Battle in Robert Harris: p. 248 of Conspirata (Or, If You’re in the UK, Lustrum)

Cicero’s great enemy is Catilina. Catilina is dispatched, as self knew he would be (She’s read about Catilina’s dispatching in both SPQR and Tom Holland’s Rubicon). But, as Harris writes a few pages earlier, No victories in politics are permanent (This is a paraphrase; self has little time to be hunting up the exact page, as the day is almost done and she hasn’t met her day’s writing quota).

Still, Harris manages to make Catilina’s defeat exciting:

  • It was a terrible carnage and Catilina was in the thick of it all day. Not one of his lieutenants surrendered. They fought with the ferocious abandon of men with nothing to lose. Only when Petreius sent in a crack praetorian cohort did the rebel army finally collapse. Every one of Catilina’s followers, including Manlius, died where he stood; afterwards their wounds were found to be entirely in the front and none in the back.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Greek Philosophy in Robert Harris

The Stoics vs. Aristotle & Plato

pp. 199 – 200 of Conspirata (Lustrum in the UK; self has to make that distinction every time, it’s a bear)

Cicero delivers a speech to the Roman Senate, making fun of his colleague Cato:

For there was a man of genius called Zeno, and the disciples of his teaching are called stoics. Here are some of his precepts: the wise man is never moved by favour and never forgives anyone’s mistakes; only a fool feels pity; all misdeeds are equal, the casual killing of a cock no less a crime than strangling one’s father; the wise man never assumes anything, never regrets anything, is never wrong, never changes his mind.

Now I must admit when I was younger I also took some interest in philosophy. My masters, though, were Plato and Aristotle. They don’t hold violent or extreme views. They say that favour can sometimes influence the wise man; that a good man can feel pity; that there are different degrees of wrongdoing and different punishments; that the wise man often makes assumptions when he doesn’t know the facts, and is sometimes angry, and sometimes forgives, and sometimes changes his mind; that all virtue is saved from excess by a so-called mean. If you had studied these masters, Cato, you might not be a better man or braver — that would be impossible — but you might be a little more kind.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

CATO in Robert Harris (Conspirata, p. 92)

#amreading all Imperial Rome narratives

Until next week, when self begins Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Robert Harris’s Conspirata (In the United Kingdom it’s got a different title: Lustrum) covers exactly the same ground as the books self just finished reading: SPQR by Mary Beard, and Rubicon by Tom Holland. So she knows how everything is going to end. But Harris is such a good writer (She read Fatherland, years ago: highly recommend) that self is giving Conspirata a go.

Here’s a speech by Cato which self thinks is fascinating for what it reveals of the character (Also, it is interesting that millions of youths around the world see the name Cato and think immediately of that blonde bully in The Hunger Games):

Never be moved by favour. Never appease. Never forgive a wrong. Never differentiate between things that are wrong — what is wrong is wrong, whatever the size of the misdemeanour, and that is the end of the matter. And finally, never compromise on any of these principles. “The man who has the strength to follow them — is always handsome however misshapen, always rich however needy, always a king however much a slave.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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.

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