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Edward Thomson (ps)

Atilus the Gladiator (The gladiators ; 2)
Futura, 1975
Barnes & Noble


REC: adult reader plot summary: a captured Briton becomes a gladiator caveats: explicit sex scenes, graphic portrayal of combat in the arena, sadistic violence This novel starts with a good opening paragraph which explains Rome's interest in Britain. Ten-year-old Atilus watches the defeat of Caractacus and the subsequent rape and murder of his mother. After his capture, he is sold and sent to Vienne, to be companion to Macer, son of a widower. The master's young wife seduces Atilus; he is sold to a lanista. When he wins a fight, Atilus is sent to the Imperial gladiatorial school where he makes lasting friendships with his trainer Caecina and another gladiator, Agonestes. In his first major combat, Atilus attracts the attention of Agrippina, who hires him to be Nero's bodyguard. The author gives us glimpses of Claudius, Seneca, Narcissus, Acte, Petronius, Poppaea, Octavia, and Tigellinus. There are longer passages about Agrippina and Nero. Thomson is definitely unsympathetic to the Imperial family, especially Nero, whom he describes as a spoiled and petulant young man. Atilus is still a slave, however, and he burns to be free. After Agrippina sends him to Locusta to obtain poison, she plots to have him killed in the arena. Her plan fails; Atilus does so well in this combat that he receives the rudis. Caecina advises Atilus to go to different Italian cities and fight occasionally to earn food and shelter. After 5 years, Agrippina dies, Atilus returns to Rome, and regains Nero's friendship. He is re-united with Macer, now a praetorian, who wishes to become one of Nero's inner circle. Nero "suggests" that Atilus find and train a troop of female gladiators. After the women fight, Atilus frees the survivors, as he had promised. At the beginning of the novel, the author states his belief that female gladiators started during Nero's reign and continued until Septimius Severus banned them. Four years later, Atilus loses most of his hard-earned money when a merchant ship he has sponsored is plundered by pirates. Some of his patrician friends propose a partnership in which Atilus becomes a lanista to train men for private combats where quality fighting is appreciated. His friend Agonestes helps with the training. As Atilus journeys to Lyon looking for future trainees, he meets an Iceni woman, Lavinia Viventia, whom he buys and frees. She refuses to leave Atilus, and accompanies him to Rome where she wins his love. Livius, a sadistic young patrician, harms one of the gladiators. Enraged by this act, Atilus leaves the partnership. When Rome burns and Atilus loses his house, the two Iceni decide to return to Britain "to the misted groves where men were not butchered for a holiday and where ...children could run free." The reader learns a great deal about gladiators--their training, the types of gladiators, their weapons, and other entertainments in the arena. Thomson is definitely anti-Rome: the slavery, the debauchery, the gladiators, the Imperial tyranny. Lavinia insults Atilus by saying that he has become a Roman. Most of the sympathetic characters are fellow slaves and gladiators. There is even some "comic relief" in the form of Heraculis, an older slave who constantly harangues Atilus. The patricians are either foolish (female groupies) or conniving (partners, and sycophants in Nero's court). - Roz Harper 7/99

- Roz Harper, 7/1/1999

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