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William G. Hardy

City of Libertines
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1957

Reviews:

Catullus is so alive that authors find it difficult to put him on paper. Hardy has succeeded quite well. While Catullus is a manic-deparessive in this book, we have sympathy for him; Clodia is not a complete bitch and Caesar, as usual, is Caesar. While some of Hardy's information is incorrect (he has a bride dedicating a bulla, which girls didn't wear), he beautifully incorporates both Catullus' poetry and Caesar's words directly into the story. The political machinations, especially the conflicts with Clodius, Caelius, Pompey, Caesar and Cicero, are very clear. Since no one knows how Catullus dies, Hardy's idea is as good and logical as any. While the style is somewhat ponderous (repetitious and slow-moving) for today's readers, I definitely recommend this books for HS and up. -Ruth Breindel The paperback subtitles this “ The Compelling Story of History’s Most Passionate Love Affair”. It is the story of Catullus and Clodia (aka Lesbia), who were certainly both passionate, though she not always just with him. Do they hold the title? I don’t know, but this is an excellently told story and a good introduction to the Rome of 62-54 BC. If this were merely the story of a love affair, it might make interesting but somewhat thin reading. What makes Hardy’s novel different is that it gives us a different picture of Catullus (more politically involved than we normally imagine) and it interweaves, in almost equal proportions with the Catullus-Clodia story the story of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, Cicero, Clodius. Catullus, in fact, is the one person in the story other than Caesar’s lover Servilia, who recognizes early along that it is Caesar who is or will be the main power, not the seemingly obvious candidate, the victorious general Pompey, or even the money-man Crassus. Of course, Caesar does not want others to realize this until after he has used them to get into the position he wants, namely the pro-consular governorship of Gaul. Hardy moves the action along well, weaving in material from the ancient sources, especially Catullus’ poems, and he portrays a broad but manageable cast of characters, some developed at length (Caesar, Catullus, Clodia, Clodius), some with medium development (Pompey, Crassus, Caelius, Cicero, Servilia) and some merely sketched, economically but vividly (Julia, Balbus, Atticus). Clodius is, expectedly, wild and reckless (the novel opens with the Bona Dea scandal), but he can also be cool and calculating, when he puts his mind to it. He is never someone to whom we warm. Catullus is, predictably, sensitive and besotted, but he is also physically fit and a good political organizer. Clodia is, of course, passionate, but her attitude toward Catullus, younger than her by some years, is often tender, though at the same time she is willing to betray him when the second great passion of her life, Caelius Rufus, comes along. (The first was Catiline.) She is bitter toward Cicero for his vacillation about what he would say at Clodius’ trial and exultant when Cicero goes into exile, but she is virtually destroyed by his Pro Caelio, which has much of (the novel’s) truth about it, but distorts the facts and clears the patently guilty Caelius. However, the most interesting character may be Julius Caesar, as hard to pin down in this novel as he is in history. Caesar is ruthless, driven by what he considers his Destiny to be sole ruler of Rome, and while he readily eliminates a no-longer useful Vettius when the need arises, he will equally preserve a gifted poet even if that poet is creating public relations problems with his lampoons, because Caesar respects genius. Caesar is never gratuitously unkind and goes out of his way to try to save Cicero from exile, despite the many ways in which Cicero has crossed him. Of course. Caesar will slaughter or enslave hordes of Gauls or Germans and make a nice profit from it at the same time as boosting his political stock at Rome, but that’s shown as the Roman way. He attempts to give good advice to Clodia and to Catullus, but his efforts fail. He plays down his own ability and importance when dealing with Crassus and Pompey, because he needs their cooperation in the triumvirate and he is adept at convincing each to work with him and, more amazingly, with each other. After Caesar’s successes in Gaul, Pompey dimly perceives that the man he thought was merely an assistant or a facilitator is really a force to be reckoned with, a challenge to himself. Caesar resists marrying off his daughter Julia to Pompey, however good a political move it would be, until he is sure that it is what she wants, and that Pompey will be good for her. (In this, he was right.) Caesar is most outspoken with Servilia, though even from her he holds back something of his ambition. The final picture of Caesar that Hardy leaves us with is of a man whom we would like to have as friend, a person whom we can respect for his ability and affability, but not someone to cross or underestimate. Caesar is not a uniformly good man, but we root for him anyhow. Catullus enunciates clearly the idealistic view of what Rome was at its best, but Caesar delineates the corruption that has weakened Rome and sees himself as the one to restore Rome’s integrity, even if it means curbing Rome’s freedom. The secondary characters are fairly predictable and conventionally portrayed: Pompey is something of an innocent and occasionally a wimp; Cicero is full of himself and without much spine; Crassus is money-grubbing and oily; Cato is loud and