Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Roman Games by Bruce MacBain

Roman Games: A Plinius Secundus MysterySextus Ingentius Verpa, imperial informant to the vicious emperor Domitian, was a real piece of work, having clawed his way to imperial favor by turning in even the emperor's cousin, Clemens, for atheism.  Now, the disgusting thug lay tangled in his bedsheets in a pool of blood, gripping his "member virilus" and clutching his throat.

But, just as in life, Verpa's death sends terror through his household as troopers of the city prefect round up the household slaves and herd them into a small windowless chamber where they will await the foregone conclusion of the official investigation before being executed in a most hideous manner in the arena.

After all, Roman law was clear.  If any slave should murder his master, all slaves, considered complicit because the murder was not prevented, are deemed equally guilty.

But, this time, the outcome was not going to be as predetermined as in cases in Rome's past.  The city prefect has appointed Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, temporary vice-prefect, to investigate, and the thriving young lawyer, known to history as Pliny the Younger, will not be content to simply go through the motions.
As the case begins to unravel, we find Pliny snared in not only a complicated murder investigation but an assassination plot woven about the imperial throne as well.

Mosaic of a Charioteer at the Palazzo Massimo
Photographed by Mary Harrsch
Bruce MacBain, with a PhD in ancient history, does an excellent job of conjuring daily life in Rome of the late first century CE.  I did not detect a single misstep in his descriptions of Roman housing and decor, Roman law, religion, social obligations, leisure pursuits or entertainments.  He even got the numbers and colors of chariot teams correct for the period,  the whites, blues, greens, reds, purples and golds.   Thankfully, I had just finished the Teaching Company course, The Visual Exploration of Rome: Antiquity's Greatest Empire by Dr. Steven Tuck in which Dr. Tuck explained that throughout most of the imperial period there were four official chariot team colors. But, Domitian introduced two more colors, the purples and the golds.  So, I was gratified when Dr. MacBain mentioned the purples and golds in his novel when Pliny attends the races one day!

Although I was only slightly familiar with the historical Pliny the Younger from my study of Pompeii and the Vesuvian disaster that claimed his uncle, Pliny the Elder, I found Pliny to be an interesting man in his own right and plan to read more of his letters as time permits.  From what I found in my research, Dr. MacBain's portrayal of Pliny closely follows his real persona as discovered in the study of his own writings, the Epistulae (Letters), a series of personal missives directed to his friends and associates that were published in Pliny's own lifetime.

Pliny the Younger's descriptions of the eruption
 of Vesuvius have been invaluable to modern volcanologists
From the Discovery Channel's ''Pompeii'', courtesy of Crew Creative, Ltd 
"We know more about Pliny as a person than we do about most figures from antiquity," MacBain obeserves, "because he was a great letter writer. Through his letters we see many facets of the man. He was a Roman senator and a lawyer with a successful, if not brilliant, career in the imperial administration. He was a landowner with a beautiful villa on the Italian coast. He was a literary dilettante. He was rather vain, rather fussy. At the same time, conscientious and honest. He was curious about the natural—and supernatural—world. He was a very social animal, he had hundreds of friends. His most endearing qualities are his love for his young wife, Calpurnia; his generosity—he endowed a scholarship fund for the boys and girls of his home town; and his humanity towards his slaves and freedmen in an age when that was not common."

Calpurnia was actually Pliny's third wife.  Childbirth was a hazardous undertaking in the 1st century CE and Pliny had already been widowed by it earlier in his life.  So, we can certainly understand his worry over his young wife's advanced pregnancy as the story progresses.

MacBain also introduces us to the flamboyant poet Martial.  This hairsute Spaniard is a pungent blend of crude comedy mixed with sudden, unexpected flashes of introspection.  Although he was known for his ribald epigrams he could also pen verses that encouraged reflection on what was really important in life.

Bronze applique depicting two togate men.
Roman 50 - 75 CE. Photographed at the Getty Villa by Mary Harrsch
An example:

"This is that toga much celebrated in my little books, that toga so well known and loved by my readers. It was a present from Parthenius; a memorable present to his poet long ago; in it, while it was new, while it shone brilliantly with glistening wool, and while it was worthy the name of its giver, I walked proudly conspicuous as a Roman knight. Now it is grown old, and is scarce worth the acceptance of shivering poverty; and you may well call it snowy. What does not time in the course of years destroy? this toga is no longer Parthenius's; it is mine." - Martial, On a Toga Given Him by Parthenius, Book IX,  XLIX.  

