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Ancient Greece and Rome in Fiction!


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In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 7:59:33 AM PST
M. A. George says:
James--Did it. Bought your first book on Amazon. I usually buy used, but as the used copies available were only about a buck less, I went big this time and actually bought a new book. Hey, it's New Year's. Germanicus Ceasar was the nephew of Tiberius, wasn't he? As well as adopted son, and the father of Caligula. So we are talking about the same guy?

No, actually, I don't remember cutting the tatoo. Not one of my favorite movies (for a number of reasons, mostly dramatic)--though interesting for the historically accurate production (for the most part). God, I loved the CGI Coluseum. That is just how it must have looked--huge and surrounded by massed little buildings and tenements. Some of these older epic movies about ancient Rome insist on showing it as a light, bright white city with broad avenues--when it was quite crowded and narrow, noisy and dark. There was a review many years ago about one of these productions I will never forget. The reviewer, after complaining about just this thing, added, "But the Romans would have loved themselves in Cinemescope and Technicolor." Quite right.

Your comment on the legionairies stabbing with their javelins--didn't they use the short, stabbing sword only? I'm sure you caught that. Javelins were used by auxillary troops--unless I am mistaken (it happens.) And the "passage of lines" you describe--did you see the same thing in "Zulu"? Great film. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. But these historical faults are easily forgivable if the overall impression gives us a real feel for the period and what life was like in other times. I am more interested in seeing how people actually lived than who married whom or who died when. This is why the series "Rome" was so good.

What other historical films particularly impressed you--dramatically, historically, emotionally--and why.

Margaret

P.S. Why would you want the diamond? Same pay, 3 times the headache. Enjoy if you get it.

NB: to other members of the thread. I do not think we are going off-point in talking about film in this disucssion as historical films can be seen as "historical fiction". I think. If there are objections, I will get back on books only. Just let me know!

.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 8:24:58 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 1, 2008 8:26:19 AM PST
James Mace says:
Margaret,

Thank you for purchasing my book! I'll be interested to hear any and all candid feedback you may have.

To answer your question: yes the legionaries did carry javelins, however they threw them in waves just before engaging. Think of it as the British riflemen in Zulu unleashing volleys of fire before fighting with the bayonet. On that note, yes Zulu is one of my all-time favorites, though like anything else it does have its historical flaws. In fact, after I finish the "Soldier of Rome" series, I'm contemplating doing a novel about Colour Sgt Frank Bourne. Did you know he was the last survivor of that battle to die? He died in 1945 at the age of 91. He was also much younger than they showed in the movie; the real Frank Bourne was only 25 at the time of Rorkes Drift; an unheard of age for what we would equate to a 1SG / E-8.

As for other historical films from this era that really grip for whatever reason, I would have to say:

-Rome the series
-Gladiator
-Cleopatra (even though I get iritated that in every single movie that shows Augustus when he was still known as Octavian, he is always a bad guy)
-Barrabus (1962 film with Anthony Quinn)
-300 (yes I know it is historical fantasy rather than historical fiction)
-I, Claudius (Masterpiece Theater from the 1970s)
Pretty short list, I know.

Yes, Germanicus Caesar was the nephew of Tiberius as well as his adopted son. He was also the grandson of Marc Antony; his mother Antonia being the daughter of Antony and Augustus' sister, Octavia. He was even selected to be ahead of Tiberius' own son Drusus (named after Tiberius' brother) in the succession. He was the father of Caligula and the grandfather of Nero through his daughter Agrippina the younger. Frightening I know, given what a great man Germanicus was revered to be. He was also the brother of the Emperor Claudius. Of interesting note; Germanicus' wife, Agrippina the elder, was the daughter of Augustus' best friend Marcus Agrippa, and Augustus' daughter Julia. She was also the half-sister of Tiberius' first wife, Vipsania. Yes, keeping track of all the Julio-Claudians is quite the chore!

