Halle Berry in the movie "Perfect Stanger"

Halle Berry in the movie "Perfect Stanger"

I would like to say in my fake headline: “Halle Berry my first choice for Zenobia,” says Spielburg…but frankly I don’t have the power to make him do anything and so far he has done a pretty good job on his own.  If he did take suggestions, I would strongly suggest to make Queen Zenobia the project of his next film.  If anyone looks like a queen, especially of a strong empire, this is the lady.  I got an email from Judith Weingarten who wrote the book: Zenobia: Empress of the East who expressed the same frustration at Hollywood’s blind eye when it comes to this subject.  I am currently checking out her web site and blog at: http://judithweingarten.blogspot.com/

I suggest that you head on over there and tell me what you think.

“Halle Berry Perfect Zenobia”

The Actress Hallie Berry (2002)

The Actress Hallie Berry (2002)

Halley Berry would be great as Queen Zenobia

Western media repeatedly makes movies about Cleopatra, and holds her up as the ideal of sexual allure, and in the meantime sells hair products and assorted beauty creams in her name.  Yet, the Ptolmey Queen had to re lie on both Caesar and Antony to retain her power.   At the first sign of trouble at Actium didn’t she sail away on her ship leaving Antony to face Octavian alone?  What makes Cleopatra so interesting to the public? 

Now as for Zenobia, now we are talking about a queen that really kicked ass.  She was the third century Syrian queen of the Palmyrene Empire who led a revolt against the Roman Empire.   Why aren’t there movies from Hollywood about her?  She was the second wife of King Septimus Odaenathus and following his death decided to rule in her son’s name. 

Roman Name: Iulia Aurelia Zenobia.

Sir Edward Poynter's Neo-classical painting: "Zenobia Captive."

Sir Edward Poynter'sNeo-classical painting: "Zenobia Captive."

Arabic Name: al-Zabba’ bint ‘Amr ibn al-Zarib ibn Hassan ibn Adhinat ibn al-Samida.   (This is the best I could do with the font that I am using). 

According to Wikipedia she appears to be of Arab ancestry, but her lineage may have included Aramaean and ancient Egyptian.  She claimed to be an ancestor of Cleopatra and the Carthaginian Queen Dido.     She had knowledge of Egyptian Culture and it is thought her mother was of Egyptian ancestry.    Classical and Arabic scholars described her as having a dark complexion, and she was considered  beautiful and intelligent.

She bestowed on herself and her son the following titles: Augusta and Augustus.  But her most famous title should be: WARRIOR QUEEN.

Hey, I like Cleopatra as much as the next history ‘time-traveler’, but shouldn’t Zenobia get her shot at an Oscar?  I think we should start a letter writing campaign?   

Address your letters to:  Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures, 10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232-3195

Dear Ms. Pascal,

Please cast Ms. Berry as Queen Zenobia…


Halle Berry to play Queen Zenobia


Title: Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra (Artist: Herbert Schmalz)

No.  I’m afraid not.  But Halle Berry starring in a Hollywood film about Queen Zenobia is one heck of an idea. 

What is coming out soon is another film on Cleopatra.

I do a lot of thinking on what would make a good podcast, and I find myself staring off into space at Starbuck’s dreaming of far away places and histories unwritten. 

Lately I have been wondering about the mania that Cleopatra has over people, and I am wondering if its more Hollywood than anything else.   I know it began with the major discoveries by Napolean scientists during his military campaign in Egypt, and the finds of buried Egyptian treasure in the 1920s that have captured peoples imaginations.  But there was something else that started this Cleomania — the something else was called: film.   Now Cleo was not just for those who could afford paintings, or attendance at the opera, or for those who spent their school years studying the classics, Cleo went national and then global.  For a few pennies (yes…at one time the price of admission at a movie was a few pennies) you too could experience the QUEEN OF THE NILE.  


Except…except…why Cleopatra?  Why is it always Cleopatra?

I mean why not Queen Zenobia  with Halle Berry in the starring role?   

Think about it.   If you really think about it…you too will be staring off into space next time you’re at Starbucks.


p0001550“To Romans I set no boundary

In space or time.  I have

Granted them dominion,

And it has no end.”

                       Virgil, The Aeneid


So what if it never ended?

I don’t know about you but I think about these things.  

If you think about this type of stuff as well you may want to read the book Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg.

He writes of an empire that does not die but changes, adapts, and clings to the pagan gods.