We meet Parthenius, a portly and scheming chamberlain of Domitian who acted as gatekeeper to the emperor as the story progresses and learn that even he has joined the inner circle of conspirators plotting Domitian's death.  The chambelain was probably the recipient of many gestures offered to secure a position in the imperial court and someone who an aspiring poet would have had to flatter with verse if he sought to have a copy of his work reach the eyes of the emperor.  Parthenius may have reciprocated with the gift of a toga that could have been worn by the poet to disguise his rather common upbringing and tout his court favor.  But life takes a toll on togas as well as men and Martial confides at the end of the passage that now the toga is more worn and threadbare, it is much more suitable for the real man it now covers.

Martial actually was a friend of Pliny the Younger, who, like many young aristocrats, dabbled in poetry himself and enjoyed  socializing with literary celebrities.  I appreciate the inclusion of  this aspect of Pliny's nature in MacBain's portrayal of Pliny and the opportunity to gain insight into the life of one of Rome's celebrated grammarians living on the precarious edge of imperial patronage.

Bust of the Roman Emperor Domitian 1st century...Image by mharrsch via Flickr
Bust of Domitian 1st century CE

Of course, we also get to meet one of Rome's most sinister emperors, Domitian.  Our first encounter occurs when Pliny is invited to a strange dinner party where the guests are first ushered deep into the bowels of the palace and a bizarre charade takes place where an encounter with Hades himself is reenacted without the guests being forewarned, in an effort to elicit damning confessions from them.  This scene is very reminiscent of a similar audience with Domitian described by Steven Saylor in his novel "Empire".

Domitian's pleasure derived from tormenting Rome's social elite is chilling.  I know Professor Tuck related that he felt many of Domitian's more "transgressive" activities reflected the emperor's efforts to redefine Roman virtus but I can't help but assign a proclivity to sadism to Domitian's psychological profile.

At one point in the novel, Pliny watches as Domitian squashes flies in a prelude to a petulant diatribe against first, Pliny, then Roman society as a whole.  As Domitian veers wildly from condemnation to bestowing  favor upon his hapless visitors and demanding kisses, we can easily understand the fear that must have  permeated Domitian's inner circle.  We also gain sympathy for Domitian's wife, one of the co-conpirators, who is described as bruised so severely even heavy makeup cannot conceal her condition.

Understandably, Pliny  offers to resign his position but the prefect and emperor make it clear that is not an option.  So, he plows ahead, investigating as best he can,  at one point searching through piles of scrolls that comprise his uncle's Naturalis Historia for clues (a respectful nod to the prodigious scholarship of Pliny the Elder).

The emperor Nerva photographed at the
Capitoline Museum by Mary Harrsch
The plot takes many twists and turns as Pliny gets closer to the truth. Will Pliny as an upright officer of the court denounce the killer and expose the imperial treachery even though it may mean the deaths of family friends and some of the most conscientious people in Roman society?  Will the emperor's death ignite a civil war with the emperor's loyal legions in Germania who Pliny fears will swoop down on the eternal city  and wreak revenge on its citizens?  What will happen to Pliny under the rule of someone like Nerva, the conspirators' less than enthusiastic designate?

Nerva was Domitian's immediate successor and he is portrayed in the book much as he was thought to have been in life - a reluctant Caesar who other conspirators selected mainly because of his age, with the thought that he could be a placeholder for a short time until someone more suitable could be found.  But there was more to Nerva than the conspirators may have realized.  If we examine another passage from Martial, we see that the poet, experienced in assessing the motivations of others, lends insight into this "man who would be king":

"He who ventures to send verses to the eloquent Nerva, will present common perfumes to Cosmus, violets and privet to the inhabitant of Paestum, and Corsican honey to the bees of Hybla. Yet there is some attraction in even a humble muse; the cheap olive is relished even when costly daintiest are on the table. Be not surprised, however, that, conscious of the mediocrity of her poet, my Muse fears your judgment. Nero himself is said to have dreaded your criticism, when, in his youth, he read to you his sportive effusions." - Martial, To Nerva, Book IX, XXVI.
Martial, at least, has more than just a little trepidation about Nerva's accession and, as the novel concludes, Pliny soon discovers himself that the new emperor has an edge of ruthlessness about him that Pliny will be unable to deflect.

So we leave Pliny, sobered by his new reality, and must say goodbye to Martial as he leaves for his childhood home in Hispania.  Although Pliny has more adventures ahead of him, Martial will no longer share them and, historically, dies within a few years of his return to Spain.

