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Winifred Bryher (ps)

Coin of Carthage, The
Harcourt Brace, 1963


Set during the Second Punic War and its aftermath (c.214-183), the novel traces the fortunes of two Greek traders, Zonas from Formiae and Dasius, once from Tarentum. The traders have no great love for Roman officials, who keep exacting tolls, and a chance meeting of Zonas with a magnanimous Hannibal during a Carthaginian parade gives him a high regard for the Commander, but we never see Hannibal again, though we hear about him. We hear very little about the war or Roman politics, a bit more about Carthaginian politics when Dasius goes to Carthage with Mago, a sea captain who befriends him. Zonas, after recovering from injury himself, finds an injured Roman soldier, Karus, whom he cares for and takes back to the young man's mother, Sybilla, and village of Vicus. The plot, such as it is, involves the deaths of Verna, a young slave girl Karus had loved, Sybilla, who leaves Zonas comfortably fixed on one of her farms, where he marries and settles down, and Dasius, who had once abandoned Zonas but later became friends again before going off to Carthage for better prospects. The novel ends with news of the death of Hannibal reaching Zonas, who will not last much longer, and Karus, who will miss him. There is much philosophizing about Fortune, fate and men's lots, but there is not much that is either time or place specific, not a lot filled in about Roman society or daily living. What historical references the author makes seem correct and she does tell some about life in those, days, but it's rather thin. She also makes large, unsignalled jumps in plot time, which makes it difficult to follow or to have sense of continuity. There is very little center to the novel, perhaps because the third-person omniscient narrator feels free to jump anywhere. Dasius' death at sea is intended as ironic, but it is a little unlikely that a javelin could carry well enough to kill a man when the two ships were almost "out of bowshot". This is not a bad novel (and it is certainly chaste), but I did not find it very helpful in creating a detailed sense of Roman time and place and did not find the plot compelling. Some of the characters0 are well-drawn and interesting, but I do not see this novel as one that. will drive readers on to delve into Roman history - or even seek out another historical novel on the subject. (Mench; unpub)

- Fred Mench, 11/23/2005

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