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Vincent Panella

Cutter's Island: Caesar in Captivity
Academy , 2000

Reviews:

We all know that Caesar was captured by pirates, ransomed and then took his revenge on the pirate by crucifying them. But what was it like on the island? What went through Caesar's mind? In Panella's view, life in the ancient world was short, nasty and brutish, both for the pirates and the Romans. Murder (pirates against Romans, Romans against pirates, Romans against Romans, gladiators in the arena) was a way of life and punishment, quick or slow, was gruesome. Caesar rose above it all, because he was loved by two very different women: his young and idealistic wife, Cornelia, and his older and very politically savvy lover, Servilia. Servilia guides and counsels Caesar and their torrid love scenes are graphically depicted (thereby making this unsuitable for high school students). Caesar and the pirate Cutter have a love/hate relationship, but we know Cutter is doomed. His life story, told to justify his hatred of the Romans, is compelling. Panella gives us samples of Caesar's poetry and prose - florid and quite different from the style of the Gallic Wars. I must admit it's not the sort of poetry I would expect from Caesar. This book is very short but well written (if a little flowery in descriptions of scenery and rather Homeric in descriptions of the sunrise). It's interesting to see a different view of Caesar. I recommend it for adults, not high school students. Ruth Breindel

- Ruth Breindel, 12/16/2005


Two historical novels on Julius Caesar were recently released, Vincent Panella's first-person account, Cutter's Island: Caesar in Captivity (Academy Press, Chicago, 2000, 197 pages, ISBN 0-89733-484-1), and Patricia Anne Hunter's omniscient third-person narrative, No Other Caesar (Authors Choice Press, 2001, 224 pages, ISBN 0-595-15778-5). Short but rewarding is Panella's first-person account of a small but critical stage in the life of Julius Caesar, the time he spent in 75 BC as a captive of the pirates on their secluded island. The telling is vigorous, the characters of Caesar and of the head pirate, Cutter, are well-developed, and the concentration on a single sequence of events is tailored to keep the reader's interest and understanding growing in tandem. Hunter gives you full value for your money as far as text is concerned, but - given the myriad historical details that she includes in an effort to cover all of Caesar's recorded life - she has understandable difficulty fitting in a full development of characters other than Caesar. She begins with Caesar's famous intereview with Sulla (¿In that boy there's many a Marius") in 81, when the dictator tried, unsuccessfully, to get Caesar to divorce Cornelia, daughter of Cinna, and she follows him through the rest of his political and military career, right up to the closing scene in the hall of Pompey's theater on March 15, 44, taken from Suetonius's Life of Julius Caesar. The penultimate line of the novel is "Even you, boy?" - rendered by Shakespeare as "Et tu, Brute?" Both novels are well worth reading. Choose Panella's lively work if you prefer more depth and, through Caesar's experiences with the pirates, a foreshadowing of Caesar's character as it will eventually be revealed. Choose Hunter's tightly-packed account, if, instead, you wish to follow the development of that character all the way from the bold defiance of Sulla¿s wishes that could have gotten him killed, through the full realization of that very boldness and decisiveness in the heat of battle and chill of politics, right up to the careless indifference about his own death that led him to ignore all the portents and warnings and on the very Ides of March to make himself the object of "the most senseless crime in history" (Hunter quoting Theodor Mommsen). A cautionary note: neither book is overly violent or pornographic, but both contain sexual passages (auto-erotic in Panella) that might warrant a PG-13 rating. Be sure to read them first before assigning them to a high school class. Fred Mench 9/2001

