Tuesday, October 23, 2012

'Steven Saylor, Honorary Roman'

Long, long ago, before cell phones, ipods, and personal computers were the 'norm' in every household, before cable television really came into its own, I had...public television.

If I didn't have a good book to read, I could always find something on PBS.  Be it a nature program, or science, or even political discussions, I was able to find something to stimulate my imagination.

When I discovered 'Masterpiece Theater', I was thrilled beyond words.  Finally!  A literate, well-produced series of plays based on, well, literary masterpieces.  When 'I, Claudius' premiered sometime in the late '70's, I was glued to my t.v. set every Sunday night.  It still remains my most favorite of the series.

Based on Robert Graves' classic novels, 'I, Claudius', and 'Claudius the God', the series begins in the middle of the reign of Augustus Caesar, then continues with Tiberius, Caligula (played by the incredible John Hurt), and ends with Claudius (with Nero in the wings, waiting for his stepfather to expire).  Bold, incredible, and naughty, the series gave me more than an introduction to British actors I still revere to this day; I found myself visiting the library much more often (remember:  We didn't have the internet yet), reading books about ancient Rome; Suetonius, Cicero, Pliny the Elder and the Younger, etc.  From there, I moved into Egyptian history, and then the ancient world was my oyster.

From that experience, I have always kept my eye out for any books pertaining to Rome, fiction and non-fiction.  When Steven Saylor's novel, 'Roma' appeared in my bookstore, I knew I had to read it.  And after I read it, I had to own it.  It's safe to say that I've read his wonderful novel more than once.

'Roma' begins before Rome had begun.  It was a mere backwater; swampy, muddy, with rough trails for traveling merchants.  Spanning 1,000 years, the plot revolves around the Pinarius and Potitius clans and their involvement in the founding of one of the greatest cities in the ancient world.  It ends with Octavius, better known as Augustus, Rome's first emperor.  It is a fierce novel; gritty and realistic, full of hope and heartbreak and staggering loss.  But, to me, it seems so true to life.  It's as if Mr. Saylor had actually lived-and-breathed his impeccable research.

And then came the sequel, 'Empire', an equally-believable account of life in ancient Rome from the end of the reign of Augustus up to Marcus Aurelius.  But although this novel is just as heartbreaking in spots, the madness of Tiberius, Caligula, and the others is terrifying.  Their sexual 'games' and hidden atrocities came to vivid life, and it left me feeling that I would have kept myself hidden away if I had been living in such a horrible time.

That is the power of Mr. Saylor's writing; how he kept me involved, how he made me cry, how he made me want to strike back at those who thought they were immortal and could get away with any cruelty and not think twice about what they had done.  And in the middle, our witnesses, the Pinarius males, suffer loss, escape death by the whim of a few emperors, and find themselves wealthy beyond belief.  But each man is touched by his conscience; one finds Jesus, another finds philosophers and a strange magical man.  

Now I await the third in his series.

Constantine should be quite....interesting.

If you enjoy these books, check out Steven Saylor's fantastic mystery stories about Gordianus the Finder in the 'Roma Sub Rosa' series set in ancient Rome.  The prequel to that series, 'Seven Wonders', has just been released and is well worth your time.

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