on 16 April 2002
For a devoted fan of Paul Doherty his latest book Domina was a terrible disappointment. Research appears to have been limited to the gossip of Suetonius' "Life of the Caesars". A propaganda pamphlet commissioned by the Flavians to make them look good when compared to their predecessors. All the mostly untrue stories are here. Tiberius the ghastly recluse in Capri, Claudius the cretin and of course Nero the monster. No Roman emperor would ever say "I am the Emperor of Rome". Their title since Augustus was Princeps. The military title imperator was assumed to indicate command of the army. No wife of any emperor would ever call herself empress, the feminine form of Caesar/Augustus/Imperator did not exist. The meeting room of the Senate was not an amphitheater, it looked remarkably like the present House of Commons with the presiding consuls on a dais just like the present day Speaker. Just go and look at the Comitium in the Roman Forum, it still stands there. The senators wore a white toga with broad red stripes. Any Roman citizen was entitled to wear a white toga. One of Nero's cronies wears a purple, gold edged toga in the book. Now really !
Paul Doherty would have greatly benefited from reading Allan Massie's "Tiberius" or the classic
"I Claudius" and "Claudius the God". Stephen Saylor and Lindsay Davis manage a far better picture of ancient Rome.
I've read a lot of Paul Doherty (or P C Doherty) over the years; all great historical novels, set in different times and places - from Medieval Europe to Ancient Eygpt.
This is the first in a series of novels set in Imperial Rome - this book tells the tale of Agrippina the Younger - great-granddaughter of Augustus, great-niece and adoptive granddaughter of Tiberius, sister to Caligula, niece and wife of Claudius, and mother of Nero. Quite a lineage in there - and to be honest, to survive in those times, with those family connections, you'd have to be a tough cookie. And from all accounts Agrippina the Younger was just that. Without giving too much away in the story, the novel tells of how Agrippina's love for her son Nero, overcoming her lifetime of scheming and power, leads to her ultimate downfall. The story is told from the perspective of her secretarius Parmenon, who has been with her for many years, and tells her story with empathy and compassion, as well as understanding.
This story is thrilling stuff - it's hard to believe the lives that these people led; power was the ultimate goal, madness the ultimate emotion. Agrippina's story is told here with an insight that must have been hard to achieve with so many very unlikeable characters; a really entertaining novel, and the start to what I hope will be another enjoyable series from Mr Doherty.