When I heard Steven was shifting gears a little and focusing his efforts on an epic novel, I could hardly wait for it to be released. I was even more pleased to find that the unabridged audio version would be available for download since I have more time on my commute than I have time or energy to read after getting home from work.
I downloaded a copy from Audible.com and embarked on Steven's latest adventure. I was surprised to discover Steven went all the way back to "prehistoric" times to introduce the winged phallus amulet of gold that would become the thread tying each successive generation in the story together.
As the story progresses, I vicariously became a citizen of Roma and experienced its history from a resident's viewpoint. Most novels I have read about the
So, "Roma" is filled with vignettes of characters dealing with the political and social turmoil swirling about its citizens within the city from day to day and from one generation to the next. Beneath it all simmers the class struggle between the noble patricians and the common plebians that seems to escalate with each generation. By focusing on events that shaped the culture and belief systems of the Romans themselves, Steven gives us a window into their thoughts as they grappled with the social upheavals that beset their classical world.
My main regret was that, due to the huge span of time covered by the novel, I could not linger with any characters for any length of time. Steven does such a wonderful job of characterization that my brief encounters were populated with fascinating individuals that I regretted leaving so soon, as the story, like the relentless current of the
I hope Steven will consider casting some of his character groups into full fledged novels of their own. I particularly liked the slave and Vestal Virgin who became lovers during the first sack of
I also did not realize that the
The poisoning trials of 331 BCE also served as a basis for another interesting vignette. I had never heard of them before and since I knew Steven based his work on meticulous research I knew that this incident must have a historical basis. So, I researched it further and found a reference to the prosecutions in Livy:
"After many leading citizens had died from the same disease, a slave-girl gave
information to the curule aediles that the reason for this high mortality
was the poisons prepared and administered by the Roman matrons.
On investigation they found about twenty matrons, including patrician
ladies, in the act of brewing poisons, which they declared were
salutary. On being forced to drink their own concoctions to prove
the charges false, they perished by their own wickedness. Following
this, a hundred and seventy more were found guilty of the same
This incident alone could provide sufficient suspense for a novel in its own right.
I was also intrigued by the interactions among the characters involved with Plautus' playwriting activities. I found the characterization of Publius Cornelius Scipio with his luxurious mane of chesnut hair much more fascinating than the man I imagined when I gazed upon the strained face and bald head of Scipio's extant bust. Steven’s Scipio was truly the personification of a "Roman Alexander".
The vivid portrayal of the riots surrounding the murder of Tiberius Gracchus also brought the turmoil of that period to life for me. As I read about one of the characters making a flailing descent from the Tarpeian Rock, grasping at other men clutching roots and outcroppings in an attempt to break their fall, I couldn't help but visualize their desperation and recall my own view from the promontory the modern Romans advertise as the Tarpeian Rock that overlooks the remains of the Forum Romanum. Then I shuddered at the thought of trying to make my way across a corpse-glutted