An eclectic website about Women, Christianity,
History, Culture and the Arts--and anything else
that comes to mind.
Last summer, I spent almost a week in the hospital. Except for
times when someone visited or when the nurses or lab techs
interrupted with important medical stuff, I spent most of the time
reading. Fortunately for me, we had just started reading Steven
Saylorâ€™s series of detective novels set in Ancient Rome.
Our son, Robert, discovered the Roma Sub Rosa series and got
Frank the first book, Roman Blood, for Fatherâ€™s Day. Weâ
€™re the kind of family that passes books around, and this 12-
book series was perfect for us.
Frank attended high school in Rome and guided tourists around
the city. He is fluent in Italian, having translated and served as a
guide for preachers when they came through or preached at the
When I was in college, I took a semester of Italianâ€”just
enough to mix it up with the French Iâ€™d taken in Abilene.
Our daughter Kathy spent a summer in Florence with
Pepperdineâ€™s Year-in-Europe program, and speaks what
she calls "Spitalian."
Then, for Christmas of 2000, Kathy gave us a weekâ€™s
vacation in Rome and Florence. It was wonderful having my own
personal tour guide and translator. It was the most funâ€”and
the best eatingâ€”of my life.
As I read, I found myself back in the Forum, but the ruins
gradually dissolved, leaving fresh, new buildings gleaming in the
sun. It was the world of Gordianus, the Finder, the closest thing
ancient Rome had to a detective.
Steven Saylor, Gordianus' creator, is some kind of genius. He
not only spins a good mystery, he sets it in a country and time
period that are foreign to most of us and somehow manages to
make it seem familiar.
You learn so much about the culture of ancient Rome, not from
being taught, but from seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and
breathing in the smells as you walk with Gordianus across the
Forum to meet the young advocate and orator Cicero.
Saylor's books are a mix of real and fictional people, and he
does it seamlessly. A history and classics graduate of the
University of Texas in Austin, he really knows his stuff.
In this his first big case, Cicero has been asked to defend Sextus
Roscius, a wealthy farmer, of the most inconceivable crime in
Roman society, parricide, the murder of his father.
Not only is Cicero an actual historical figure, but the case is one
Cicero wrote about and the scenes of Cicero rehearsing his
defense draw on his own words.
Another historical character is the wealthy Crassus, a
businessman with a private fire brigade of 500 slaves. Crassus
offers to buy houses or apartment buildings threatened by the
frequent fires that plague the city. He gives the owners the
choice to sell the property to him at bargain rates or let it burn.
At one point he was said to own most of Rome.
The third major historical figure is the dictator Sulla. Sulla was a
general, and he had the distinction of having attacked and
occupied both Athens and Rome. He published lists of people
he considered undesirable, offering rewards to those who
brought them inâ€”dead or alive.
He is thought to have killed some 2,000 Romans in these
gruesome proscriptions. Crassus got his start in real estate by
buying up the property of the proscribed. As they say, truth is
stranger than fiction, at least in ancient Rome.
His pursuit of truth leads Gordianus from the slums of the Subura
to the fine houses on the Palatine and from Rome to the Umbrian
countryside, where Sextus Roscius had his farm. Rome had
grown so large and oppressive that citizens looked back with
longing to their country rootsâ€”even those who never lived
outside of Rome.
Other pages on this website are on Rome, the Republic and
Roman Religion. I hope you'll write me with your reactions at b.