The Pugnacious Fulvia: RUBICON, pp. 365 – 366

TRIGGER WARNING: PHYSICAL BRUTALITY, MAIMING OF CORPSES

At this point in Tom Holland’s Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar has been murdered and Rome is descending into anarchy. The murder of the great man was a tad anti-climactic, mebbe because self read that section on the same night that the United States dropped its most powerful (non-nuclear) bomb on Afghanistan? #SMH

In one of those super-ironic, stranger-than-fiction developments, the 18-year-old boy who showed up unannounced at Cicero’s villa, a few pages earlier, the one who turned out to be the designated heir of the murdered Caesar, exhibits great stores of determination. He manages to raise his own army (selling his own property in order to do so) and marches on Rome to assert his rights as Caesar’s heir. Just a month earlier, the kid was on the border with Parthia, fighting in one of those expeditionary Roman legions. Now, he has Rome on its knees? Go figure.

The murder of Caesar is as nothing compared to the execution of Cicero. Cicero had sided with the plotters. He had a chance to flee and join the forces of Brutus and Cassio, but his ship was delayed by a storm. And while waiting out the storm, Cicero then made what Holland calls the most courageous decision of his life, which was NOT TO FLEE.

His executioners caught up with him while he was heading to one of his villas, whereupon Cicero stuck his head out of his palanquin and offered his own throat up.

When the head and hands of Cicero were brought to the Capitol, the widow of one of Cicero’s enemies, one Fulvia, hurried to inspect the grisly souvenirs. Whereupon she spat on Cicero’s head, and pulled his tongue out with a hairpin.

Now married to Marc Antony (who was off dawdling with Cleopatra in the East), the “ever pugnacious Fulvia” attempted to stir up a rebellion in Italy. Her opponent, the boy Caesar, was able to quell the rebellion (but just barely). His revenge on Fulvia was to pen “abusive verses on the subject of her nymphomania.”

Let’s get this straight: the woman pulled out Cicero’s tongue with a hairpin (granted, the man was already dead); she tried to start a rebellion against Caesar’s heir; and on top of all that, she was a nymphomaniac? What next?

You can see why the murder of Julius Caesar, his stabbing by senators in the Forum, is really small potatoes compared to what happens after.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Nearing the End of RUBICON

The next book in her reading list is a novel, which is a change from the history she’s been reading most of 2017. But it’s a novel of ancient Rome, and the lead character is Cicero, who’s been a major player in SPQR and Rubicon. She’ll probably move faster through that book. In the US it’s Conspirata but in Ireland it has a different name — ? She ordered it from Dublin bookstore Chapters.

After that, she’ll be reading Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, and then William Finnegan’s surfing memoir, Barbarian Days. Those are the last books she brought with her from the States. After that, everything she reads will be what she can find here.

Rubicon was great. Five stars.

In the final pages, a young man appears at the home of Cicero, introducing himself as the heir of the murdered Julius Caesar. The stranger is blonde, bright-eyed, all of 18. A month earlier, he’d been with an expeditionary force on the Roman frontier of Parthia. Next thing you know, Julius Caesar is murdered, the will is read, and the eighteen-year-old becomes Julius Caesar’s designated heir.

You couldn’t make stuff like this up.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Mithridates’s Heart Breaks: RUBICON, p. 182

An old enemy of Rome’s, Mithridates, kept attacking and retreating, attacking and retreating. Pompey, unable to finish him off, struck “across the desert for Petra . . .  but midway, he was halted by dramatic news: Mithridates was dead. The old king had never given up on his defiance, but . . .  when his son turned against him and blockaded him in his chambers, Rome’s arch-enemy had been cornered at last.”

Just to show how wily Mithridates was, he had slowly been building up an immunity to poison by ingesting it in small quantity, for many years. But when his son sided with Pompey, he attempted to poison himself. It didn’t work. He was finally “dispatched by one of the few things to which he had not cultivated an immunity, the sword point of a loyal guard.”