James
Oh, and no I'm not really that interested in seeing the Diamond. And to be honest, I don't think the Idaho Guard is that interested in seeing me as an E-8.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 8:46:53 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 1, 2008 8:49:41 AM PST
James Mace says:
Richard,

I do believe you are right in that there were one or two examples of a legionary rising all the way up to Legatus, but these were very late in the Empire's history.

My Dad is more of a SF fan than I am, though I do enjoy watching "Futurama" if that counts!

Altimari and I have debated a few things in his essay, especially since in my second book I violate one of the principles, and that is I do in fact have a "cast of characters" page as well as a glossary of terms. I totally understood where he is coming from; however I did this at the request of several readers who had to re-read sections to remember who's who, and who outranked who.

You're right, it is a balance, though not as hard as I thought it would be. When you do your research properly, you are simply building characters around actual events. This made the first book fairly easy, since the campaigns of Germanicus Caesar are very well documented. What made my second and third books (and the fourth it's looking like) much more difficult is that the historical events I write about are not nearly as well documented.

Looking at your list, if you are seeking to avoid authors who blatantly skew history, then you should probably strike Iggulden from your list. Don't get me wrong, he is a very talented writer and hugely popular; however he gets beat up pretty harshly by anyone who's actually read the history of the time of Julius Caesar. Heck, his entire series is misnamed because Julius was never Emperor. Events are entirely re-written in ways they did not happen; Octavian is shown to be a nine-year old street urchin living in poverty (say WHAT???) a full nine years before he was even born. Oh, and Brutus was NEVER a Centurion. 19-year old aristocrats did not become Centurions; it would have been an insult to both classes of society. I was entertained when I read the first couple books, and I admit that it got me interested in reading more about Caesar. I was then thoroughly disgusted when I realized just how badly history had been skewed. Most Roman historians list Iggulden's books as historical fantasy rather than historical fiction. That can be really iritating, because the average reader will read a historical novel and take it at face value. Hence why I believe that authors have a responsibility to write a good story, but not to distort reality. I'd stick to McCullough's Masters of Rome series. The only flaw I find with hers is that towards the end she comes across as practically worshipping Caesar and that the man can do no wrong. Granted we all write from a biased standpoint, but this becomes a bit excessive. Regardless, it is still amongst the best reads about Caesar's time.

And yes, I agree that Legion was too short of a novel. Hence why I have given Altimari a hard time about writing a sequel. He told me, "be careful what you wish for." ;) Of course he even laughed when I mentioned that I thought the sappy stuff between Rufio and Flavia was a bit cheesy. That is another area that requires a lot of balance. I'm struggling now in my third book, where Artorius meets a woman that he doesn't just want to use him as a piece of meat (not like any guy ever has a problem with that). I'm trying to write a believable story between them, without it descending into a Danielle Steel novel!

My only other gripe with "Legion" was that there was only one battle sequence in the entire book. Granted it was a very well-done piece, but it left you wanting more. Heck, the entire book leaves you feeling that way, which is probably the ultimate compliment.

James
P.S. Just to show I'm well-cultured, I actually got the "Upstairs Downstairs" comment!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 11:07:27 AM PST
M. A. George says:
James--Did not remember about the javelins, but of course you are right. There was a prequel to "Zulu" made, about the massacre that proceded Rourke's Drift (can't remember the name, but Pete O'Toole was in it.) Not bad at all. By the way, this massacre is covered in one of George MacDonald Frazer's later Flashman books--"Flashman and the Tiger", I believe. Don't you find the Flashman books brilliant? I cannot praise them highly enough, for great writing, wit, and historical accuracy. And there are footnotes! Lots of them with lucid explanations of what was happening. To be read again and again. What I know about 19th century history of the growth of the British Empire, I know from Flashman.

By the way--a correction. MSG=E8. 1SG=E8 plus diamond. Tsk. You should know that. Picky, picky, picky. But this is a picky discussion thread and therefore so much fun.

