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Threshold of Fire: A Novel of Fifth Century Rome Hardcover – 30 Aug 2005

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Academy Chicago Publishers; New edition edition (30 Aug. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 089733390X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0897333900
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,460,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A discovery in time and culture 17 Mar. 2000
By Luis GARCIA LAURENT - Published on
Format: Paperback
This was my first enconter with Hella Hasse. The psicological development of the personages and plot, made this book exiting to me. The texture of the story and the development of the characters, in their relationship to the central figure is well done and mantains the readers attention and exitement. Although, this is a historical period which I've enjoyed encountering in my reading, this is the first time that I look at it as a personal experience. The tensions brought about by Chritianity becoming the official religion of the Roman empire are well put forward and are given a reality not found in my other readings on the subject. Now my problem, is to find the time to read all her historical novels. A very enjoyable experince for a historical novel reader like me, who also devotes time to reading history.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The fifth century from the inside 6 Aug. 2005
By SkookumPete - Published on
Format: Paperback
Perhaps because I was expecting something like her In a Dark Wood Wandering, an epic tale that spans decades, I found this hard going at first. What, a historical novel that is scarcely more than the troubled thoughts of one man, and the scribblings of another? But by the time I was finished, I felt that I had experienced something really unique, and I've since gone back to reread it.

The story focuses on two characters: Hadrian, the chief magistrate of Rome, and Claudian, the greatest poet of the age. Of Claudian's life we in fact know little, other than that he hailed from Egypt, had a meteoric career writing panegyrics and invective for the court, and then disappeared from view a few years before his patron at court, Stilicho, was executed by the emperor. For the sake of her story, Haasse assumes that Claudian's origins were humble, that his success was largely due to the help of Hadrian, and that he has lived illegally in Rome for a decade after his fall from court favor. She also postulates that he is fundamentally sympathetic to the pagans, who by this time must practice their rituals in the utmost secrecy, on pain of exile and confiscation of property. When he is implicated in an illegal rite, he appears before the magistrate, and the story is chiefly about what happens between them, and in their thoughts, over the course of a day.

Although this is very much an "interior" sort of book, the sense of historical reality is very strong indeed. As much as I have studied this period, I have never felt such a vivid sense of what it was actually like to be alive then. The religion that defined the state for centuries is now a hole-and-corner affair; Rome is still under the shadow of the Gothic sack that took place a few years earlier; actors who formerly packed the theaters are reduced to playing obscene mimes at private parties. Claudian, living furtively in a tenement, typifies the coming state of classical civilization itself.

There are lapses. One of the remembered characters plays chess, a game that was certainly not invented till two centuries later. The magistrate cites the Theodosian Code -- the law he refers to exists, but the codification didn't come until later. The translation of Claudian's epigram against Hadrian is weak, and doesn't convey the barb that led to Claudian's being forced to apologize to Hadrian; better is "Manlius indulges in sleep both night and day while the sleepless Egyptian steals from gods and men. Peoples of Italy, with all your prayers ask for this: that Manlius keep awake and the Egyptian sleep."

Quibbles aside, this is a short but thought-provoking read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Psychological time travel 9 July 2011
By Spinozist - Published on
Format: Paperback
A most interesting and unusual time, a time on the cusp, with the unstoppable erosion of an old way of life and belief, the word pagan is really wrong, pantheist would be more apt, the old time religious sense which saw god and gods everywhere and in all things. This all being supplanted by the clarity and positivity of Christian beliefs, Christianity vehemently and ruthlessly sweeping away the old mores.

This is a fantastic and subtle story of a Christian magistrate, the Prefect Hadrian, sitting in judgement on a poet of the late Roman Empire, Claudius Claudianus. The outcome of this judgement propels the plot forward with a nice momentum. The writing is very interior and psychological, so that actually feels transported to that time in a natural way. The use of flashbacks adds to this effect. It is beautifully written and translated. This is very much in the spirit of Fellini's Satyricon, the waning of a way of life. Italians today are very religious and so were Romans, except it was called superstition then. If you enjoyed the movie Agora, this is close to that time period.

Personally I think the author misjudged the religious spirit of the ancient Roman religion a little, seeing a darker bloodlust in the animal sacrifices rather than a genuinely religious reverence and worship. Then there is also in this book the connection to Jews of that time and Egypt too, both representing the long lineage of religious belief out of which Christianity emerged, lineages that would also suffer at the hands of the new triumphant faith.

All in all one the better historical novels of Ancient Rome, short but it packs quite a punch.Sophisticated. Elegiac. Mysterious. Sad and beautiful.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Ennui Encapsulated, the true heart of Rome's passion 15 Dec. 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
The first time I read this book I hated it; someone had given it to me to write a review and I couldn't say anything good, so I didn't write one. The second time I read it was after reviewing all of Gibbon's Decline and Fall..still caught up in the mood of how horribly we Christians became just as jaded-persecutory as those who had persecuted us. So, thus caught up, I noticed that what REALLY got to everyone in Rome was kinda like what happened to the Laodiceans -- been there, done that, what's the new pleasure now.
Haasse captures it perfectly. I couldn't put the book down, couldn't sleep. History books, even eloquent ones like Gibbon and Mommsen, can't give you the LIVING flavor of the time. But that's Haasse's specialty, I just learned. Enjoy! Oh -- and don't ask me to give you my free copy of her book (from years ago). I will take it to my grave!
The ONLY reason I didn't give it 5 Stars is that I wanted the novel to be longer. But, given it's about Rome, like with Greek plays the action has to take place over a day (or two). Alas...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
An Amazing Historical Writer 10 April 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I ordered this book after reading two other Hella Hasse novels. If you are a lover of historical fiction (and not of the Phillipa Gregory sort), I recomment it highly. It is the story of early Christian times, post Roman Empire and is written elegantly. The characters spring to life. Even better than this one is her "In A Dark Wood Wandering".
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