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Allan Massie (1938 - )

Caesar
Hodder, 1993
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Account of Julius Caesar from the Rubicon to the aftermath of his death, as recounted by his friend & assassin, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus (nickname, "Mouse). Mouse has been captured by Gauls after fleeing from an arrest by Asinius Pollio (sent by Antony & Octavius) after being held for him by L Munatius Plancus, governor of Gallia Comata. As the book opens, he is being held for ransom (which never comes) by a Gallic chieftain, to whose son, Artixes, Mouse tells his story, starting with the crossing of the Rubicon. There is not a great deal of detail about the battles of the civil war that followed, but lots of conversations among major players: the brilliant, affable but flawed Caesar, the often drunken but always engaging soldier Antony, the plotting Cassius, father-in-law (via his loving and lovely daughter Longina) of Mouse, the sybaritic Casca, the young & stalwart Cato, the garrulous, self-important Cicero, the well-regarded but ineffective and timorous Marcus Junius Brutus ("Markie"), the attractive, personable, politically astute Octavius (who has a short affair with Mouse &, presumably, one also with Caesar), the lovely but notorious Clodia, destroyed by Cicero in his Pro Caelio, which causes her to go into a decline & die but also brings Mouse to her as a lover, Calpurnia, grating wife of Caesar, and the bewitching Cleopatra, bedded once by Mouse & regularly by Caesar, a precocious adolescent in Alexandria & a distraction for Caesar in Rome). Minor players include a host of historical characters: all the conspirators against Caesar, various of his enemies & friends. Everything is seen, of course, through the eyes of Mouse, who is, by his own account, Caesar's best friend & most reliable advisor, whose advice is responsible for most of Caesar's best moves and whose advice denied (by Caesar & by the conspirators) spells disaster for both. Since the story is being written by Mouse for posterity & being told to Artixes, familiar with Rome but not completely, Mouse is able to tell lots about the nature of Roman politics and society without appearing to talk stupidly to contemporaries who should know all this already. The story moves along well, though it is more talk than action, and seems historically accurate, except where Massie consciously deviates to give more emphasis to his narrator. Thus, Plutarch has Decimus Albinus lead Antony aside before the attack on Caesar, while Massie gives that role to Trebonius, so his narrator can be on hand for Caesar's death. And at the death, the Brutus that Caesar calls out to as "my son" is Decimus, not Marcus, Brutus, contrary to Plutarch's seeming designee. But this is consistent with the portrayal of the 2 cousins by Massie, who makes Decimus important as advisor, general and friend (& also the author of the Anti-Cato) and Marcus as over-rated & ineffective (always referred to by the narrator as "Markie"). You will find plenty of echoes from Plutarch in Massie, but you'll find even more echoes of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but in general characterization of major figures & in use of specific lines (the faults not being in the stars but in ourselves, etc.) This can be kind of fun, though some may find it intrusive. Decimus (Mouse) comes off as an attractive character, one bound by many ties of affection and duty to Caesar but bound more to his ideal of a free republic. He tries frequently to save Caesar by his counsel, but ultimately has to join the conspiracy against Caesar. The relationships Mouse has with Caesar, with Octavius, with his wife Longina, with Clodia, even with Artixes, his guard, are interesting. I think Massie's readers will come away with a reasonable understanding of the politics of Caesar's day and the historical and social background of the period, even though the pictures of various figures are subject to dispute. There are a few relationships and some language that might make teachers of lower grades need to exercise caution in making an assigned reading of the novel, but everything is handled with discretion. Recommended for high school and above, perhaps in connection with the reading of Shakespeare's play. -Fred Mench

- Fred Mench , 12/15/2005

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