Your list of historical movies is pathetically short. I bet you have already thought of half a dozen more. Some surpises in it . "Cleopatra" was a shock. Lousy movie. Another surpise on your list was the absence of "Spartacus"--though you may have your reasons. Delighted to see "Barrabus". Quite right to omit such abominations as Ben Hur, The Robe, Fall of the Roman Empire, et. al. Did you get your Julian-Claudian geneology from the Robert Graves' books? I did!

What is it with all you guys and "300"? Praise for it is all over this thread. I see it is striking a real chord in the put-upon masculine heart. 'Manliness' is getting a bad rap in these politcally correct times--it is good to see it glorified (and glamorized.) My friend and I, females, enjoyed 300 as well. We like hard-core manliness, too. All those lovely pectorals. Shallow, I know.

Margaret

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 12:23:11 PM PST
1. As I mentioned in my first post, I agree that Iggulden basically should not be included... "historical fantasy" is a very good description. Pretty good writer, though, and does a decent job at conveying the "feel" of the time, I think.

2. Regarding "Gladiator" and the use of spears:

I think people get a bit confused as to the use of spear-type weapons by the Roman Legions. My summary would be as follows: During much of the monarchy and early Republic, Romans used spears a bit more like the Greeks, in that the standard weapon, known as a 'hasta', could be either thrown or used in rank. Garius Marius, in his overall reform of Legion equipment, introduced the standard use of the 'pilum'. This is what most people think of as the standard spear-type weapon, but it gets a bit more complex. Legionnaries carried TWO pila, one heavy and one light. The light was definitely thrown (with the whole bend-and-drag-shield trick); the heavy was sometimes thrown, sometimes not... in the second case, it could be used to support the first rank (who would be using gladii). The heavy pilum was generally built with a handguard, so clearly had direct combat application. Later, the two pila were combined in function, meaning a single weapon which could be cast or wielded by hand, which was known as a 'spiculum'.

So, I don;t find it entirely unreasonable that in "Gladiator" we would see hand combat using heavy pila. Conceptually, this would also match the increase in non-Italian troops admitted to the Legions, most of whose prior weapons practice would have been with spear and not sword.

[But then, there I go again making up reasons to support my suspension of disbelief... hahaha.]

3. Movies - Guess what I've got? A list!!!

13th BC - Clash of the Titans (1981)
13th BC - Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
12th BC - Helen of Troy (2003)
12th BC - Troy (2004)
12th BC - Ulysses (1954)
12th BC - The Odyssey (1997)
12th BC - Orestia (1979)
645 BC - Duel of Champions (1961)
480 BC - The 300 Spartans (1962)
480 BC - 300 (2007)
325 BC - Alexander the Great (1956)
325 BC - Alexander (2004)
202 BC - Hannibal (1960)
71 BC - Spartacus (1960)
71 BC - Spartacus (2004)
44 BC - Julius Caesar (1953)
44 BC - Julius Caesar (1970)
30 BC - Rome (2007)
30 BC - Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)
30 BC - Antony and Cleopatra (1972)
30 BC - Cleopatra (1934)
30 BC - Cleopatra (1963)
28 BC - Salome (1953)
12 BC - Augustus (2003)
30 AD - Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959)
32 AD - The Robe (1953)
41 AD - Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
50 AD - The Caesars (1968)
50 AD - I, Claudius (1976)
56 AD - Barabbas (1961)
60 AD - Quo Vadis (1951)
68 AD - The Sign of the Cross (1932 uncut)
69 AD - Age of Treason (1993)
72 AD - Masada (1981)
170 AD - The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
180 AD - Gladiator (2000)
337 AD - Constantine and the Cross (1962)
440 AD - The Sign of the Pagan (1954)
440 AD - Attila (2001)

Again, this is what passes my own personal filter. All English-language, for one thing, which means not including loads of Italian cr*p, but missing at least one or two Greek movies which are supposed to be fantastic. Missing at least 10 more Cleopatra movies. Missing a bunch of Christian-themed movies. Some real junk included, but hey, I had to include the war between Rome and Alba!!