I look forward to Pliny's next adventure as we fast forward ten years and Pliny embarks on a new career as governor of the province of Bithynia-Pontus in Asia Minor.  I see that his new side-kick will be that salacious gossip-monger Suetonius so I'm sure that will make for a wild ride!

Roman Games: A Plinius Secundus Mystery  Complete Letters (Oxford World's Classics)  Ashen Sky: The Letters of Pliny The Younger on the Eruption of Vesuvius Domitian: Tragic Tyrant 

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review: Genghis: The Trilogy by Conn Iggulden

I’m about to begin reading Conn Iggulden's latest saga about the descendants of Genghis Khan and realized that, although I read the first three books in the series fictionalizing the life of legendary conqueror Genghis Khan, I hadn’t written a review about them yet. So, I will strive to cover the opening trilogy which, hopefully, will serve as a refresher on the series before I write a review for the latest book.

I have found Iggulden's stories so dynamic with characters so psychologically intricate that they must surely embody the cultural ideal of the nomadic warriors I have read about in my studies.

Genghis: Birth of an Empire: A NovelThe first book of the series, "Birth of an Empire", intimately explores not only the daily life of the hardy people of the Asian steppes, but the warrior ethos and competitive drive that shaped the future conqueror and his kinsmen.  We first meet Timujin as a nine-year-old boy racing wildly across the steppes, fiercely challenging his older half-brother for leadership of the small cadre of his siblings who gallop behind them.  It’s as if this scene echoes the pattern we will see repeated throughout his life as he challenges other men, for leadership of, first, the Mongol families, then, later, dominion over the cities and people of the Jin and the desert dwellers of the Middle East.

We meet Timujin's father, Yesugei - not a khan, but a respected war band leader of a tribe considered one of the noble houses of the steppe.  With his cold face and wolf's head sword, Yesugei is the epitome of a Mongol warrior.  He emanates power and it is clear he has inspired his sons to follow his example - at least all but little Timugei, who seems misplaced on a horse and headed for a totally different destiny.

But Yesugei's guidance is cut short when he is poisoned by a band of Tartars and another warrior takes over leadership of the clan, wrenching away Timujin's birthright.  Timujin's mother and siblings are left abandoned on the plain without even the shelter of their family ger, a felt-covered refuge from the biting winds, for comfort.

He and his brothers must use all of the skills their father taught them just to survive the next few years and keep their mother and infant sister fed.  The boys spend their days desperately trying to snare marmots or snag fish in the mountain streams, each day fearfully avoiding other tribesman who might kill them on sight to protect their precious flocks.  They also nervously eye a darkening sky, the first signs of the rapidly approaching winter.  The little family grows thin and weak with only occasional mouthfuls of food - all except Timujin's half-brother Bechter.  Timujin suspects Bechter is not sharing all of his catches and follows him to confirm his suspicions.  When he sees Bechter catch a fish then disappear and return without it, Timujin knows what he must do.  The family will not survive intact if one member is consuming resources but not contributing to the well-being of the whole.

The Secret History of the Mongols tells us that Timujin expresses his frustration to his mother who rebukes him saying:
"Apart from our shadows we have no friends!  Apart from our horse tails we have no whips!"
But Timujin will not let the transgression pass and recruits his brother Khasar to help him stalk and kill their older half-brother.  Iggulden diverges from history a little replacing Khasar with Kachiun, the more thoughtful brother.  Iggulden portrays Kachiun throughout the trilogy as more clever and strategically minded than Khasar, a bold but at times reckless warrior, so I think he made this switch to keep his portrayals consistent.

Timujin takes no pleasure in the death and must suffer the wrath of his mother for the hard decision he had to make.  The Secret History relates to us Hoelun's rage:
"You destroyers!" she yells, "Like a wild dog eating its own afterbirth, you have destroyed!"
Whether Hoelun would have been that angry over the death of a son of one of Yesugei's minor wives may be questionable but it demonstrates the strong bond all members of a clan group have for each other, regardless of direct blood ties.  Timujin never lost respect for his mother and this incident is often viewed as a valuable lesson that instilled the need to forego vengeance and cultivate cooperation and loyalty.  Timujin's dedication to his family is a quality we see surface again and again throughout his life as each novel unfolds.