You know how I judge a good book?  Well, for one thing its my second reading of it, and it was just as exciting as the first time I read it.  What’s more I stayed up rather late to read the whole thing.  If you can’t put it down…you know it’s good.

The only issues I have with the book is that it slightly opposes my view of what might actually happen if such a thing was possible.

Silverburg’s book in order to show the progression of Roman power and influence we have a continuous references to the emperor, to the consulship, to references to Roma, to names no matter what the century that reflects the Roman influence such as Apollinaris, Marcus Anatasius, Torgquatus, Laurelolus, and Rufus. 

As the centuries passed, as time moved on, the names would be less and less Roman sounding. 

I believe that names would begin to move away from latin roots over time, and Apollinaris would be most likely referred to as Pollo, or Laurelolus and Laurel.  And even the emperor himself would be more executive sounding as possible turning from emperor to the ‘Imperial Chief Executive’ or something like that. 

That’s just me.    

And why not an alternate world where the Senate turned into a version of the United Nations? 

It’s my believe that over time, the roman influence would be no more strange sounding to our ears as the fact of our own Senate, and Washington architecture that reflects the times of republican Rome.  

In my version of events what if the Imperial Power was shared in almost the same way as the current power of the Pontiff in Rome?  What if every twenty or 40 years a new emperor is chosen in a different part of the world?  A truly power sharing organization, where the seat of government shifts, and one person become the ‘Imperial Chief Executive’ and commands unlimited power.  Is this so much different that the Catholic Church and the College of Cardinals recent habit of choosing non-Italians to take the seat of pope? 

What if the pressure of the barbarian press on its borders subsided?  What if Atilla never pressed and the Goth’s did not seek asylum, and the chain reaction of people (the Alans, the Vandals, and the Bergundians) on the move did not take place?  What if decisions to allow certain people settle within the borders of Rome were reversed? 

I know this is in the area of fantasy…why even talk about it?  

We’ll for one reason its fun.

What if Rome survived?   I know…impossible.  Every civilization that rises to flex itself and make itself felt in the world ebbs and eventually wanes. 

Greece rose to power while looking in the face of the Persians. 

Rome rose to dominate the Mediterranean world. 

And various Assyrian, and Babylonians had their time to dominate the world, only to recede. 

Look at China.  At one time a huge ancient Empire – one of the oldest civilizations – a dominant ancient kingdom that fell from power, to be dominated by western powers (google boxer rebellion), attacked by Japanese Imperial Forces only to step recently onto the world stage and continues to grow and make its presence felt.   

And what about us – the AMEERICANs (sic)?

 I happen to have a more upbeat look to the future –  believing firmly the American Golden Age is still on its way.   We Americans have survived meeting Goliaths in the world before, and have always managed to guide that rock to the forehead when someone got in our way.    

 Anyway, we move faster! 

 Democracies have too!

 Roma Eterna is for anyone that is a ‘What If” fan of science fiction and the fantasy genre. 

 What if Rome tried to conquer the New World?

 What if a Roman armada that circumvents the globe bringing destruction on native island people? 

 And what if a world tired of an endless stream of emperors rises up to install a republic that takes over and ends the imperial line, only to have Roman power to remain?

 What if a strange old man is found living in a German forest lodge, who strangely looks like the child of the final emperor? 

 And finally what if a Jewish sect decides another Exodus is needed and the only place left to follow the new Profit is the stars?

 Give it a read.

 Is it on the Ancient Rome Refocused bookshelf?  Not yet, still looking for a copy to permanently place there, and the book that I took out of the library is way overdue.

Empire by Steven Saylor

by Rob Cain

Empire_SaylorNow on the Ancient Rome Refocused Bookshelf

I rate a book by whether I simply read it or I devour it.  This I devoured.  

Empire is the story of a family who are eyewitnesses to the glory and the decadence of the Emperors spanning 4 generations from 14 A.D. to 141 B.C.  Over time the Pinarius family see murder, mayhem, and even the burning of Rome itself in the great fire.  They are not untouched by it.  One generation is molested by Caligula, one dies by his own hand at the final days of Nero. 

It is a wild ride. Saylor is known for his Roma Sub Rosa series starring Gordianus the finder.  Normally his ‘detective’ works in a small microcosm of alleyway and lamp lit rooms investigating thieves, thugs and the famous (Cicero, Caesar, etc) only moving as far and wide as he can walk, ride or sail from his beloved Rome.  But in the book Empire we sweep across the generations, seeing a city, its empire and its emperors change through the eyes of a single family.

