Attila the Hun, using the arcane scholarly discipline of philology as his investigative tool kit to create a vivid dramatization of the circumstances of Attila?s bloody demise.

Philology, as Babcock says, has been called ?the art of reading slowly,? which means analyzing the language of texts with the most thorough rigor imaginable. Usually philology appears in books aimed only at specialists, but Babcock has created a tour de force, presenting philological research in a colloquial style that makes his conclusions easy to read. Moreover, he enlivens his detective story with light-hearted stories of his training in graduate school and his encounters with famously curmudgeonly scholarly giants in the field.

Who killed Attila?

Babcock applies his philological detecting to the ancient texts describing the death of Attila, who had led his army deep into the territory of the western Roman empire. The accepted story is that Attila drank so much wine at the banquet for his marriage to a young bride that he died in his sleep on his wedding night from a massive cerebral hemorrhage that sent blood pouring out of his face. Babcock presents his deductions for a different judgment chapter by chapter, as if exhibits in a court case. He argues Attila was murdered, citing suspicious circumstances such as Attila?s reputation for self-disciplined drinking in public and the bride never calling for help throughout the whole night.

Babcock puts most weight, however, on his extremely close analysis of the main ancient sources, Jordanes and Priscus. He concludes that Attila was poisoned on the orders of Marcian, the eastern Roman emperor, who covered up the murder. Marcian?s motives were political?to save the eastern Roman Empire from attacks by the Huns?and theological?to show that God protected the Empire and punished transgressors like Attila.

A persuasive argument

Relentless in his examination of the evidence and imaginative in his reconstruction of events, Babcock presents a powerful case. If I were his opponent in court, I would focus on one major objection to his reconstruction of the alleged crime: why would Marcian want to hide his part in the assassination if he had successfully engineered a plot to protect his empire from the most feared conqueror of the age? Why wouldn?t he have boasted about this success? Babcock?s answer is that, if Marcian had claimed the credit for Attila?s death, he would have undermined the claim that God had punished Attila. But, I would reply, it would have been completely in keeping with the political and theological principles of the time for the emperor to proclaim his role as God?s agent in inflicting a righteous death on the blood enemy of the Christian kingdom of Rome.

Readers will have a fine time deciding if Babcock has won his case, which also includes fascinating background information of all sorts about the leading personalities of this exciting period in Roman imperial history. Philology has never been more intriguing as a tool for crime detection.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Mirror of Diana by A. R. Homer

The Mirror of Diana by A. R. Homer: "To all the treasures lost in war' reads the dedication of The Mirror of Diana, a novel that has as its centerpiece a major, yet little-remembered, archaeological disaster of World War II: the mysterious burning of the monumental ships of the Roman Emperor Caligula as the German army retreated from Rome.

Klaus Schmidt, a crack artillery officer but also a lover of antiquities, is the protagonist. In 1943 in Nemi, Italy, a small town south of Rome, Klaus visits the ancient ships of Caligula, housed in a museum by the side of Lake Nemi, whence they were recovered a decade earlier in an engineering feat almost as remarkable as the ships themselves.

At the museum, Paolo, the ship museum?s curator, overcomes his dread of his German visitor (by September 1943, the Germans were no longer allies of Italy but occupiers) and discovers a kindred spirit in Klaus, who is also bewitched by the ships.

This fascinating and well-researched book will appeal to a wide audience. In addition to those interested in World War II and ancient history and legends, The Mirror of Diana is a novel for all who love pulsating historical fiction. The breathtaking plot twists and the relentless suspense will hold the reader in thrall, and the poignant story of the star-crossed lovers will touch the heart of everyone. I give The Mirror of Diana my highest recommendation.

- excerpt, Midwest Book Review"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Romanitas network: "Romanitas is the first in a planned series of three novels set in an imagined present where the Roman Empire spans the world from the eastern border of India across the Atlantic.

Sophia McDougall describes a world where crucifixions have become mechanized and rows of crucifixes can be found on the outskirts of every major city; slavery is still the norm and the jockeying for the emperor's seat every bit as vicious and homicidal as it ever was.

In Romanitas, the emperor's brother Leo and sister-in-law have been killed in a car accident. Leo was assumed by all to be the heir to the throne, and his secretary believes that the crash was anything but accidental -- that it was carried out by people who feared the economic repercussions of Leo's stated intention, when he became emperor, to abolish slavery."

This alternative history title seems to be offering a combination of "I, Claudius" and "Spartacus" plopped into a modern setting with a little fantasy thrown in for good measure. The first-time 23-year-old author may be able to pull this off, although it sounds a bit like a piece written in response to an agent with a shotgun marketing approach to me. She certainly has a healthy outlook for her prospects, having already hired an agent for handling dramatic performance rights. I have my doubts, however, especially with the Canadian reviewer providing this disagreeable summary:

"McDougall presents an interesting, if unrelentingly bleak, view of what the world might have been like if the Roman Empire had never fallen. Rome's lack of original defining principles -- relative, say, to ancient Greece -- echo into the future, creating a spiritually and politically empty space."