Genghis Khan's Mongols spread Chinese technologyImage via Wikipedia
Genghis Khan
I think Iggulden does an excellent job of crafting Timudjin's character, a unique blend of innate leadership coupled with a boldness and vision, rare in a man so young but with an edge of ruthlessness.  You easily find yourself respecting the man if not outright admiring him although in this novel, he is still young and not yet hardened by years of war and the inevitable betrayals that plague ambitious men.

Bechter's death is the first of many that will follow as Timujin is propelled towards his destiny.  The family survives the deadly winter and actually begins to slowly rebuild their lives by stealing livestock that wander past their makeshift home.  But Timujin burns to revenge his father and reclaim his birthright at the head of his ancestral tribe.  His father achieved prominence through strategic alliances and this lesson was not wasted on Timujin.  He begins to gather a group of followers.  He also returns to the Olkhun'ut to retrieve his promised bride.  Iggulden's version of this event in Timujin's life is certainly exciting.  But, the Secret History does not record the event with any bloodshed.

Iggulden's tale also contains a rather startling omission, Timujin's "blood brother" Jamukha.  Jamuka had been a friend since childhood and had risen to become the khan of the Jadarans.  When Timujiin's wife is stolen by the Merkits (not the Tartars as portrayed in the novel), it is Jamukha and Togrul, a blood brother of Timujin's father, who help Timujin retrieve her.  Although the Merkits are scattered by the attack, they are not hunted down to the last man.  The eerie scene of human sacrifice Iggulden used for a climax to the chase did not occur either although such rituals were, apparently, occasionally practiced by nomadic peoples in the region according to Iggulden's author's notes.

The successful mission against the Merkits (Tartars in the novel) seems to reinforce the widespread rumors that Timujin is the promised one who will unite the Mongol people.

"...rumour strengthens into hope and hope into prophecy.  Later arrivals report signs and omens.  One man says he has heard an ox bellowing, 'Heaven and Earth agree, let Temujin be the nation's master!' - Genghis Khan, Life, Death and Resurection by John Man.

But fifteen years and many more intertribal conflicts are fought before Genghis claims title to all the nations.

Genghis: Lords of the Bow: A Novel
As we begin “Lords of the Bow”, book two in the trilogy, we find the proud warrior has been a bit corrupted by absolute power.  He now clearly sets himself apart from others in the nation.  His ger is now so big it can no longer be quickly disassembled like an average Mongol structure and instead, must trundle along fully assembled on a cart.

Genghis completes his unification of the Mongol tribes and now sets his sights on conquest of the Jin, beginning in the west with Xi Xia.  The leadership of Xi Xia had a rocky past with the ruling Jin, sometimes supporting the ruling Jin emperor and at other times, proclaiming their own.  By the time Genghis and his Mongol hoard arrive on the scene, Xi Xia is ruled by Xiangzong (Li An-chuan), a self-proclaimed emperor who had led a brutal coup d'état against the previous emperor.  Xiangzong had no love for the dynasty ruling the Jin at that time even though Xi Xia was considered a vassal state.  Not wishing to risk his own power base, Xiangzong negotiates a settlement with Genghis and gives his daughter to Genghis as a wife to seal the bargain.
Genghis Khan empire, 13th centuryImage via Wikipedia
Genghis Khan's conquests

Although Genghis finds her beautiful and cultured, the marriage disrupts his domestic life.  We also see that Genghis is struggling with doubt about the paternity of his firstborn as well and sadly, cannot bring himself to praise or show affection to young Jochi. To make matters worse, Genghis’ second son torments his older brother mercilessly and does everything he can to undermine his brother in the eyes of the nation.

Genghis’ personal relationships are also complicated by a scheming shaman Kokchu.  Kokchu, in an effort to gain control over Genghis, introduces Genghis’ brother Timugai to opium and soon has the young man hopelessly addicted.

The highlight of this novel is a thrilling description of Genghis’ battle with the Jin at the pass known as Badger’s Mouth.  There, Genghis’ Mongols met between 400,000 and 500,000 Jin warriors arranged in a defensive position that funneled the Mongols into the narrow opening of the pass to neutralize the advantage of the Mongol’s mounted cavalry.  History tells us that Genghis secretly split his forces sending men around the opening of the pass and scaling the peaks surrounding the Jin fortifications. Thus when the Mongols finally attacked, they assaulted the unsuspecting Jin from two sides.  In the novel, Iggulden has the advance troops commanded by Kachiun and Khassar who each demonstrate their respective strengths of cunning and warrior prowess.

Iggulden is masterful at character development and by now I felt as proud of Kachiun and Khassar as if they were my own brothers.