The movies that I have NOT seen and really want to are:
The Caesars - Supposed to be on the same level as "I, Claudius"
The Sign of the Cross - Uncut, and the last of the pre-Hayes spectacles
The Fall of the Roman Empire - Never watched in entirety, and certainly not on a modern A/V system

My favorite that you guys haven;t mentioned thus far is definitely "Ben Hur". And Marlon Brando is stunning as Antony in "Julius Caesar".

-Richard

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 1:52:05 PM PST
M. A. George says:
Richard the Human Database--your list is pretty complete! But didn't Lana Turner star in a "Helen of Troy" in the '50s? There are two you mention that I did not know and wonder in what media they are available: Spartacus (2004) and The Age of Treason (1993). Was The Ceasars (1968) a PBS/BBC series? I have seen an uncut "The Sign of the Cross" Very campy! But with Charles Laughton as Nero . . . Surprising to see what they got away with before Hayes. The Fall of the Roman Empire had some great early scenes in a wintry Germania. But it quickly fell apart into a sand-and-sandals mish-mash. Uncomfortable to watch if you have any idea of the period.

So, people get confused about the use of spear-type weapons used by the Roman legions. Well. Who knew?

Margaret

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 2:15:07 PM PST
Good one!! I forgot about older "Helen of Troy".... most importantly, showcasing a young Brigitte Bardot!

Spartacus was made for TV, and fairly bad. Age of Treason is based on a Lindsay Davis (I think) novel, and deserves inclusion just for that. The Caesars was for BBC... supposedly fantastic.

Anybody know what this series is, from England:

http://romanmysteries.com/indexflash.htm

Looks like a a lot of fun for kids.

-Richard

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 3:31:17 PM PST
M. A. George says:
Richard--Well, I checked out the Age of Treason and The Caesars in DVD and VHS on Amazon--nothing. I also tried Lindsay David for The Age of Treason (book)--nothing. This is disappointing. I will forget about "Spartacus" as you say it is bad. The book was better, anyway. The Caesars may perhaps be found on amazon.com.uk--but they don't use the same systems and it wouldn't play on our US equipment.

Guess we'll have to be satsified with what we have.

Margaret

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 7:34:16 AM PST
Is anyone very familiar with Rosemary Sutcliff? A friend recommended reading all of her work, even though much of it was originally intended for the YA audience. I have several of her books on my to-be-read list, but by no means all of them.

-Richard

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 7:56:19 AM PST
BTW, Margaret, are you implying that you are the one other person alive who has watched "Duel of Champions"??!! :)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 9:32:23 AM PST
M. A. George says:
Richard--If this was about Romulus and Remus, I do remember it vaguely--at least the final battle between the brothers. It might have been with Steve Reeves. Sorry--can't say anything more about it--and I might be thinking about a different movie entirely. There are a number of the films you list I haven't actually seen, but have heard of most of them. Except "The Orestia". I did not know this was filmed in English. The Orestia? Not exactly your sand-and-sandals Saturday afternoon excitement. Can you tell me anything more about it?
Margaret

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 9:39:39 AM PST
M. A. George says:
Richard--Rosemary Sutcliff. I have read several of her books--can't remember their names, which does not speak well of their memorability. I would not say she writes particularly for the YA crowd, but rather the historical romance aficionadas. She is very popular with women who like more romance than history, I always thought, and is very highly thought of--in these circles--much like Jean Plaidy. Good writers both, but I would not think your cup of tea--stress on the romantic. However, I am not an expert.