Early in the book the Pinarius brothers (twins) go their separate ways.  In the time of Nero one brother is the emperor’s favorite and the other a Christian in the shadows.   Many authors (especially Lloyd C. Douglas – The Robe, and Lew Wallace – Ben-Hur) held no secrets that their novels were settings of tales for the coming of Christianity.  Saylor’s book has an entirely deciding different track.  Saylor brings us Rome unvarnished and clean of 20th or 21st Century sensibilities.  We are seeing ancient Rome through pagan eyes, through the pagan temperament, and through the Roman Psyche.  

fire of romeA scene in the book is the great fire of Rome (remember Nero fiddling as Rome burned?).  Titus the proper patrician seeks out his Christian brother living in the Christian quarter.  It is hard thing to watch a city that you love destroyed, a fire that threatens your home and the memory of your ancestors, and witness your brother shout: “…the end of all things.  Praise God!”  

What would your reaction be?  I mean as a Roman. 

“Watching the gruesome punishments of the arsonist gave Titus no pleasure, but it was his somber duty as a citizen, and as friend of the emperor to witness the event.”

Emperor Nero

Emperor Nero

For a moment I thought I had picked up a horror story instead of an historical novel.  Nero rounds up the Christians to take the fall, and makes a speech quite legal, quite logical, quite sensible before dogs rip people apart in retribution, or as the Roman’s might say “proper punishment.”   Saylor describes humiliations dressed up in ancient myth ending in death for the condemned.  He describes Christians used as human torches for the ‘convenience’ of the crowd so that the games can continue into the night.   It is then Saylor masterly changes the perspective, and for a moment I too was in the arena.   I literally felt a chill down my spine, a reaction frankly I did not expect.   I only felt this once before and that was while reading Stephen King’s novel: IT.

This epic switches to Lucius, another son of the Pinarius line.  We now stand next to him as he viewed the opening of the Flavius Amphitheater (known today as the coliseum) and are provided a seat to see an unapologetic presentation of slaughter for the amusement of the crowd.   The slaughter is presented proudly, and how else ancient Romans describe such a spectacle?   It represents power, the unquestionable demonstration that the Roman people are favored in the eyes of the gods. 

Saylor would be the first to say: “It’s all about the emperors.” If you’re a fan of the Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian pull up a chair.  If you’re a fan of the more colorful emperors such as Claudius and Caligula, there is plenty to read.   Empire is well researched and certainly entertaining. 

Saylor opens the book with an interesting quote from Gustave Le Bon who studied the psychology of crowds:

“History is scarcely capable of preserving the memory of anything except the myths.”

Why would Saylor pick this quote to open his book? 

I suppose it has to do with context.  Le Bon lived during a period where the word ‘Emperor’ was still fresh in peoples’ minds.  He saw a tendency for historians to mythologize Napoleon Bonaparte – a man that brought great destruction upon the continent of Europe and had power equal to any Roman emperor.    

However, Saylor presents raw and undiluted narratives of the emperors, and he supports it with research from the works of Seutonius, Plutarch and Tacitius.    He avoids mythologizing them, but lays them out warts and all. 

I highly recommend this book to the listeners of Ancient Rome Refocused.  It’s hard to put down and keeps your attention like listening to a good storyteller at the Esquiline Gate.

Title: "The 24th Shitkickers Were Never The Same After The Peloponnese"

If you talk about the Romans you have to talk about the Greeks. This episode explores the ancient Greek play AJAX written by Sophocles. Included in this episode are interviews with Bryan Doerries, director and translator for the New York based THEATER OF WAR acting troupe.

MP3 File

Steven Saylor’s new book: Empire

I just received in the mail Steven Saylor’s new book: EMPIRE.  I got 4 days off coming up and I’m going to spend the time reading the book.  Look for a review here on Ancient Rome Refocused in the coming weeks.

Robert W. M. Greaves made a correction on a statement that I made in Episode 2 of “Time Travel is Easy, History is Hard” thus proving that HISTORY IS HARD.  I made the statement that “Carthage razed Corinth.”  Mr. Greaves was kind enough to point out my mistake.  I have spent the last few days trying to find where I could have picked this up.  After an extensive internet search, and flipping through the pages of my books contained in my extensive library, I have come to the conclusion that I must have misinterpreted something I read.   Misinterpreted?  Heck.  I made a mistake.

I apologize to my listeners and readers.

