A Mist of Prophecies (Roma Sub Rosa Series #9)

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During the Roman Civil War, as the forces of Pompey and Julius Caesar fight a series of battles in the provinces over control of the Republic, Rome itself is a hotbed of intrigue as those left behind wait for word. In this tentative and treacherous environment, a beautiful young seeress is murdered in the marketplace. Possibly mad and claiming no memory of her own past, Cassandra - like her namesake - is reputed to have had the true gift of prophecy and, as a result, she became ...
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A Mist of Prophecies (Roma Sub Rosa Series #9)

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Overview

During the Roman Civil War, as the forces of Pompey and Julius Caesar fight a series of battles in the provinces over control of the Republic, Rome itself is a hotbed of intrigue as those left behind wait for word. In this tentative and treacherous environment, a beautiful young seeress is murdered in the marketplace. Possibly mad and claiming no memory of her own past, Cassandra - like her namesake - is reputed to have had the true gift of prophecy and, as a result, she became a confidante of the rich and powerful.

Gordianus the Finder, who had become obsessed with the woman and her mystery, starts to investigate her murder. As the political situation in Rome continues to decay, the citizenry veers towards ruin, and everyone waits for word out in the far off fields of war, Gordianus begins to peel away the veils of secrecy that surround Cassandra's life and death. What lies underneath involves one, possibly many, of the most powerful women in Rome and the truth could not only put Gordianus's life in danger but affect the very future of Rome itself.

Author Biography: Steven Saylor has had a lifelong fascination with ancient Rome, from the drive-in movies of his boyhood (Cleopatra, Spartacus, Ben Hur), to his degree in history from the University of Texas, and through his appearances on the History Channel as an expert on Roman politics and life. He is the author of nine volumes in the Roma Sub Rosa series, most recently Last Seen in Massilia, as well as A Twist at the End, a historical novel set in 19th century Texas. He divides his time between Berkeley, California and Austin, Texas.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Saylor's ninth outstanding Roman historical (after 2000's Last Seen in Massilia), it's 48 B.C. and the Empire is wracked by civil war and civic unrest. In Rome, the beautiful and enigmatic seeress, Cassandra, has everyone from Forum "chin-waggers" to high-society matrons entranced by her convulsionlike attacks of prophecy. Gordianus the Finder, more captivated than most, finds himself involved professionally and romantically with the seeming madwoman. Officially he's retired from his finding duties, but he resumes the hunt after Cassandra, just before dying in his arms in the market, whispers, "She's poisoned me!" Seven of Rome's most influential women including Caesar's wife, Calpurnia attend the seeress's humble funeral. All have something to do with Cassandra's fate, just as she, in secret ways, has something to do with the fate of Rome itself. The action picks up as Gordianus interviews these women and tries to sort out their connections to Cassandra. Conversations among Gordianus's chin-waggers also serve to clarify the situation. As usual, Saylor's research is impeccable, but the history never distracts from the very human drama. Especially touching is Gordianus's wife, Bethesda, whose "malady" is a source of concern and mystery to her errant husband. With this intelligent and compelling story, Saylor shows once again why fans of ancient historicals regard him as the leader of the field. Author tour. (May 20) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In the ninth book in Saylor's "Roma Sub Rosa" series of mysteries set in ancient Rome, Gordianus the Finder has now retired from his life as an investigator of crime and political intrigue and has settled into peaceful domesticity with his family. But his newfound tranquility is soon shattered by a series of events brought on by the continuing struggle between Julius Caesar and Pompey for supremacy over Rome. Gordianus's wife falls ill, the city is in upheaval owing to food shortages and rising prices, and factions within the city begin to vie for power in Caesar's absence. When Cassandra, a beautiful seeress who is subject to epileptic seizures and prophetic outbursts, is poisoned and dies in his arms, Gordianus is drawn out of retirement and into an increasingly dangerous investigation of the murder. Intriguing both as a mystery and as a historical novel, this should find a wide audience. Readers will enjoy the plot twists, the deft portrayal of characters, and the attention to historical detail. Saylor is particularly fine in his presenting of the common people of Rome. Recommended for larger public libraries. Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Like her ill-fated namesake who prophesied the fall of Troy and her own death, the Roman seer who called herself Cassandra profited little from her gift of second sight, reflects Gordianus the Finder as the meager funeral procession he's organized approaches her cremation site. Four days earlier, as the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey raged throughout the city, Cassandra had stumbled into his arms in a local market, gasping that she'd been poisoned, but died before she could identify the woman who killed her. Now, at the site of her virtually anonymous last rites, Gordianus suddenly sees some wholly unexpected mourners: the wives of Caesar, Marc Antony, and Gordianus' old mentor Cicero; Antony's actress lover Cytheris; Fausta, daughter of the late dictator Sulla and wife of the fugitive killer Milo; Fulvia, widow of Clodius, the rival Milo murdered; and Clodius' sister Clodia. It would be impossible to imagine a more stellar lineup of suspects in all imperial Rome. Urged on by his daughter Diana's threat to investigate in his stead and by his own hidden relationship with Cassandra, Gordianus intersperses interviews with each of the seven mourners with flashbacks to his meetings with the prophet until her pivotal role in the crisis threatening the empire becomes clear. Though it certainly is worth waiting for the payoff, Gordianus' ninth case packs more than its share of unassimilated history that's hard for a mere novelist to top. Newcomers to the series are advised to start, for example, with Last Seen in Massilia (2000).
From the Publisher
"As usual, Saylor's research is impeccable, but the history never distracts from the very human drama.... With this intelligent and compelling story, Saylor shows once again why fans of ancient historicals regard him as the leader of the field."

