It is twenty years or so since I read this book, but I could not leave a novel of this quality without a review. If you get a chance to buy this book, snap it up. Arden, better known as playwright or political agitator, has produced a gem of a novel.
The setting is the Roman Republic in the years 90-80 BC or thereabouts and the fatal conflict between the factions of Marius and Sulla, culminating in the legalised murders known as the Proscriptions. The story is told by a crippled actor turned stage director, called Ivory, who becomes swept up in the mayhem of civil war. The narrative is wonderfully picaresque, the dialogue as inventive as you might expect from such an accomplished dramatist, the action often extremely funny, the ultimate lesson sobering. Participants are presented by their nicknames (Sulla is the Stain after his blemished face, Marius, the Muledriver, presumably from his army reforms, Mithridates of Pontus, Old Strychnine, a good joke). The approach is resolutely anti-imperialist, as might be expected from this author, the characterisation more than convincing. There is a huge cast: actors, informers, spies, soldiers, politicians, rogues, dancers and prostitutes - many combining a number of roles. Most of the characters are from the subject races, Cuttlefish, a Nubian slave girl, Ivory himself, the Hellenised Paphlagonian son of an Arab tax collector, and most interestingly, HorseFury, a Cimbrian warrior first enslaved by Marius, then the instrument of Marius' vengeance on his enemies in the senate. Then there are the men who tear the world apart, the angry and crazed old soldier, Marius the Mule-Driver, and the cold, cruel Sulla, his stained face, sophisticated and aloof, with his love of theatre and an icy passion for retribution.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A rare gem10 Nov. 2001
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This wonderful novel goes by the title "Vox Pop: Last Days of the Roman Republic" when published in the U.S. The title "Silence Among the Weapons" was used for European publications. I picked this novel up while on a kibbutz in Israel, and thoroughly enjoyed it for its combination of history, setting in theater, and splendid dialogue and wit. Though entertaining, this work also touches the spirit, mixing mirth with desolation and the sense of hollowness that only war can impress upon you. The book flap calls the novel 'picaresque' which I learnt means that there is a bit of lewd behaviour, but by today's standard is barely adult. John Arden was known as a playwright and this book comes across as a four act play. The first book introduces you to the character Ivory who is an actor turned theater agent who finds himself embroiled in some nasty politics between two rival Roman parties whilst in Ephesus around 90 BC. (I visited Ephesus in 1996 - a wonderful archeological and tourist site.) The second book takes you into southern Italy as Ivory tries to navigate the unrest rising throughout the countryside with his acting troupe. His companions are disbursed as chaos fills the land and concludes this book. (I also spent some time in the 'boot' of Itay - Arden aptly paints mayhem in this idyllic land). Book three almost feels like a return to 'Moby Dick' as Ivory boards a crude little pirate ship of ancient Jews - his old life is gone and almost forsaken. Finally the fourth book brings Ivory to the outskirts of Rome and perilously close to the Roman generals fighting the quasi civil war. The story ends up being tragi-comic, as despite the success of our hero, so much pain has been endured that you can't quite feel like anyone has triumphed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
One of the best Historical Novels ever written21 Nov. 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
On finishing "Silence Among the Weapons" my only regret was that John Arden has chosen to be a playwright instead of a novelist. Only Thorton Wilder's "Ides of March" manages to imagine as vividly the fear and terror surrounding the end of the Roman Empire. Quite simply one of the very best novels ever written about Ancient rome.