I finished the 14th and probably final Steven Saylor Roma Sub Rosa novel narrated by Gordianus, the Finder, Throne of Caesar, saddened (for myself, not for Gordianus) by his retirement after this (unpaid-for) case as a proto-privatee detective. That Saylor could build a mystery around the most famous murder in history is amazing. Unlike the historical figures, the reader knows whodunit, where, when, and their rationalizations of breaking their oaths to the dictator who had not only spared many of them but raised them to high offices. I can understand Saylor’s reluctance to take on the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, including swerving back to writing three prequels to the series before proceeding to the famed “main event.”
(Vatican Museum bust of Julius Caesar)
In a book that begins five days before the 44 BC, Saylor shows how Caesar loomed over the world (the West, that is), as well as frailties (there are no epileptic seizures, but some mania and some fatigue). Cicero continues his prickly relationship with Gordianus. Though unhappy at his marginalization, Cicero is the last patrician still standing at the end. Gordianus’s Egyptian wife, Bethesda (turned from slave to Roman matron), and daughter, Diana, play little part until after the assassination, which then focuses on women, including Fulvia, the brains of Marc Antony’s rise to great wealth and power.
(cover with part of the 1864 painting byKarl von Ponti)
The mystery(ies) center on the poet Cinna, whom Julius Caesar much admired as the greatest living Roman poet (Catullus had been dead a decade). Gordianus and Cinna (and one of those who would plunge a dagger into him in the Senate the next day) were at Caesar’s last dinner, at which Cinna read his just completed, after a decade’s work, “Orpheus and Pentheus.” Both title characters were dismembered while still living and trying to sing or speak. The horrifying ends of the two are foreshadowing. There is a lot about the Bachantes and Fulvia’s leadership in several conspiracies, including the one that cleared her husband’s path to ultimate power.
Very little of Cinna’s once vaunted work has survived. Saylor has an explanation of this in the last part of Throne. The book is a reminder that Roman male citizens owned the bodies of women in their households, including wives and daughters (even if Antony was not so foolish as to lord it over Fulvia!). And the outlet of their ”mystery cult, with annual collective frenzies. Gordianus even manages to watch a rehearsal (in his own house, after he and all other males have been ejected) for the Bacchanalian Liberalia festival (17 March).
©2018, Stephen O. Murray