Genghis: Bones of the Hills

In book three, “Bones of the Hills”, Genghis has turned his hungry eyes westward toward the heart of central Asia and the lands ruled by Shah Mohammed of Khorezm.  The vast Empire of Khorezm extended all the way from the Aral Sea down to the Gulf and from Iraq to India.   But the Shah was not content with his holdings and coveted the empire of the Jin.  However Genghis beat him to the prize.  Genghis sends a delegation to the Shah as a gesture towards establishing peaceful relations but the Shah’s governor of Utrar, greedy for the valuable goods in the Mongol caravan, executes them.  When Genghis hears of the slaughter of his enoys, he gathers over 150,000 of his people and begins marching toward Utrar.

Genghis cuts a cruel swath through what is now modern day Uzbekistan, the battles thrillingly rendered by Iggulden.  But enemies plague Genghis within as well as outside his realm.

Genghis Khan statue before his Mausoleum in Or...Image via Wikipedia
Iggulden adds a plot twist that includes the scheming shaman Kokchu’s rape and murder of  Genghis’ sister during a raid on the camp of the women and children by forces led by Jallalhadin, the son of the Shah.

Thinking he has escaped detection, Kokchu continues his role as advisor to the Khan.  But he was seen coming out of the sister’s tent during the melee and his crimes are finally pieced together.  The creepy shaman is finally put to death by Genghis himself who, with his mother and brothers, takes the shaman for a ride into the wilderness.  The party stops and all dismount.  Genghis reveals his knowledge of the man’s heinous crime and before the shaman can plead for his life, Genghis lifts the man off his feet and snaps his spine, leaving him paralyzed and contemplating a slow death by ravenous wolves as Genghis and his family ride away.

Although this incident was much embellished by Iggulden, the Secret History relates that one of Genghis’ shamans named Teb-Tengri attempted to build a power base of followers in an apparent challenge for tribal leadership and Genghis laid a trap for him in which the shaman was killed by having his spine broken. (Source: Animal and shaman: ancient religions of Central Asia By Julian Baldick) 

By the end of the Khorezm conquest, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands has wearied even Genghis’ faithful brother Kachiun who yearns for peace as he sees age overtaking the warrior family.  Genghis seems drained of what mercy he may have once possessed.  When Genghis hears that his second wife’s father back in Xi Xia has refused to send the annual tribute, he plans to reinvade Xi Xia and raze it to the ground.

Meanwhile, his oldest son Jochi, tired of his father’s refusal to acknowledge his achievements and leadership potential, deserts with his own loyal forces back to the grasslands of the north.  In a fury Genghis orders his friend and famous general Subutai to track Jochi down and “deal” with him. 

In the Mongol’s Secret History, Jochi does die during his father’s lifetime but no definitive description of his death is given. 

Rashid al-Din reports that the great Khan sent for his sons in the spring of 1223, and while his brothers heeded the order, Jochi remained in Khorasan. Juzjani suggests that the disagreement arose from a quarrel between Jochi and his brothers in the siege of Urgench. Jochi had attempted to protect Urgench from destruction, as it belonged to territory allocated to him as a fief. He concludes his story with the clearly apocryphal statement by Jochi: "Genghis Khan is mad to have massacred so many people and laid waste so many lands. I would be doing a service if I killed my father when he is hunting, made an alliance with Sultan Muhammad, brought this land to life and gave assistance and support to the Muslims." Juzjani claims that it was in response to hearing of these plans that Genghis Khan ordered his son secretly poisoned; however, as Sultan Muhammad was already dead in 1223, the accuracy of this story is questionable. – Wikipedia

Although Subutai faithfully follows the order of his Khan, the act is a death blow to their friendship.  However, history tells us that Subutai continued to serve the Khan until Genghis dies, then serves Ogedi until Ogedi’s death as well.

When death finally comes for Genghis Khan at the end of the novel, it is at the point of a dagger wielded by a woman.  Although the actual facts surrounding the great Khan’s death are shrouded in mystery, his death at the hands of a woman is a persistent legend that has been handed down through oral tradition among the Mongol people so Iggulden capitalizes on it.

 Conn Iggulden truly has a gift for bringing the lives of famous people from the past to life.  I’m anxious to begin reading his latest installment in the Mongol saga, Khan: Empire of Silver: A Novel of the Khan Empire.  Ogedi wrests control of his father’s empire from the clutches of his two remaining brothers and his father's four scheming grandsons while Subutai scorches a path through Europe up to the gates of Vienna!