- Fred Mench (shorter), 9/1/2001


Two historical novels on Julius Caesar were recently released, Vincent Panella's first-person account, Cutter's Island: Caesar in Captivity (Academy Press, Chicago, 2000, 197pages, ISBN 0-89733-484-1), and Patricia Anne Hunter's omniscient third-person narrative, No Other Caesar (Authors Choice Press, 2001, 224 pages, ISBN 0-595-15778-5). Panella and Hunter take two different approaches to writing a novel about Caesar, each with advantages and disadvantages. Even if you are put off by the fact that, with only 125 pages worth of text, you are paying for a lot of white space, you may still find rewarding Panella's first-person account of a small but critical stage in the life of Julius Caesar, the time he spent in 75 BC as a captive of the pirates on their secluded island.The telling is vigorous, the characters of Caesar and of the head pirate, Cutter, are well-developed, and the concentration on a single sequence of events is tailored to keep the reader's interest and understanding growing in tandem. Hunter gives you full value for your money as far as text is concerned, but - given the myriad historical details that she includes in an effort to cover all of Caesar's recorded life - she has understandable difficulty fitting in a full development of characters other than Caesar. She begins with Caesar's famous intereview with Sulla ("In that boy there's many a Marius") in 81, when the dictator tried, unsuccessfully, to get Caesar to divorce Cornelia, daughter of Cinna, and she follows him through the rest of his political and military career, right up to the closing scene in the hall of Pompey's theater on March 15, 44, taken from Suetonius's Life of Julius Caesar. The penultimate line of the novel is "Even you, boy?" - rendered by Shakespeare as "Et tu, Brute?" Both authors are concerned with historical fidelity to ancient evidence. To be sure, both also fill in detail and present characters who are not authentic, but in both works the fictional characters are quite few. Given his narrower focus, Panella involves his characters - especially Caesar, Cutter and, to a lesser extent, Cornelia - in embellished event and dialogue, all sufficiently plausible and based wherever possible on ancient material. Since to focus exclusively on the pirate island would leave the author little opportunity to add variety and to showcase the nuances of Caesar's character, Panella shows Caesar flashing back to earlier events, including his marriage to Cornelia and his affair with Servilia. In contrast, with her wide sweep, Hunter cannot develop minor characters with the same degree of invention, although she does that quite interestingly for Mark Antony, Labienus, Cleopatra, and Calpurnia. Whereas Panella concentrates on character, Hunter emphasizes historical events. Both authors are also clearly Caesar supporters - a trait which they share with their contemporary, Colleen McCullough, in all of her Roman novels. (Of course, McCullough has written five novels, of which the shortest contains 640 pages, the longest 815.) All three authors' pro-Caesar biases produce a natural tendency to interpret events favorably to their hero. and Panella and Hunter do this consistently throughout their novels, whereas McCullough becomes somewhat negative about Caesar toward the end of her most recent novel and plans at least one more installment in the sequence. Hunter offers some background details that are either incorrect - e.g., orange juice, city police, and lawyers' fees - or unattested, or which are at least subject to differing interpretations, but all the characters and events seem true to the ancient evidence. Perhaps Cato was not as oafish as Hunter presents him, but such a stance seems inevitable in modern novels sympathetic to Caesar. Hunter also includes in passing some convincing interpretations and correlations, but sometimes her transitions seem abrupt, perhaps as a consequence of the omniscient author's ability to make leaps in time and space, and some sections read more like history lessons than a novel, as is inevitable when one is trying to cover Caesar's entire career in a brief compass. To overcome this limitation, she would have to double the length of her book. Both novels are well worth reading. Choose Panella's lively work if you prefer more depth and, through Caesar's experiences with the pirates, a foreshadowing of Caesar's character as it will eventually be revealed. Choose Hunter's tightly-packed account, if, instead, you wish to follow the development of that character all the way from the bold defiance of Sulla's wishes that could have gotten him killed, through the full realization of that very boldness and decisiveness in the heat of battle and chill of politics, right up to the careless indifference about his own death that led him to ignore all the portents and warnings and on the very Ides of March to make himself the object of "the most senseless crime in history" (Hunter quoting Theodor Mommsen). A cautionary note: neither book is overly violent or pornographic, but both contain sexual passages (auto-erotic in Panella) that might warrant a PG-13 rating. Be sure to read them first before assigning them to a high school class. Fred Mench Professor of Classics 6/2001

- Fred Mench (longer), 6/1/2001

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