All hail the ancients! (And we moderns, as we try to keep our bodies from falling apart!)

October 20, 2007 at 2:07 am (books, History, Mind/body, Mystery fiction)

sappho2.jpg apuleius.jpg I continue to enjoy the experience of traveling to and from aerobics while listening to Professor Elizabeth Vandiver of The Teaching Company as she lectures on the literature of ancient Greece and Rome. Such great mental and intellectual stimulation! Then I get to the gym and it’s all physical, all the time – I knock myself out, and then some, and have great fun in the process. To think, in my previous, pre-Type II Diabetes life – I thought exercising would be such a drag… [Pictured above: Sappho and Apuleius]

Today we kicked off the class with the song “Old Time Rock N Roll” by Bob Seger. Well, just try to stop yourself moving when that nifty little number is blasting away! I really love that song; to me, it represents the essence of what rock music at its best should sound like – pure, uninhibited joy, with an irresistible beat.

Anyway – Back to the classics! plutarch.gif ovid_lg.jpg Now that we’ve progressed to the works of the ancient Romans, I’m able to reminisce happily about my ninth grade Latin teacher Mrs. Gelber. I remember dressing up dolls in tunics and togas as she regaled us with stories of life in ancient Rome. She really made that period live for us, her lucky students! [Pictured above: Plutarch and Ovid]

saylor2.jpg saylor_roman_blood.jpg If you too have similar fond memories, or if you’re just generally fascinated by ancient history, I highly recommend Steven Saylor’s mystery series, called Roma Sub Rosa. You’d best begin with the first book, Roman Blood. Then you’ll have the other eight novels in the series ahead of you to enjoy, plus two volumes of short stories. Saylor is a scholar of the period, but the historical background always stays where it should: in the background. You’ll quickly get involved in the story of Gordianus the Finder, his complicated (and never dull) family, and his fascinating cases, which often involve the rich, the famous – and the secretive. arms.jpg rubicon.jpg

harris-robert.jpg pompeii.jpg I also recommend two novels by Robert Harris: Pompeii and Imperium. Of course, the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD is a hugely dramatic story by itself, but Harris has peopled his novel with characters both invented and historical in a way that I found convincing and absorbing. The action is seen through the eyes and experiences of the Aquarius Marcus Attilius Primus who, as his job title suggests, is charged with making sure system of aqueducts operates as it should. And indeed, it is the element of water that provides advance warning that something terrible is about to happen. (In the area around Pompeii, seismic activity and earth tremors – even earthquakes – were not unknown.) There is a scene in which the Aquarius is seated at a table with a jug of water. The surface of the water begind to ripple and tremble. I read this book when it came out four years ago, but I have never forgotten that scene, with its dreadful portents, whose meaning the reader knows all too well.

imperium.jpg Imperium is the story of Cicero’s rise to fame and prominence, as told by his amanuensis and confidant, the slave Tiro. I had trouble getting into the book at first; it moves at a more stately pace than Pompeii. I switched to the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Simon Jones. The novel became increasingly vivid and absorbing; I really loved it!


  1. My Ghillie » All hail the ancients! (And we moderns, as we try to keep our bodies from falling apart!) said,

    […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI really love that song; to me, it represents the essence of what rock music at its best should sound like – pure, uninhibited joy, with an irresistible beat. Anyway – Back to the classics!… […]

  2. Two novels of suspense: The Ghost by Robert Harris, and Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] no less from this incredibly versatile author of two historical novels that I thoroughly enjoyed: Pompeii and Imperium. Would I place The Ghost in one of my favorite fiction categories, “thrillers with […]

  3. An occasion for celebrating books, with a poignant aftermath « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Ancient Rome: Roman Blood and Arms of Nemesis by Steven Saylor […]

  4. “On wings of song…” another memorable evening with the Columbia Pro Cantare « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] to me, at least – somewhat enigmatic story. I never really knew it until I listened to Prof. Elizabeth Vandiver’s recounting of it in one of her lectures for the Teaching Company. When faced with an excruciating […]

  5. helen said,

    I think your photo is Thea Musgrave instead of Nadia Boulanger.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Hmm…I guess I’m not sure what photo is referred to in this comment.

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