146 BC | Corinth was destroyed by Rome. 

Thanks Robert for the assistance.  At Ancient Rome Refocused I will attempt to educate, interpret and entertain, but like a coloring book everything must be kept strictly kept inside the facts.    

Check out Mr. Greaves blog site at:  http://www.matters-arising.blogspot.com


“If you talk about the Romans you have to talk about the Greeks. “ 

        — From Episode 5 of the podcast Ancient Rome Refocused

In Episode Five (soon to be posted) we will explore the Sophocles play Ajax.


Mr. Bryan Doerries

 I was fortunate to be in the audience for a reading of the play AJAX written by the ancient Greek general and playwrite Sophocles.  It was performed by the New York based THEATER OF WAR headed by  Mr. Bryan Doerries, translator and director.  This play is on tour performing for veterans who are learning that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been around for thousands of  years and plagued the ancient heroes of mythology.

Sophocles: playwrite, actor, general, doctor, priest.

Sophocles: playwrite, actor, general, doctor, priest.

It’s one thing to direct AJAX, it’s an other thing to translate it from the original Greek.  Mr. Dorries is exploring an old world with new eyes as he brings us the words of this ancient playwrite, general, physician, and priest and applies it to the struggles to the modern warrior.  He said at a recent preformance:
“Those that have lived lives of mythological proportion have no trouble relating to ancient myth.”
Episode Five titled “The 24th Shitkickers Were Never The Same After The Peloponnese will not only have performances of the play AJAX by well-known New York actors, but testimony from those that have seen war, and its aftermath.
 (Note*  Below is an article from the London Times.  Ever wonder why myth seems to be always have a grain of truth about it?)  

From The Times
March 28, 2006

Palace of Homer’s hero rises out of the myths

 From John Carr in Athens

ARCHAEOLOGISTS claim to have unearthed the remains of the 3,500-year-old palace of Ajax, the warrior-king who according to Homer’s Iliad was one of the most revered fighters in the Trojan War.

Classicists hailed the discovery, made on a small Greek island, as evidence that the myths recounted by Homer in his epic poem were based on historical fact.

The ruins include a large palace, measuring about 750sq m (8,000sq ft), and believed to have been at least four storeys high with more than thirty rooms.

Yannos Lolos, the Greek archaeologist who made the discovery, said he was certain that he had come across the home of the Aiacid dynasty, a legendary line of kings mentioned in the Iliad and the Classical Greek tragedies. One of the kings, Ajax (or Aias), was described by Homer as a formidable fighter who, at one point in the Trojan campaign, held off the Trojans almost singlehandedly while his fellow Greek Achilles sulked in his tent because his slave-girl had been taken away from him.

The city of Troy is believed to have fallen about 1180BC — at about the same time, according to Mr Lolos, that the palace he has discovered was abandoned and left to crumble. Ajax, therefore, would have been the last king to have lived there before setting off on the ten-year Trojan expedition.

“This is one of the few cases in which a Mycenaean-era palace can be almost certainly attributed to a Homeric hero,” Mr Lolos said.

Fellow archaeologists said that they believed that the ruins were indeed those of a Mycenaean palace. Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, said: “Mr Lolos has really delivered the goods.”

The Mycenaean ruins appear to be at the site where Homer records a fleet of ships setting out to take part in the war on Troy. The Iliad is believed to portray conditions at the close of the dominance of Mycenae, the prime Greek power of the second millennium BC.

The ruins have been excavated over the past five years at a site near the village of Kanakia on the island of Salamis, a few miles off the coast of Athens.

The palace was built in the style of those of the period, including the vast acropolis at Mycenae.
“The complex was found beneath a virgin tract of pine woods on two heights by the coast,” Mr Lolos said. “All the finds so far corroborate what we see in the Homeric epics.”
Homer compares Ajax to a wall and describes him carrying a shield made of seven layers of thick oxhide. Unlike other heroes, he fights without the aid of deities or the supernatural. According to Sophocles, who wrote 800 years after the Trojan War, Ajax committed suicide after the fall of Troy without seeing his homeland again.
Several relics of oriental and Cypriot origin were found at the site at Kanakia, such as bronze armour strips stamped with the emblem of Pharaoh Rameses II of Egypt, indicating trade or possible war in the 13th century BC.
Salamis became famous as the site of a sea battle in 480BC in which the Greek navies destroyed the invasion fleet of the Persian king Xerxes and put paid to the Persian threat.
The other main site where archaeologists claim to have discovered relics of places recounted in the Iliad is at the castle of Pylos in southeastern Greece, believed to be the home of King Nestor.
King and warrior who appears in Homer’s Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, and in Sophocles’ tragedy Ajax                 
  • In the Iliad, he is so big that when King Priam of Troy sees him, he says: “Who is that great and goodly warrior whose head and broad shoulders tower above the rest?”                               