The Canadian reviewer seems to have bought into the tripe many of us were taught in school back in the 50s - the Greeks provided the glorious foundation of Western Civilization while the Romans were merely imitators. From what I have learned since then from more knowledgable scholars, Romans politics were anything but empty and spiritually the Romans were far more concerned with offending their gods, extensively integrating religious rituals into their daily activities, than later cultures.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor

by Amy Richlin Books: The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor: "Statues of the god Priapus stood in Roman gardens to warn potential thieves that the god would rape them if they attempted to steal from him. In this book, Richlin argues that the attitude of sexual aggressiveness in defense of a bounded area serves as a model for Roman satire from Lucilius to Juvenal. Using literary, anthropological, psychological, and feminist methodologies, she suggests that aggressive sexual humor reinforces aggressive behavior on both the individual and societal levels, and that Roman satire provides an insight into Roman culture. Including a substantial and provocative new introduction, this revised edition is important not only as an in-depth study of Roman sexual satire, but also as a commentary on the effects of all humor on society and its victims."

Controlling Laughter: Political Humor in the Late Roman Republic

by Antony Corbeill

Although numerous scholars have studied Late Republican humor, this is the first book to examine its social and political context. Anthony Corbeill maintains that political abuse exercised real powers of persuasion over Roman audiences and he demonstrates how public humor both creates and enforces a society's norms. Previous scholarship has offered two explanations for why abusive language proliferated in Roman oratory. The first asserts that public rhetoric, filled with extravagant lies, was unconstrained by strictures of propriety. The second contends that invective represents an artifice borrowed from the Greeks. After a fresh reading of all extant literary works from the period, Corbeill concludes that the topics exploited in political invective arise from biases already present in Roman society. The author assesses evidence outside political discourse--from prayer ritual to philosophical speculation to physiognomic texts--in order to locate independently the biases in Roman society that enabled an orator's jokes to persuade. Within each instance of abusive humor--a name pun, for example, or the mockery of a physical deformity--resided values and preconceptions that were essential to the way a Roman citizen of the Late Republic defined himself in relation to his community.

Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome

"Bodily gesture. A Roman worshipper spins in a circle in front of a temple. Faced with death, a Roman woman tears her hair and beats her breasts. Enthusiastic spectators at a gladiatorial event gesticulate with thumbs. Examining the tantalizing glimpses of ancient bodies offered by surviving Roman sculptures, paintings, and literary texts, Anthony Corbeill analyzes the role of gesture in medical and religious ritual, in the gladiatorial arena, in mourning practice, in aristocratic competition of the late Republic, and in the court of the emperor Tiberius. Adopting approaches from anthropology, gender studies, and ecological theory, Nature Embodied offers both a series of case studies and an overarching narrative of the role and meanings of gesture in ancient Rome.

Arguing that bodily movement grew out of the relationship between Romans and their natural, social, and spiritual environment, the book explores the ways in which an originally harmonious relationship between nature and the body was manipulated as Rome became socially and politically complex. By the time that Tacitus was writing about the reign of Tiberius, the emergence of a new political order had prompted an increasingly inscrutable equation between truth and the body--and something vital in the once harmonizing relationship between bodies and the world beyond them had been lost."

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Chariots Of Calyx Mysteries Series):By Rosemary Rowe

"Libertus is in Londinium, at the invitation of the Roman Governor, when news arrives of the brutal murder of Caius Monnius, the city's chief corn-officer. Still reeling from the shock of catching sight of the wife he lost to slavery 20 years earlier, only to lose her again, the ever-inquisitive Libertus is, for once, uninterested in unmasking the murderer. But when the Roman Governor asks you to investigate... The dead man's mother is convinced that the truth behind the killing lies with Fortunatus, a celebrated charioteer with whom Monnius' wife was having an affair. But with the discovery of a second corpse, it soon becomes clear that this case is more complex?and more sinister?than anyone ever expected."

See Delphi and Die "With safe seas, good roads, and provinces rich in heritage sites, Marcus Didius Falco's fellow countrymen have become voracious tourists. Greece, home of the ancient Olympic Games, is a favourite destination for Seven Sights Travel, a seedy company which provides escorted tours for wealthy travellers. Falco and Helena hear that a young girl and a newly-wed woman, both Roman visitors, have been murdered at Olympia; the authorities will not investigate properly, so Falco steps in. After making himself unwelcome at the hidebound sanctuary, he soon finds himself up against Seven Sights, its absentee tour-guide and its mixed bunch of customers, some of whom have tings to hide. The search for culture is far from genteel - and it can be very dangerous. Both the bridegroom and Helena's brother go missing in the birthplace of myth, as Falco and Helena struggle with a case that may contain worse features than any they have dealt with yet."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tres Mures Caeci

By David C. Noe: "Tres Mures Caeci, a Moral Tail in Latin, is a retelling of the classic nursery rhyme in Latin for beginners. Featuring full color illustrations and simple vocabulary, Tres Mures Caeci introduces toddlers and beginning readers to the sounds and rhythm of Latin with an engaging and compelling story. Tres Mures Caeci is loaded with friendly features that make it ideal for the beginning reader and experienced instructor alike: Accurate Latin, Moral Lesson, Vivid Illustrations, Translation and Glossary, Free Audio at Patrick Henry College Press, Simple Vocabulary, Multiple Tenses, Mixed Declension, and more."