His body is carried back to Pompey by his son.

#amreadingpoetry: Michael Graves in J Journal

Cain’s Father

by Michael Graves

Cain, I ate of it
Long before your mother did,
And not because some tempter spoke.

I feasted underneath the limbs
Of God’s forbidden tree,
And then I slept
Between two thick and twisting roots.

(posted by kind permission of the author)

All my reading, throughout this current residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, has been about ancient Rome. I started with Mary Beard’s SPQR and now I’m reading Tom Holland’s Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic. I’m very struck by the theme of “double-ness” which recurs again and again, from the founding of ancient Rome (Mythic: Romulus and Remus, twins raised by a she-wolf, but all kinds of doubles appear in other world literature too).

And of course, just in the middle of my residency, comes this new issue of J Journal (New Writing About Social Justice, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City).

J Journal has always had a special place in my heart. You know it. Because it blends the fields of law, social justice, and creative writing.

I kept sending them stuff, because social justice is a theme that reverberates with all Filipinos. They published Magellan’s Mirror, a story that’s a magical/realist re-telling of Magellan’s first encounter with Filipinos (They’re giants). You can read part of the story on their site, here.

A few days ago, the editors (Adam Berlin and Jeffrey Heiman) sent an announcement/preview of their forthcoming latest issue (April 2017). It included the Cain poems of Michael Graves, which were the “very first pages in the very first issue” of J Journal. I wrote to the editors to ask if I could feature one of the poems on my blog, they contacted Graves, and he gave his permission.

So here it is, one of Michael Graves’. It is powerful as all get-out.

Thank you, Michael Graves and J Journal, for letting me share this!

Stay tuned.

Pompey

p. 141, Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic

Trigger Warning: M/M, sexual innuendo

Pompey who, as a young man of 23, led an army for the victorious Roman general Sulla, and who earned the nickname of “the teenage butcher” because his exploits started very young, was described thus:

Nothing was more delicate than Pompey’s cheeks . . . whenever he felt people’s eyes on him, he would go bright red.

The writer of the above was undoubtedly a man. (No woman’s writings were ever considered worth preserving, lol).

Self was right: she spent 10 minutes perusing dense notes at the back of the book (The Pompey description is in a section called “The Bull and the Boy” but no bull has appeared thus far in self’s reading, just “the boy” lol) and identified the source of the quote as Seneca.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Fine Calibration of Favors: RUBICON, p. 140

There was a rich guy named Crassus and he just wanted to be Caesar, okay?

He was sort of a skinflint.

Reading Tom Holland’s Rubicon, self is reminded that only stupid people never grant any favors. People who refuse categorically to grant any favors are not only stupid, they’re thinking strictly short-term. The granting of favors pays off big time in the future. It’s called leverage.

Back to the reading for the day:

p. 140:

Crassus knew a Greek philosopher, Alexander, who occasionally came over to stay (Holland says the hospitality Crassus extended was “grudging”). Alexander “would be lent a cloak for journeys then required to give it back.” (No mention by Holland of how many times Alexander borrowed a cloak; after the first time, it would seem only natural for Alexander to provide himself with his own cloak: but no. Perhaps he was just as much of a skinflint as Crassus. And this guy was a philosopher).

Alexander was “Greek, and therefore did not have the vote. Had he been a citizen, then he would have been encouraged to borrow far more than a cloak. The more eminent his status, the more spectaculary he would have been encouraged to fall into debt.”

#Nice #pointsTomHolland

Tom Holland, RUBICON, p. 120

We learn about the importance of outward appearance in Rubicon, p. 120:

Julius Caesar was forced to flee Rome because of a power struggle in which he ended up on the wrong side, saved from assassination only by his mother’s family ties to some of Rome’s richest and wealthiest.