  • In Sophocles’ play, Ajax goes mad after losing the prize of Achilles’ armour and eventually kills himself

    Interview with Steven Saylor

    Mr. Saylor was featured on the podcast “Save Me a Seat at the Triumph, and Let’s throw a Cabbage at the Gaul.”    The following is a transcript of the interview. 

    ttocRob Cain:    On the telephone we have Steven Saylor who is the author of the Roma Sub Rosa series of the historical mysteries featuring Gordianus the Finder.  The action is set in the ancient Rome of Cicero and Caesar.  His latest book is The Triumph of Caesar.  Now, first of all, I want to thank you for coming on Ancient Rome Refocused.  I want you to know Steven, I’ve read all of your books and it’s a privilege to have you on the show.

     Saylor:    It’s a pleasure to be here.

    Rob Cain:    We have Mr. Saylor on a speaker phone.  The topic of this podcast is Roman triumphs and I wonder if you might describe a triumph.  What is it?

    Saylor:    I wrote my novel, The Triumph of Caesar, it’s the latest in the series, because I’ve come to that point in history when Caesar finally gets to celebrate his four triumphs which have been postponed because of the Civil War.  The triumph was of course the apex of any generals or emperor’s career.  This is a chance to show what you’ve done to bring it all home to Rome, to show the people what you’ve conquered, to boast about your accomplishments, and of course it’s also as with everything with the Romans, it’s a religious ceremony.  This is all in honor of Jupiter who makes everything possible because he favors the Roman people, so it all ends at the Temple of Jupiter with a sacrifice as well as the execution of the captured generals and dignitaries and their deaths which will be pleasing to Jupiter.  This started with Romulus.  He is celebrated the first of the triumphs when he was king of the city state of Rome which he founded after conquering one of the rival city states, and it is there he stages his first triumph.  He did it on foot walking through Rome.  Subsequently, they did begin to ride a chariot, by the time of Caesar’s it became a super spectacular event.  There’s not just the triumph but there are days and days of games and theater, feasting and celebration.  This is a huge event in the life of the Roman people.

    Steven Saylor holding his another one of his novels titled: ROMA.

    Steven Saylor holding his novel titled: ROMA.


    Rob Cain:    How did you do your research?

    Saylor:    Well, you know, this novel is kind of irresistible.  The course of the Roma Sub Rosa series sort of begins with the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic, the dictatorship of Sulla.  I wrote it forward now to vision much the end of the Roman Republic which is the dictatorship of Julius Caesar after a long civil war and often times the research just sort of fell into my lap.  I don’t think anybody has previously done a novel specifically about the triumphs of Caesar when he stages his four triumphs in Rome.  And the sources are just fantastic, we have Suetonius, we have Pliny, we have Plutarch, we have Dio Cassius, we have Appian, they all write about the triumph, plus there are many other smaller details found through the historians so that we’re able to reconstruct day by day exactly what happened at these four triumphs of Caesar.  There were staged about a day apart, they didn’t concentrate them all at one go and the historians were astounded by the things that happened so naturally they wrote them down.  So for a novelist like myself just to be able to go through each day and make a chronology, to look at what’s happening, who’s in Rome, and what’s being celebrated makes fantastic material.  It’s all very larger than life, mainly coming from ancient sources.  I think the fact that Cleopatra is in town — that’s always interesting to have a big name in town.  She gets to come on stage and one of reason she is there perhaps is to see her sister Arsinoe.  Her sister is the reason she had a civil war and she is scheduled to be in the triumph as a prisoner and to be executed at the end so Cleopatra appears to be anticipating that.  So the sources all just fall into place.

    Rob Cain:     Are the subjects in Roman history hard to talk about with modern audiences?

