- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Arrow (A Division of Random House Group); Reprint edition (April 14, 1983)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0413523101
- ISBN-13: 978-0413523105
- Package Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,465,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Silence Among the Weapons Paperback – April 14, 1983
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The setting is the Roman Republic in the years 90-80 BC or thereabouts and the fatal conflict between the factions of Marius and Sulla, culminating in the legalised murders known as the Proscriptions. The story is told by a crippled actor turned stage director, called Ivory, who becomes swept up in the mayhem of civil war. The narrative is wonderfully picaresque, the dialogue as inventive as you might expect from such an accomplished dramatist, the action often extremely funny, the ultimate lesson sobering. Participants are presented by their nicknames (Sulla is the Stain after his blemished face, Marius, the Muledriver, presumably from his army reforms, Mithridates of Pontus, Old Strychnine, a good joke). The approach is resolutely anti-imperialist, as might be expected from this author, the characterisation more than convincing. There is a huge cast: actors, informers, spies, soldiers, politicians, rogues, dancers and prostitutes - many combining a number of roles. Most of the characters are from the subject races, Cuttlefish, a Nubian slave girl, Ivory himself, the Hellenised Paphlagonian son of an Arab tax collector, and most interestingly, HorseFury, a Cimbrian warrior first enslaved by Marius, then the instrument of Marius' vengeance on his enemies in the senate. Then there are the men who tear the world apart, the angry and crazed old soldier, Marius the Mule-Driver, and the cold, cruel Sulla, his stained face, sophisticated and aloof, with his love of theatre and an icy passion for retribution.
The title? Here are the opening words of the novel: "His exact words...the blood fouled old general, seven times consul, Gaius Marius the Mule-driver, staggering in the last malodorous days of his last term of office...'Inter arma leges silent': 'Once the weapons are out, the laws fall silent'. And, by god so they do."
The book flap calls the novel 'picaresque' which I learnt means that there is a bit of lewd behaviour, but by today's standard is barely adult.
John Arden was known as a playwright and this book comes across as a four act play.
The first book introduces you to the character Ivory who is an actor turned theater agent who finds himself embroiled in some nasty politics between two rival Roman parties whilst in Ephesus around 90 BC. (I visited Ephesus in 1996 - a wonderful archeological and tourist site.)
The second book takes you into southern Italy as Ivory tries to navigate the unrest rising throughout the countryside with his acting troupe. His companions are disbursed as chaos fills the land and concludes this book. (I also spent some time in the 'boot' of Itay - Arden aptly paints mayhem in this idyllic land).
Book three almost feels like a return to 'Moby Dick' as Ivory boards a crude little pirate ship of ancient Jews - his old life is gone and almost forsaken.
Finally the fourth book brings Ivory to the outskirts of Rome and perilously close to the Roman generals fighting the quasi civil war. The story ends up being tragi-comic, as despite the success of our hero, so much pain has been endured that you can't quite feel like anyone has triumphed.