disagreeable. Hortensius comes in for much more treatment than most novels give him, and he is generally admirable. Caelius is a complete cad. Hardy has a number of good background sequences:the Bona Dea worship, a marriage by confarreatio, a noble’s funeral, all drawn with appropriate detail. He doesn’t often quote Catullus’ poems, but he shows the provenance of various poems or thoughts that will eventually work into poems. The reader who knows the Catullan corpus will recognize what Hardy is doing, but the reader unfamiliar with that material will not be at a loss. When Hardy is relating historical events, his contribution is to show, convincingly, how they might have come about, by giving motives to actions that are not part of the historical record. Clodia is often involved in these motives, through her contacts with Catullus, Clodius, Caesar, Caelius, and her husband Metellus Celer. The New York Times reviewer spoke about 2 major themes in the novel: “physical passion of ...high voltage...dominat[ing] and consum[ing] its victims”: and “Rome...collapsing under its own corruption, self-indulgence and sexual depravity”. It is true that Catullus’ passion for Clodia and hers for Caelius consumes both of them. In the case of Catullus, at least it results in vibrant poetry. Clodia’s passion for Caelius leads to her abasement, with no redeeming feature. However, Caesar’s passion for Servilia is not of the same high voltage, but then it has been around for decades and they have grown comfortable with each other. And the passion between Julia and Pompey (hers involving a bit of hero-worship) is shown to be a good thing, meeting the needs of both of them. Occasional sex scenes are part of the fabric of the novel, but they are not graphic and they are needed to establish character and sometimes causality. Sex and violence are the set-up for Hardy’s take on the cause and manner of the death of Clodia’s husband Metellus. Certainly this period of time is a good choice to show the downhill slide of Roman politics and morals. Clodius’ violation of the Bona Dea rites and the way Caesar responds to it shows that for many Romans religion no longer held much meaning. The stupidity of the senate and the conservatives in blocking ratification of Pompey’s reasonable dispositions in the East. as well as their failure to provide for his discharged veterans, shows petty partisan politics that opened the way for an ambitious, clever noble who was willing to bide his time and work outside the republican framework on his way to sole power and the dismantling of the republic. Hardy presents Clodius as reaching his goal of Master of Rome, through his gang organizations. Clodius is also the only one in the novel to get the better of Caesar, but he overplays his hand and Caesar gains the upper hand by the end of the novel, which only looks forward in anticipation to Milo’s killing of Clodius, Crassus’ death in Parthia and various other details that will not happen until a few years after the book closes. Woven through this latter theme of degeneration is that of the Destiny of Julius Caesar (as he sees it). Time and time again, situations just work out for Caesar, when they could have gone either way (like the meeting of the triumvirs at Luca, where Caesar got exactly what he wanted) or not have occurred at all (like Metellus’ death clearing the way for Caesar to get Gaul in the first place.) That fate is at work here is suggested by the fact that the 3 parts of the novel are titled Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. This reflects the other recurring motif, the passage of time as the stream that can never be stepped into twice. When Catullus returns home to Verona after being burned by Clodia, he thinks he finds everything as he had left it. When he comes back to Verona again with the notion of staying there, he finds that the changes wrought by Caesar’s victories in Gaul have corrupted not only his father (with the lure of financial gain) but even the sweet girl he had once been engaged to (and who now slips out of dinner, leaving her husband behind and going off with Mamurra, the lecher.) Hardy utilizes well correct historical detail, whether of daily life or politics (including Clodius’ possible switch to the side of the conservatives) , the court (especially Cicero’s defense of Caelius) or the army (mainly with Caesar in Gaul). There are a few slips here. He speaks anachronistically about nicotine and he describes a legionary pilum as having a five-foot metal head. I have some doubt about his notion of Romans pairing off for slow-dancing. Clodia knows she must attend to details, which Hardy speaks of as dotting the iotas. Who dots an iota? And Hardy seems to say that Catullus, just setting to sea from Athens, can see dimly the outline of the Troad ahead. Is he speaking figuratively? I won’t tell you how the story ends for Catullus and Clodia. It’s one of a number of ways it could have gone, given the way Hardy has developed the relationship throughout and especially near the end, but it is a possible and definitive one. There is no ending to the story of Caesar; that is still in the future decade, but we know it historically and we could guess it from the novel even if we didn’t know the history. In short, a well-written book (sometimes a little old-fashioned in the phrasings, but not annoyingly so), the works both as literature and as historical introduction to one of the most fascinating periods in Roman, or any, history. Recommended for all readers, high school or above. -Fred Mench, Richard Stockton College, with Michael Glueck 8/03

- Fred Mench, with Michael Glueck, 8/1/2003

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