     Saylor:    Well, you know, it’s the bloodthirstiness of the Romans always takes at the back of it because that’s something that we have assiduously tried to breath out to our society even though we are still warlike, we do still have violent entertainment.  The Romans go places that most of us just don’t even think about going.  The coliseum hasn’t been built yet, so the great apex of the Roman entertainment, death as a spectacle, has not been reached yet.  But certainly the triumph is an expression of that.  To see the enemy paraded in chains and humiliated, to be pelted with fruit and for everyone to enjoy that, is not something that Americans would publicly allow themselves to do.  We simply wouldn’t allow that and of course to see the leader of Gaul Vercingetorix scheduled to be strangled and killed at the end of the triumph after being paraded publicly is total humiliation.  They take a great deal of joy in the misfortune and the vanquishing of others and once again this comes back to the Roman religion.  There is the reason this is happening because what you’re doing is pleasing to Jupiter and the other gods.  And so they make all this possible.  And one of the things that Jupiter and the other gods like to see is the humiliation of your enemies to their honor. 

    “We know that you help us do this Jupiter.  We’re publicly acknowledging it.  We’re going to publicly execute these people.” 

    So that’s one of the aspects where I think it’s a bit of a reach for the modern American to get their psychologically, so in showing these triumphs, I tried to show also the excitement of the audience, what they’re getting out of this, what they expect from it.  It’s not just a publicity stunt for Caesar; it’s also a very public and a very participatory thing for the Roman people.

     Rob Cain:    What first led you down this path?  How did you get started writing about Roman history?

     Saylor:    Well, you know, I grew up in 1956.  I grew up in the absolute heyday of the old Hollywood spectacle about the ancient world, movies like Ben Hur which of course won 11 Oscars, I think the year I was born; followed by movies like Spartacus; Cleopatra, the most expensive film ever made with Elizabeth Taylor which was a huge deal when I was a child, also all those movies from Italy which starred Steve Reeves as Hercules and so forth.  There was just a huge amount of this all around the world saturating the popular culture.  So this is a boy growing up in a very small town in Texas, you know I owned a battery-operated Roman galley as a boy.

     Rob Cain:    Oh, my gosh.

     Saylor:    It’s like kids now have Star Wars or Avatar, back then we had ancient Rome, this was the world of wonder, the world of imagination.

     Rob Cain:   I just have to throw this in; you said a battery-operated…?

     Saylor:    So you still have yours?

     Rob Cain:    Oh, God, yes.  I have it.  I think the company was Remco.

     Saylor:    You know, I’m sure it came from a Sears catalogue that’s all I know.

     Rob Cain:     And the oars actually moved back and forth.

     Saylor:    Yes the oars moved.  Mine is no longer operable.  The oars are all gone, they were broken off, I have some of them and the motor is not really working now, but you can see where to put the batteries and it’s mostly intact.  It’s a beautiful object.  Yeah.  It’s a treasured thing from my childhood, so it all starts there.  And then later when I became old enough to sort of study this legitimately.  I studied history at the University of Texas at Austin.  I didn’t start as a history major but when I found I could actually do this full time and I could get away with it, I thought I just want to do nothing but take history courses.  So it’s very fortunate to have some really good profs.  I studied Roman history, classics, Greek history, Byzantine history, so I became pretty well grounded in all that, left it behind for a while.  But then I think my first trip to Rome was when I was about 29 years old and my interest in all that was really re-ignited just by being in visible contact with those ruins.  I came back to where I was living in San Francisco and I just wanted to be mentally in Rome all the time and I wanted to read a murder mystery set in ancient Rome because I was also getting very much into Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie at that time.  And at that time, the late 1980s, there really was not much of a historical mystery genre.  That’s a situation that’s changed a great deal now.  You can find sleuths in every time and place now.  But I wanted a crime novel set in ancient Rome.  I couldn’t find one.  I started reading the murder trials, the Cicero translated by Michael Grant, a wonderful Penguin volume.  Sort of a true crime fix and the very first oration was Cicero defending a man accused of murdering his own father, the most terrible crime in ancient Rome and I became riveted by that story, many fascinating details were in there, the politics factored into it.  I thought I think I can make a novel out of this and I think a year or two later, I had my first novel, Roman Blood, ready to share to an editor and from that point on for me that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been writing these murder mysteries set in ancient Rome.

     Rob Cain:     Do you see any similarities between then and now?