While in Rome, young Caesar raised eyebrows when he wore “his belt too loosely. In the courts of Eastern kings, however, stylish dressers were much admired, and the provincial authorities were quick to realise that the patrician dandy would be ideally cut out for diplomatic missions. Caesar was accordingly dispatched to Nicomedes, the King of Bithynia — who was indeed charmed by his Roman guest. Too charmed . . .  Nicomedes was believed to have demonstrated his appreciation of Caesar by taking him as a lover.”

By the time Julius Caesar returned to Rome, “not only had he” managed to keep “Nicomedes sweet . . . he had managed to borrow much of Nicomedes’ fleet.”

Those Romans, though! #SMH

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Tom Holland’s RUBICON, p. 90 – 91

Italy’s “Warlord” period:  A general named Sulla vs. the son of a defeated general, Marius. Marius’s son is 26. Upon hearing that the temple of Jupiter in the Rome’s Capitol has been set ablaze, the 26-year-old rushes to the scene, ignores the statue of Jupiter and the recorded predictions of the Sibyls, but hauls away “temple treasures” that he uses to pay to raise “more legions” to fight for him.

The tide of battle favors Sulla. He is joined by an army led by a boy — Pompey, “barely twenty-three.” But what a boy. He was referred to as the “teenage butcher.” He killed not with the passion of youth, but with cold ruthlessness.

Sulla knew how to destroy his enemies: if he suspected them of disloyalty, he would provoke them into rebellion, then massacre them, all the while assuming the mantle of the defender of law. This was how he wiped out a mountain people called the Samnites, who wore “gorgeous armour and high-crested helmets.” While Sulla was battling his way across Italy, the Samnites headed for an unprotected Rome. And there, “before the Collins Gate,” Sulla caught up with them and engaged in the “late afternoon” — the battle lasted into dawn. Sulla’s ferociousness had everything to do with the fact that no conqueror had ever entered Rome, and he threw everything he had against the Samnites.

Then Holland breaks from the battle to discuss the seven classes of citizen, and how voting was determined by voting blocs. The rich had the most voting blocs, the poor practically none: “Disproportionate voting power” is how Holland describes it. OMG, so many parallels.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading Tom Holland: RUBICON

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Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland

Finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize

One of the Guardian’s Books of the Year

Published 2003 by Abacus, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group

Self is hugely enjoying the narrative sweep. Holland will not give you dates on every page, but you will learn much about narrative rhythm.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading: The Next in Self’s Imperial Saga Reading List

In the book self just read, SPQR, Mary Beard told of how, in a shockingly short period of time (less than a year?), Imperial Rome destroyed two cities that had stood for hundreds and hundreds of years. Not just destroyed, but razed to the ground, killing all the survivors (Not women, though — those were enslaved) and forbidding anyone from building over the ruins. The cities were Carthage and Corinth.

(Since these two were centers of culture in the ancient world, no one knows exactly how much ancient history was effaced, but the loss must have been substantial.)

Which brings to mind an anecdote from Mary Beard: some Carthaginian potentate was accustomed to playing the Romans, always delaying the response to Roman demands, or ignoring them completely, with slight consequence. One day, a Roman general appeared at the head of (xxx) legions. He presented the Roman demand to the Carthaginian. The Carthaginian received the demand and said he would think on it. The Roman drew a circle around the Carthaginian’s feet (with his sword) and said that before the other man stepped outside of that circle, he must have an answer. The answer came almost immediately.

In Rubicon, by Tom Holland, self learns what happened to the former Carthaginian territories, specifically the ones in Spain:

  • The mines that Rome had annexed from Carthage . . .  had been handed over to the publicani, who proceeded to exploit them . . . A single network of tunnels might spread for more than a hundred square miles, and provide upwards of forty thousand slaves with a living death. Over the pockmarked landscape there would invariably hang a pall of smog, belched out from the smelting furnaces through giant chimneys, and so heavy with chemicals that it burned the naked skin and turned it white. Birds would die if they flew through the fumes. As Roman power spread, the gas-clouds were never far behind . . . for every ton of silver extracted over ten thousand tons of rock had to be quarried. — pp. 42 -43, Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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