If you find this period of history as fascinating as I did, you may also enjoy the film "Mongol".  There is also a marvelous Chinese miniseries "Genghis Khan".  I was able to get it through Netflix.

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Genghis: Birth of an Empire: A Novel   Genghis: Lords of the Bow: A Novel  Genghis: Bones of the Hills  Khan: Empire of Silver: A Novel of the Khan Empire  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: The Green Bronze Mirror by Lynne Ellison (Young Adult)

  The Green Bronze MirrorThis time travel tale by a 14-year-old author was sent to me quite some time ago and I read it but got so swamped with other committments, I never got around to writing my review of it.  My apologies to CnPosner Books who were kind enough to send me a review copy.

Karen is a young British girl, about the same age as the author, with a talent for art. One day she is swept back in time to the age of the Roman Empire under the reign of Nero when she finds an old bronze mirror on a deserted beach and gazes into its corroded surface.  She is discovered by a Roman patrol whose Centurion takes her for a runaway slave and places her temporarily in his household until inquiries can be made.

When no one claims the girl, she is sold to a slaver and placed aboard a ship destined for Rome.  There, she befriends other young slaves and wonders what will happen to her once they reach their destination.
Roman coin bank depicting a beggar girl. 25-50 CE.
Photographed at the Getty Villa by Mary Harrsch.

In Rome, she is purchased by a wealthy Roman family and is charged with the care of the family's children.  When the mistress of the house later discovers Karen's talent for art, she orders Karen to paint murals on the walls of the villa in addition to her child care duties.   Karen enjoys her work so doesn't seem to mind her role in ancient society and befriends some of the other household slaves, discovering one of them is a member of the new Christian cult.  She asks to attend some of their meetings and she is welcomed into the group.  She then falls in love with one of the other young Christian slaves named Kleon.

One day a fire erupts in the city and soon many of the buildings surrounding the villa where Karen lives are threatened by flames.  Karen, remembering her Roman history, is terrified because she knows the Christians will be blamed for the fire and brutally persecuted.

She warns her friends that they will be blamed for the conflagration but, as slaves, they fear severe punishment if they are caught trying to flee.  Finally, she convinces them to flee to the catacombs.  But an angry mob discovers the entrance to the catacombs and begins searching its dank recesses looking for the "arsonists".
Will Karen escape persecution and find her way back to Britain and her own time?

Reading this book, I was impressed with this young author's skilled handling of dialogue.  She also seemed to have a good grasp of Roman culture and seemed to know quite a bit about the layout of ancient Rome, too, as evidenced by references to particular gates of the ancient city.

Her primary shortcoming, as an author, was her naivete about the brutality of daily life for slaves and other members of the lower classes in Roman society.  Her heroine was actually considered a fully mature woman at that point in time and it would be quite a stretch to believe that she could be found by a group of Roman legionaries and deposited untouched into the care of her new master's household slaves.  Furthermore, she manages to remain chaste despite her sale to a slaver, a long sea voyage, and purchase by a Roman master, seemingly content with the attentions of his own wife.
Bronze Bust of a Gallo-Roman Youth 
wearing a hairstyle fashioned after the 
emperor Nero 60-70 CE.  Photographed
at the Getty Villa by Mary Harrsch.

But, I can vaguely remember being 14-years-old myself and innocent about gender relations at that age, so I can certainly understand this aspect of the story.

The "Ben-Hur" approach to ancient Christianity is also understandable since this book was written in 1966 by an imaginative young girl who was probably as enthralled with Charlton Heston's portrayal of the Judean prince at that time as I was.

She also unknowingly compressed historical events surrounding the Great Fire.  The Christians were not immediately blamed for the disaster.  They were eventually selected as probable perpetrators after the populace began voicing their suspicions that Nero himself started the fire to clear out the center of Rome for his new Golden House.

Still, I think young Lynne Ellison could have blossomed into a very good author with more experience.  Sadly, I understand this was her one and only published effort.

I would recommend to the publisher, however, that more care be taken with proofing future releases.  The copy I received, although a commercial release complete with cover and illustrations, was filled with typos and even missing words and phrases.  It was as if an old manuscript was simply scanned, OCRed and sent to press without any human intervention.  Even young authors deserve a publisher's respect for quality in the output of the final product.

The Green Bronze Mirror  A. D. 62: Pompeii  The Gladiators from Capua (Roman Mysteries) The Thieves of Ostia (The Roman Mysteries)   The Secrets of Vesuvius (The Roman Mysteries)                
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