     Saylor:    Many.  I mean there are some things that don’t change about human nature especially the bad parts:  the venal behavior, the politics, the cutthroat attitude.  One of the reasons that Rome is so popular and so fertile aground for movies and novels and popular entertainments is that we have so much material and so many kinds of material from the literary and visual sources.  We don’t just have history, we don’t just have speeches in the Senate and in courtrooms, as valuable as those are, but we also have erotic poetry.  We have cookbooks, we have all kinds of engineering manuals, we have so many things that we can get our hands on and really sort of have a touch feel experience about what the ancient Romans thought, what was important to them, how they expressed themselves.  Unfortunately, all of these works and virtually everything has been translated starting in the 1800s, scholars are still working on all of that and it’s an immense amount of material, but so much of it has remained available in so many ways, not just the literary but also the archeology.  We’re so fortunate to have had the entire city of Pompeii preserved for us, so much of Rome has been excavated; new things are being found still in the forum.  Every year there’s Yahoo headlines, just a couple of years ago, supposedly the Lupercal on the Palatine where supposedly Romulus and Remus suckled by the she-wolf and this was made into a monument by Augustus underground, supposedly they found that.  I’m a little dubious until they excavate, but there are still exciting things like that happening.  So we’re able to really kind of see ourselves in the Romans in many, many ways.  It’s a very multifaceted experience when you start researching them.

    Rob Cain:    Rome was a dangerous time, how does your hero stay alive?

    Saylor:    Well, one of my explanations for this, first of all lifespan in the ancient Rome, many people think it must have been intrinsically shorter but in fact people were able to live as long then as they can live now.  We know, for example, that Cicero’s wife live to be a hundred.  Now that was a notable thing that’s why it’s recorded in the book, but it was possible for people to live to be a hundred or maybe even older.  Physically, that was possible if you had a good life, if you haven’t worked really hard, if you had a good constitution obviously, most important good teeth.  You’ve got to have the teeth.  So people could live that long.  In Gordianus’ case, in spite the fact that he courts danger because of his livelihood, he does go out sort of snooping and looking for the truth and digging up the dirt about people, meeting prisoners, meeting assassins on taverns along the Tiber and so forth, so it puts himself in harms way quite often.  And he has faced near death on more than one occasion, but if he himself explains it, apparently the gods are interested in the story of his life.  And to him that’s an explanation of why he is still around.  The Romans really believe in fate and fortune and they didn’t entirely think that it was all up to you.  There were larger forces at work, above you, all around you.  Maybe protecting you, maybe trying to harm you.  This is why they try to ward off the evil eye and so forth.  But if the gods were on your side and most importantly the God Fortuna, the goddess of fortune; if things went your way then life was easy.  This is why the dictator Sulla called himself Felix, the fortunate, because everything worked out for Sulla.  How did that happen as wild the life as he lived, as much dangers he faced?  Everything went his way and Caesar was virtually the same way right up until the last act.  So in Gordianus’ case, the gods were interested in the story of his life.  To me that translate as, as long as the readers are interested in the story of his life there will be more volumes.  So he just keeps getting through the scrapes.

     Rob Cain:    Well, that brings up an interesting point on your next book.  Can you give us any clues?

     Saylor:    In the book I’m working on right now is the next Gordianus book, which is going to be a prequel that is going to go back to his younger days and it’s going to take him to see the Seven Wonders of the World.  Most of them still existed in his time.  This is about the time that we were getting the official lists of the Seven Wonders of the World, compiled by various poets and engineers and so forth and people actually took these itineraries.  They would go and see the Seven Wonders of the World, and it was possible to see them all in about the span of a year if you travel quickly.  So that’s going to take him to see the great temples, it’s going to take him to Olympia, Halicarnassus, it’s going to take him as far as Babylon when there really only ruins of the garden and walls and ultimately to Alexandria, the Lighthouse of the Pharaohs, and of course the pyramids in Egypt.  So that’s what I’m working on now.  Researching that is a lot of fun.  Of course it’s a topic everyone finds interesting.  And having Gordianus being a younger man will also be fun for me.  The origin of Gordianus has been sort of shrouded in mystery all through the series. 

    I should say what I am doing outside the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series.  I have been embarked on a whole other enterprise which is these big massive historical novels about Rome itself, kind of in the name of James Michener or Edward Rutherford who writes the big London books and so forth.  The first one was called Roma.  It’s about the first thousand years of Rome, a family saga.  This sort of transpires from the ancient days and the trade routes along the Tiber when there was no city at all at Rome just a little settlement up to the age of Caesar.  So you see, the time of Hannibal and before that Romulus and Remus and so forth.  And the next book I’ll have out which will be September of 2010 is a followup to that which is called Empire.  The same family is being taken forward into time,  only about 180 years.  The material is so rich once you start having the reign of Augustus up to the reign of Hadrian which is the absolute height of the empire.  So that’s the next book: Empire.