Monday, August 01, 2005

Manfredi's The Last Legion to begin filming August 5

Ash's hollywood debut in Last Legion: I see that the new Dino DeLaurentis film "The Last Legion", based on Valerio Manfredi's best selling novel, is set to begin filming in Tunisia August 5.

"The Last Legion is an epic adventure based on acclaimed author Valerio Massimo Manfredi?s international best-selling 2003 novel by the same name. The film is set against the fall of the Roman Empire in 470AD and its last emperor, 12-year-old Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster).

Over-run with rebellion, Rome is a city on the brink of chaos and destruction. Imprisoned by rebels on the island of Capri, Romulus, aided by the clever strategies of his teacher Ambrosinus (Sir Ben Kingsley) and the heroic skills of his legionnaire Aurelius (Colin Firth), escapes the island.

This small band of Roman soldiers, accompanied by Byzantine warrior Mira (Aishwarya), are determined to continue their mission to restore the Empire."

As my poor eyes need as much relief as possible I was also thrilled to see that The Last Legion is available in audio from Amazon for less than $12. Amazon also offers other Manfredi titles in audio as well including the Alexander trilogy, The Talisman of Troy, and The Tyrant.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Bitter Chill

Poisoned Pen Press: " In late December 95 AD, Roman settlers in Britannia are preparing to celebrate Saturnalia. Innkeeper Aurelia Marcella's plans for a peaceful holiday are shattered when her brother brings bad news. An enemy in Rome is trying to destroy her family by spreading rumours that they are plotting against Caesar. Her brother has lost his job as a government investigator, the mansio is menaced by a gang of native criminals, and when a party of rich, demanding travelers arrive to stay, their quarrels and violence spill over into Aurelia's household. Then the Saturnalia banquet, highlight of the festival, culminates in tragic death. Aurelia's sister Albia is one of the chief suspects.
This second book in the series takes Aurelia from the quiet countryside to the busy new garrison town of York where she must contend with traitors and crooks, and face personal danger to protect her sister and help her brother. If she fails, her family will lose not just their mansio, but their lives."

Friday, June 17, 2005

Khufu's Wisdom by Naguib Mahfouz

Khufu's Wisdom -: "Pharaoh Khufu is battling the Fates. At stake is the inheritance of Egypt's throne, the proud but tender heart of Khufu's beautiful daughter Princess Meresankh, and Khufu's legacy as a sage, not savage, ruler.
As the tale begins, Khufu is bored in his great palace at Memphis. To entertain him, his architect Mirabu expounds on the mighty masterwork he has so far spent ten years building, with little yet showing above ground?what will become the Great Pyramid of Giza. Mirabu and the clever vizier Hemiunu try other amusements as well?but to no avail. Then one of the king's sons fetches a magician with the power to predict the future. The sorcerer says that Khufu's own offspring will not inherit Egypt's throne after him, but that it will fall instead to a son born that very morning to the High Priest of Ra. Furious, Khufu and his crown prince, the ruthless Khafra, set out to change the decree of the Fates?which fight back in the form of Djedefra, the boy at the center of the prophecy, and his heart's desire, Princess Meresankh. Yet will the unsuspecting Khufu survive the intrigue around him?not only to finish his long-awaited book of wisdom, but to become truly wise? "

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Poison in Athens
By Margaret Doody

"It is the autumn of 330 BC, and three law cases are exciting Athens. Ergokles' case against the wealthy Orthoboulos for malicious wounding seems to come out well for the dignified man, but shortly afterwards he is found dead of poison, evidently hemlock. His second wife is accused of the crime, and her trial for poisoning sets Athens at odds, as sympathies divide. Her stepson is her greatest enemy, and seems sure that she has done the deed, but there are other candidates. Meanwhile, the most beautiful woman in Athens, Phryne, is accused of impiety, a charge that can carry the death penalty. Stephanos, in treating himself to brother visits as she tries to recover not only from his wound but from having killed a man, gets close to danger, and his position as a witness could damage his prospects of marriage. Misogyny, political wrath, and lack of judgment bring affairs to a boiling point, stimulating Aristotle to intervene lest the trial of the stepmother break Athens into fragments. He endeavours to solve the mystery with the help of Stephanos, and also with his assistant Theophrastos, who has made a special study of plant and thus of poisons..."