Tuesday 21 September 2021



Just finished this:

Continuing the saga begun in his New York Times bestselling novel Roma, Steven Saylor charts the destinies of the aristocratic Pinarius family, from the reign of Augustus to the height of Rome’s empire. The Pinarii, generation after generation, are witness to greatest empire in the ancient world and of the emperors that ruled it—from the machinations of Tiberius and the madness of Caligula, to the decadence of Nero and the golden age of Trajan and Hadrian and more.

Empire is filled with the dramatic, defining moments of the age, including the Great Fire, the persecution of the Christians, and the astounding opening games of the Colosseum. But at the novel’s heart are the choices and temptations faced by each generation of the Pinarii.

Steven Saylor once again brings the ancient world to vivid life in a novel that tells the story of a city and a people that has endured in the world’s imagination like no other.

I hadn't read Roma, but picked this up after watching the discussion on writing historical fiction with Steven Saylor and Steven Pressfield (The Virtues of War). I was looking for a little reassurance that I was heading in the right direction with my novel, Sargon. I didn't get that reassurance from The Virtues of War. It's brilliantly told, but first-person. I usually write historical fiction in first person (Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran, The Children of Lir, Angorichina) but Sargon is in third, and I was panicking a bit. Thankfully, this one made me feel much better. It's a third-person generational epic about the tyrants of Rome. The way it's written is very similar to what I've done with mine, though his prose are a bit crisper, so I need to work on that. 

It's really helped me climb back on board the editing wagon.

It is some sort of magic the way historical fiction can help you to remember things better than textbooks. I had not heard of Epictetus, Apollonius of Tyana, Sporus or Cornelia the Vestal Virgin before, and I certainly couldn't name Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero in the correct order, but now I can.

It felt like a fairly gentle story, with moments of extreme tension. I was letting it wash over me, until one of the characters ended up in the Colosseum by mistake - that was one heck of a rush. Really felt the horror of it. 

It's also made me feel a bit more confident in the way I've approached sex and sexuality in Sargon. Empire is removed from a lot of our moral beliefs today, but Sumer is just as far removed from Rome. For example, the Tigris and Euphrates were masturbated into being by the god Enki, there's several different types of prostitution, each with their own name and role in society, and the highest goddess in the land frequently goes on about ploughing her vulva - it's in all the poems. So, I was kind of sitting there wondering how far to push it. Empire gave me confidence with its exploration of Roman sexuality, and the entire story revolves around a fascinum, passed down from father to son. If you don't know (and I didn't) a fascinum is a flying penis

The ceremony gave Acilia something no unmarried woman possessed, a first name; it was a feminine form of her husband’s first name, and would be used only in private between the two of them.

There were some really interesting bits in there, such as giraffes being called 'camel leopards,' because nobody was quite sure what they were. I'm referring to horses as ansikurra ('mountain donkies') because they hadn't entirely been invented, either. All these things we take for granted now.

I also liked this paragraph, which sums up my own thoughts on fortune-telling:

He had also made a study of astrology since so many people held such store by it, but the fatalistic nature of it had only made him more despondent. The astrologers taught that every aspect of a man's life was determined in advance by powers unimaginably larger than himself. Within that predestined fate, a man had very little leeway to affect the course of his life. What was the point of knowing that a certain day was ill-omened if one could do nothing to reverse the tide of events? A man could hope to propitiate a temperamental god, but nothing could be done to alter the influence of the stars if, indeed, such an influence existed.

All in all, a really good read, and a reassuring read. I feel a bit more confident about my own story and how to tell it, though it still needs a lot of work. And I now know so much more about ancient Rome, which is not a period I'm usually that drawn to, but this has changed my mind.

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