     Rob Cain:    What Roman history or Roman history novelist most influenced you?

     Saylor:    Not to say a Roman history novel, but a historical fiction set in the ancient world certainly I was very influenced in my younger days by Mary Renault, who when I was young was a big bestselling international author.  She started with her novels about Alexander, Fire from Heaven, followed by the Persian Boy, and she also wrote novels about Theseus, many other aspects of the ancient Greek world that was her fascination.  And those novels were superbly written.  They really took you back to the ancient Greek world and I think I read them when I was a teenager so they had a big influence on me.  The very idea of writing historical fiction I got that from her. 

    I’ve also read some of Robert Graves.  I’ve never actually read the I, Claudius novel.  I read his novels, Hercules, My Shipmate; once again about ancient Greece and several others.  I don’t read a lot of historical fiction.  I think historical fiction like science fiction tends to date pretty quickly so that nowadays when you read a historical novel that was written in the 1950s say in America and quite a few novels are written in the ‘50s set in the ancient world, they tend to tell you more about 1950s America than they tell you about ancient Rome.  Just the whole value set, if you think of the movie Ben Hur that’s really kind of a psycho history of the United States at that time and their value system.  So that writing historical fiction is really fraught with that peril trying to find something that’s timeless that’s not going to date that isn’t really about you and and your times.  I try to transcend that to some way in my own novels.  I don’t know how successful I am, but I wish that as far as other big influences I have to say the historian Michael Grant who once again when I was growing up as a boy in the ‘60s Michael Grant already had, I don’t know how many books in print, but quite a few. 

    I grew up in the town of Gulf Lake, Texas population 12,000, and as I began to be interested in something more serious about ancient Rome and say my Roman galley and see movies, I would go to the library and lo and behold whatever the subject I was looking for whether it was a biography of Cleopatra or Nero or book about the ancient historians, it seemed like Michael Grant had written a book about this, very prolific author and I guess his quality then struck me as very fine and it does even now as much history as I read, as many historians as I read when I read Michael Grant I just feel so comfortable in his scholarship, I feel so informed by his wisdom.  He’s no longer with us, but I’m actually dedicating Empire, my latest novel, to his memory.  We corresponded a very small amount.  I never actually meet him, I’m sorry to say.  But when I was writing Empire, one of the things that was really stomping me, this was getting me away from my comfort zone of the Roman Republic where the Roma Sub Rosa novels of Gordianus takes place and into the Empire which is kind of a different animal as far as the politics and the kind of history you read.  It’s all about the emperors; it’s all about the psychotherapy of the emperors.  You get away from the sort of politics of the Republic and I was having a little trouble getting a grip on the thought world of the Romans in this early imperial days.  Their thought world is so fraught with superstition, astrology, of course the ancient Roman religion which is still holding on, ideas about fate and fortune and of course the stoicism, philosophy is very important, man’s place in the world, submission to faith and so forth, but I was having a hard time threading this needle.  Trying to understand why, for example, astrology was so important.  The Roman emperors themselves accepted the importance of astrology.  They frequently ban all the astrologers in Rome because if you can get hold to the emperor’s horoscope, you might bring him down.  This was like a state secret.  Hadrian wouldn’t even allow anybody else to cast his horoscope.  He did it himself.  This was too private and important a matter.  But I was just having a hard time understanding why the Romans were so taken with this Babylonian practice of astrology as well as many other crazy cults they get started around this time.  And I’ve read a couple of books by Michael Grant about the specific period, one is called The Climax of Rome and the other is called The World of Rome.  And in many ways, they are companion volumes.  They were written a number of years apart, but they cover exactly the same ground which is the first centuries and the apex of the Roman Empire under people like Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.  And I have to say, Michael Grant once again came to my rescue as he did with his translations of Cicero’s murder trials, as he did when I was a child and I was just looking for, you know good books about anything to do with ancient Rome.  When those two books, The Climax of Rome and The World of Rome, he lays out the Roman thought world in a way that I found so comprehensible, so compelling, so convincing that I just have to say Michael Grant is, by far, my favorite historian of the ancient world.

     Rob Cain:    Well, I want to thank you for coming on the show.  We’re looking forward to your next book and I hope you have a good day.

     Saylor:    Well, it’s been a pleasure and thank you for your podcast about ancient Rome, a subject which is still important today.

     Rob Cain:    I think so too. 



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