My main criterion in judging historical fiction is: would I enjoy reading it again?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 9:42:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2008 9:43:07 AM PST
James Mace says:
Margaret,

To answer your question, the Peter O'Toole movie you are thinking of is called "Zulu Dawn." It takes place at the Battle of Isandalwana, which was right before Rorke's Drift. In fact, the Zulu regiment (yes they were actually that organized) that attacked Rorke's Drift was the reserves from Isandalwana and had not taken part in the fighting. They disobeyed the king and attacked anyway, seeing as how they wanted some of the glory for themselves. There's a great website, www.rorkesdriftvc.com that is probably the most in depth one out there when it comes to covering not just Rorkes Drift, but the entire Zulu war.

Richard, that is quite the list you've got there! My sister and I used to love "Clash of the Titans" when we were kids. We all watched it again recently and couldn't believe how cheesy that movie is. Of course, I was even entertained by Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Hercules in New York!" ;)

Margaret, you had asked about "Spartacus," and yes I do have it. It is pretty decent, though my complaint with it is the same one I have with "Masada;" in that they make the Roman legionary look very inept. Every fight scene in Masada had me beating my head against the wall, I thought they were that bad.

Hmm, it seems to be predominantly the three of us on here lately. I do hope some more readers of Greek and Roman literature jump on board!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 10:13:32 AM PST
M. A. George says:
James--I got up on Amazon and bought the miniseries of Spartacus for less than $5. For that much, it doesn't have to be great. I enjoyed Masada, but did not pay much attention to the clumsy legionnaires, knowing then no better. Oh, and your book has been sent out as of today. Should get it--Saturday?

Richard--there was a miniseries on Julis Caesar (2003). I remember it, too. Bad! Not historically accurate (foreshortened of couse due to time constraints) and especially as to the 'times and mores'. They actually show Julia sneaking out to "date" Pompey and getting home way after midnight, with her father just chiding her for her bad judgement. My God! Noble Roman virgins were kept better watch over than that! It was at that point where I yelled at the screen and lost all real interest.

Listen, after finishing McCullough's great Roman series, I had dreams of somebody doing a "miniseries "of all of it for TV. Vain hope! It would have to be at least a 2-years-long series.

How can we broaden the interest for this thread? We may be dominating it too much and others drift away as not having an interest in our particular passions. But we are on point as for "Ancient Greek and Roman Historical Fiction". Not sure what the answer is. Hello out there! We three obsessives want to hear from you! You are obsessives, too. Admit it.

Jokingly, Margaret

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 12:55:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2008 12:58:06 PM PST
To Richard - the Roman Mysteries are a series of books by an author named Caroline Lawrence. The first in the series is titled 'The Thieves of Ostia'. All of this series is well written and well researched. I believe that they are very popular in Britain and gaining readership in the States. BBC 4 picked the books up and produced a TV series targeted at children.

Rosemary Sutcliff is an excellent author - her books are brilliant. I must disagree with Margaret and I do wonder if she perhaps mixed up Rosemary Sutcliff with Elizabeth Chadwick, an English author whose books are well written and researched, but resemble historical romance as much as historical fiction (in my opinion).

Rosemary Sutcliff has written a trilogy of books about the Romans in Britain the first being 'The Eagle of the Ninth'. It is a very exciting read, although my favorite book is probably 'The Lantern Bearers'- what a sad, bittersweet book.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 1:10:39 PM PST
M. A. George says:
Mary--I may be mistaken and confuse the two. Was it Sutcliff who wrote the book where the British priestess falls in love with the Roman legate. That was part of a trilogy I think. Outstanding, but still more romance than history. I seem to remember that Sutclff also wrote historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. Unless I am hopelessly confused!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 1:11:32 PM PST
K. Gilligan says:
I'll admit that I am obsessed- about Ancient Greek Historical Fiction. (Particularly Alexander the Great's era.) I've not yet ventured into Roman historical fiction. Though, I probably will at some point and I've made a note of the recs on this board. If I had to venture a guess as to why you three dominate the board it would be because you seem the most knowledgeable about these topics!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 1:46:20 PM PST
Hi Margeret,
No, Rosemary Sutcliff did not write a book where a British priestess falls in love with a Roman legate. Most of her books are set in Roman Britain, Anglo-Saxon Britain or have a Viking setting. She does have a few titles that are set in Medieval Britain.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 2:26:00 PM PST
M. A. George says:
Gilligan--don't let the glibness fool you. As a military commander can generally win if he can chose his place of battle, anybody can sound knowledgeable if they can choose the topics of discussion! Throw us something new--something you love. If you are obsessed about ancient Greek historical fiction, who do you prefer? Who would you recommend to us?

