"The Masters of Rome" series by Colleen McCollough

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"The Masters of Rome" series by Colleen McCollough

Postby Lucia Aurelia Corva on Wed May 25, 2005 11:51 pm

I've been reading this series over the past few months and though I find the series to be full of good yarns and compelling characters I was wanting some opinion of them as far as to how well they give insight into Roman life.


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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Fri May 27, 2005 1:37 pm

Salve Lucia Corva

That could be an interesting discussion, fact vs fiction. There are a few here who really enjoy McCollough and have recommended her books to me, but the most I ever got through was one single page. I did not like reading her, so I don't know what sort of yarns you are wondering over. Give me an example.

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Pro, so far

Postby Aldus Marius on Sat May 28, 2005 12:14 pm

Salve, Aurelia...

I shall have to put myself in the 'pro' column, at least for the books I've read: The First Man in Rome and The Grass Crown. But then, I'm prejudiced; these first two books are the only modern account I've bumped into (of any length) of the career of my Distinguished Adopted Ancestor, Gaius Marius. When the first book came out, I was giddy that anyone would have written a Roman novel of such dimensions--and about Marius!! --I was a very happy camper--literally; I took it up to Idyllwild for the weekend, wet a corner, smudged the dust-jacket, and not incidentally realized that the camp-stoves there were very much like Roman ones.

I enjoyed the story; the historical incidents were mainly told through letters between friends or else on the personal level, through the eyes of involved soldiers, officers or civilians. The incidents of Roman private life were priceless! And the glossary, in which Very Much Is Explained to your average, Rome-deprived American, is all by itself worth the price of the book. You have the toga pattern there. The plan of the triclinium. And maps--!! Fifteen years later I still use them for reference, most recently right here in the SVR roleplaying thread. (What Roman road goes to Massilia...?)

Okay, the experience was not all sweetness and light. McCullough's narrative style is straightforward, matter-of-fact...and sometimes plodding. All her characters start to sound the same after awhile. She puts some fairly modernistic notions inside some Roman heads; Marius, for example, is aghast to learn that many of the slave-laborers on one of his properties in Sicily (I think) are of Italian-Allied origin: "That's like enslaving Romans!" And the books share a common problem with other historical novels: Everything seems preordained; everything happens A...B...C like it's supposed to. I like a little uncertainty in my history, some acknowledgement that it didn't necessarily have to be that way. The Masters of Rome series has done better than many on that score, but the trait is still apparent.

As for authenticity...the author has a standing offer to send a list of her sources to anyone who asks. (The address is in the glossary.) She is Latinate, so has likely read most if not all of her material in the original.

I have the rest of the series on standby, awaiting the day when I, a Marius, can stomach two thick volumes of Sulla on the way to Caesar, Cicero and Catiline.>({|;-)

Hope this helps...

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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Sat May 28, 2005 2:56 pm

Salvete amici!

I've read the first two volumes of the "Masters of Rome" series a long time ago when I wasn't that much into Rome as I am now, but maybe these books were the initiative which got me hooked onto Ancient Rome (besides Asterix :lol: ).

In the recent years I read volume three and four and didn't like 'em as much as the first two because I found them sometimes rather lenghty and just describing the political situation then the action the people were taking. But nonetheless they give a good inside into the Roman way of life and seem well researched.

MariPere' wrote:
You have the toga pattern there. The plan of the triclinium. And maps--!! Fifteen years later I still use them for reference, most recently right here in the SVR roleplaying thread. (What Roman road goes to Massilia...?)

Unfortunately the German translation doesn't have a map of Roman roads just of the city itself and the Campus Martius - and that although it's a hard cover book and not a cheap paperback. :(
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Postby Curio Agelastus on Sun May 29, 2005 2:44 am

I agree, the first two aren't bad. The third is tolerable, and the fourth and fifth are awful. Primarily because the author has the worst case of Caesar-worship ever. EVER. The sixth was a bit more fun because I got to see Caesar get violently assassinated, which I'd been looking forward to for some time. However, where the author loses it is that, in the first two books, she tries to act sympathetically towards most of her characters, including rivals like Marius and Sulla. However, by the time you reach the fourth or fifth books, it seems to me that the classification goes as follows: Caesar = God
His followers = the enlightened
His enemies - uncultured boors, ruffians, and a few jealous fools.

I found such blatant Caesar-worship almost physically sickening...
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Incidents and Accidents, Hints and Allegations

Postby Aldus Marius on Mon May 30, 2005 6:01 am

Salvete omnes...

Oh, dear, mi Curio: Are the rest as dreary as all that? And me with four thick volumes to offload if that's the case... Bene, it's a good thing the Library takes donations. And then there's the thrift shop.

That does explain the Vast Numbers of these titles that I was spotting in the used-book stores, back when I had access to same.

But Piscinus wants exempli of entertaining yarns in the series. I can only speak for the first two books, and only for myself, but I liked...

-- How Aurelia got her insula
-- How cavalry trooper Publius Vagiennius, in search of edible snails, instead found a way up into Jugurtha's citadel (an extinct volcano)
-- The first meeting of Marius and Julia
-- How the Via Aemilia Scaura got built (well, really, any scene with Marcus Aemelius Scaurus in it! --I remain convinced that 'Scaurus' would be a perfect name for my next pet rat) >({|:-)
-- The battle of Arausio and its aftermath (I cannot say I enjoyed this scene; but it upset me good and proper, and I came away with the necessary sense of outrage... That's good writin'.)
-- The Gold of Tolosa! (now appearing in a D&D campaign near you! --I'm serious, I've seen this written up as an adventure for at least three different RPGs)

Perhaps that will whet your appetite, Marcus Horatius; perhaps not. Maybe you'll read them and still think the book sucks. That's fine; but at least you know these scenes are out there, and possibly others you might enjoy; and if not, then at least you'll know what the fanboys/-girls (and Marius) are babbling about.

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