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Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor Paperback – September 1, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
The Scottish author of Augustus has created another skillful and engrossing fictional memoir, even though the Roman emperor whose identity he assumes this time is a less promising historical figure--Tiberius's reputation has oscillated between that of a depraved monster and a prosaically punctilious administrator. Like Robert Graves, Massie sets out to rehabilitate his protagonist, but he stakes out distinctive ground beyond the Claudius novels by letting the narrator, a melancholy and reluctant autocrat, escape from "the despotism of fact" into a more impressionistic, reflective meditation on human nature, history and his own place in it. Without skimping on period detail or the Caesar's lurid political and sexual machinations, the text eschews extreme sensationalism or pedantry for an examination of the appalling solitude of power. In a voice suffused with regret but free of illusion, the aging emperor lucidly reviews his life, recognizing that his ascent to the imperial pinnacle paradoxically made him prey to abandonment, betrayal and loss. The testament of this compelling, almost tragic figure is delivered with an artistry that is itself a testament--to the enduring fascination the early Caesars exert on the literary imagination.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This fictionalized autobiography of Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), depicted by Roman historians as a murderous despot, belongs to the rehabilitative "not-quite-villain" historical fiction subgenre; though a solid effort, it falls well short of such premier examples as John Gardner's Grendel (Knopf, 1971) and Richard Kluger's The Sheriff of Nottingham ( LJ 1/92). Tiberius is portrayed as wise and restrained, even reluctant--but conveniently unable to stop tortures and executions from being visited in his name. The plentiful sex, in the mix-and-match combinations for which Rome is famed, stays offstage but is suggestively summarized. Massie ( The Sins of the Father , LJ 7/92) confines his wit to the introduction, but his erudition is evident throughout in rich details about Roman politics and intrigue. A worthy but not critical addition to public libraries; academic libraries might consider acquiring it to round out traditional classics collections.
- Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Tiberius grew up with his brother and father until his father sadly died and he is taken into Caesar's home. His mother, Livia, is the wife of Augustus and ambitious for his future. However, growing up he finds his interests in other things such as the army and even worse, his young, beautiful and desirable stepsister. Constantly teasing him, Julia knows that she is able to arouse Tiberius into such emotions that he willingly gives into his desires. When Tiberius takes Vipsania as his wife, he still can't help taking to Julia's bed rather then his wife's. However, once Julia consents to marry Vipsania's father, Agrippa, their affair stops and neither of them see each other again for a long while. Tiberius grows to love Vipsania tenderly and though not passionately, he respects and admires her calmness and softness. After the birth of their son, Tiberius feels happier then ever. However, upon the death of Agrippa, his widow Julia is forced to return to Rome where her father makes Tiberius a new match in the form of the object of his desire...
In the second half of his life, everyone he knew, he loved and lusted are dead: Augustus, Julia, Vipsania and Drusus, his beloved brother, leaving him quite bitter and reproachful. For good reason as he is faced with a creature of an entirely different order: Agrippina, Julia's daughter. While carrying similar beauty to her mother, she lacks anything of the charm, cheerfulness and happy-go-lucky that Julia had, but with the same self-importance and self-perfection that Augustus had and the same snappy and hard going streak as her father Agrippa, that makes Livia look tame. His slow descent into carelessness and cruelty is shown as he slowly begins to write off his harsh punishments of having Agrippina sent to the island of Pandataria where "his poor Julia" had dwelled in exile, and the slaughter of Sejanus and his allies as a thing that had to be done.
TIBERIUS is a vast improvement of the first novel AUGUSTUS, showing entertainment and fairness and making it sound less like a TV-show from the sixties, as AUGUSTUS appeared to do. His dislike of Augustus, his respect for his mother, his affection for Vipsania and his lustful obsession with Julia all of this and more paints a colourful and entertaining book while putting Tiberius into a fresh light where you still see him from the cruel and harsh man he became, yet you see history turned towards the man himself and see things on not what "exactly" happened but what might have. Rather then making him too perfect and self absorbed about things as Augustus does in AUGUSTUS, Tiberius knows he is faulted, cruel and bad, and he shows it without ever having to say it. Whether, of course we were met to believe Augustus was a pompous and self-absorbed man in AUGUSTUS, I'm not entirely sure. After reading AUGUSTUS, rush off to your library; bookshop or friend's house to read TIBERIUS to see not only Tiberius with a clean slate but of characters of the first book, most noticeably Julia, put into a light where they are seen for what they were to another individual rather then everyone. This detail makes TIBERIUS such a joy to read, its more realistic and exciting overview on life from anyone other then Augustus.
Of course keeping track of all of the characters is a challenge but that is true of the historical record as well. I only gave the book three stars because I thought some of the dialog was a little anachronistic. Still it is a good book and well worth the reading.