By the way, I read last year a brilliant novel about Alcibiades--but can't remember the author. Have any ideas?

Bring it on--Margaret

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 2:32:29 PM PST
M. A. George says:
Mary--Aha! I was right then. I am HOPELESSLY confused after all. I will have to get into Amazon and review her work.

Margaret

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 4:01:42 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2008 4:03:51 PM PST
Margaret - That's *another* movie I didn't have listed. The one you saw, with Steve Reeves (and also Gordon Scott, AKA Tarzan), was called "Duel of Titans" and was about Romulus and Remus. The one I have seen is "Duel of Champions" starring Alan Ladd, which was about the war between Alba Longo and Rome, culminating in a battle between the Horatii and the Curiatii. Pretty frickin' bad, btw. :) "The Oresteia" was something I had seen in college, back in the day. It was directed by Peter Hall, and was pretty great... almost impossible to find now, though.

Mary - Thanks for the input on Rosemary Sutcliffe. I had planned on reading the "Eagle of the Ninth" trilogy (when, at some unimaginable point in the future, I actually get to the 5th century AD!!), but I'll look into all of her other works too.

K. Gilligan - Actually, if you look back at my list, since I've been reading in chronological order I've read a LOT more about Ancient Greece than Rome (so far). As great as *anything* about Alexander is, I'd like to recommend that you also take a look at the prior century. The 5th century BC was... unbelievable, incredibly important, and jam-packed with action. Not only do we have the Persian Wars (including Thermopylae, Marathon, and Salamis), the Delian League, and finally the Peloponnesian Wars, but the people!! Darius, Xerxes, Leonidas, Themistocles. Sophocles, Aeschylus, Socrates, Euripides, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Hippocrates. Cimon, Pericles, Alcibiades, Demosthenes, Brasidas, Pausanias, Artaxerxes. UNBELIEVABLE! Look at my list for books ranging from 480-396BC... a hugely enjoyable sweep of history!

-Richard

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 8:02:37 PM PST
LHO says:
I agree. I had trouble getting through McCullough's series.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 8:38:29 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2008 8:38:53 PM PST
Sorry, Lisa, it took me a minute to figure out to which post you were responding.

I'm generally alright with each of the three main styles I've observed:

1) Lyrical: Starting with the older authors, like Bulwer-Lytton and Stearns Davis, culminating in Renault.
2) Matter-of-fact: McCullough, surely.
3) Vernacular: Especially later Pressfield and Ford.

Of course, a mixture of all three is to be admired, as appropriate. And underlying all there must be story and accuracy. That said, I've often found it worthwhile to work my way through stylistic discomfort... at first I could barely read some of the 19th century books, but once I got into the groove I found them to be very wonderful (my best examples being Flaubert's "Salammbo" and William Stearns Davis' "Belshazzar, A Tale of the Fall of Babylon").

The only styles that I can't stand are semi-mystical mumbo-jumbo and romantic drivel. But I know that there are certain authors, especially some of those more focused on the Middle Ages and Renaissance, that thrive with styles that I abhor.

To each his or her own, but I would say to anyone that each of Renault and McCullough will reward the work.

-Richard

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 9:35:01 PM PST
Selene says:
Richard -- re Alcibiades novel, was just wondering if you might be thinking of Pressfield's "Tides of War"?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 9:38:32 PM PST
Selene says:
Margaret - priestess+ Roman legate story sounds rather like Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Forest House". There are several in that series, including "The Mists of Avalon". Of course, I might be well out!
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