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

 

“The problem with a writer with the brilliance of Steven Saylor is that he leaves almost impossible standards for other writers to measure up to. With A Mist of Prophecies, Saylor exceeds even his usual standards of excellence.”

El Paso Times

 

“Vivid and robust...exquisite detail and powerful drama.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

 

“If you want to visit Rome—ancient Rome—this is the way to go!”

Oklahoman

 

“It would be impossible to imagine a more stellar lineup of suspects in all imperial Rome.”

Kirkus Reviews

 

“A fascinating work!”

Midwest Book Review

 

“One of the best mystery series being published today...A pitch-perfect work...gripping prose.”

Austin Chronicle

 

“Saylor writes with such easy grace that the politics of these vicious times become as captivating to the reader as the mystery of Cassandra’s life and violent death.”

Tampa Tribune & Times

 

"A gritty depiction of the underbelly of the great city in its heyday...The secret history of Rome has never been so fascinating.”

—Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597222532
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 6/28/2006
  • Series: Roma Sub Rosa Series , #9
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 453
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Saylor has had a lifelong fascination with ancient Rome, from the drive-in movies of his boyhood (Cleopatra, Spartacus, Ben Hur), to his degree in history from the University of Texas, and through his appearances on the History Channel as an expert on Roman politics and life. He is the author of the Roma Sub Rosa series as well as A Twist at the End, a historical novel set in 19th century Texas. He divides his time between Berkeley, California and Austin, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The last time I saw Cassandra . . .

I was about to say: the last time I saw Cassandra was on the day of her death. But that would be untrue. The last time I saw her—gazed upon her face, ran my fingers over her golden hair, dared to touch her cold cheek—was on her funeral day.

It was I who made all the arrangements. There was no one else to do it. No one else came forward to claim her body.

I call her Cassandra, but that was not her real name, of course. No parents would ever give a child such an accursed name, any more than they would name a baby Medea or Medusa or Cyclops. Nor would any master give such an ill-omened name to a slave. Others called her Cassandra because of the special gift they believed her to possess. Like the original Cassandra, the doomed princess of ancient Troy, it seemed that our Cassandra could foretell the future. Little good that accursed gift did either of the women who bore that name.

She called herself what others called her, Cassandra, saying she could no longer remember her real name or who her parents were or where she came from. Some thought the gods had given her glimpses of the future to compensate for robbing her of the past.

Someone else robbed her of the present. Someone snuffed out the flame that burned inside her and lit her with an inner glow such as I have seen in no other mortal. Someone murdered Cassandra.

As I said, it fell to me to make the funeral arrangements. No outraged friend or lover, no grieving parent or sibling came forward to claim her. The young man who had been her sole companion, the mute she called Rupa—bodyguard, servant, relative, lover?—vanished when she was murdered.

For three days her body rested on a bier in the foyer of my house on the Palatine Hill. The embalmers clothed her in white and surrounded her with pine branches to scent the air. Her killer had done nothing to destroy Cassandra's beauty; it was poison that killed her. Drained of color, Cassandra's smooth cheeks and tender lips took on a waxen, opalescent quality, as if she were carved from translucent white marble. The hair that framed her face looked like hammered gold, cold and hard to the touch.

By day, illuminated by sunbeams that poured through the atrium skylight, she looked no more alive than a white marble statue. But each night, while the rest of the household slept, I stole from my wife's bed and crept to the foyer to gaze at Cassandra's body. There were times—strange moments such as occur only in the middle of the night, when the mind is weary and flickering lamplight plays tricks on an old man's eyes-when it seemed hardly possible that the body on the bier could be truly dead. The lamplight infused Cassandra's face with a warm glow. Her hair shimmered with highlights of red and yellow. It seemed that at any moment she might open her eyes and part her lips to draw a quickening breath. Once I even dared to touch my lips to hers, but I drew back with a shudder, for they were as cold and unresponsive as the lips of a statue.

I placed a black wreath on my door. Such wreaths are a warning in one sense, alerting others to the presence of death in the household, but in another sense they issue an invitation: come, pay your final respects. But not a single visitor came to view Cassandra's body. Not even one of those compulsive gossips came to pester us, the type who make the rounds of the city looking for wreaths and knocking on doors of people they've never met, just to have a look at the latest corpse so they can deliver an opinion on the embalmers' handiwork. I alone mourned Cassandra.

Perhaps, I thought, death and funerals had become too commonplace in Rome for the passing of a single woman of unknown family, commonly thought to be as mad as-well, as mad as Cassandra-to excite any interest. The whole world was swept up in a civil war that dwarfed all other conflicts in the history of the world. Warriors were dying by the hundreds and thousands on land and on sea. Despairing wives were wasting into oblivion. Ruined debtors were found hanging from rafters. Greedy speculators were stabbed in their sleep. All was ruin, and the future promised only more death and suffering on a scale never known before by humankind. Beautiful Cassandra, who'd haunted the streets of Rome uttering shrill, crazy prophecies, was dead—and no one cared enough to come and see her body.

And yet, someone had cared enough to murder her.

When the period of mourning was done, I summoned the strongest of my household slaves to lift the bier onto their shoulders. The members of my household formed the funeral cortege, except for my wife, Bethesda, who had been ill for quite some time and was not well enough to go out that day. In her place my daughter, Diana, walked beside me, and beside her walked her husband, Davus. Behind us walked my son Eco and his wife, Menema, and their golden-headed twins, now old enough, at eleven, to understand the somber nature of the occasion. Hieronymus the Massilian, who had been residing in my house since his arrival in Rome the previous year, also came; he had suffered much in his life and had known the pain of being outcast, so I think he felt a natural bond of sympathy with Cassandra. My household slaves, few in number, followed, among them the brothers Androcles and Mopsus, who were not quite as old as Eco's children. For once, sensing the gravity of the occasion, they behaved themselves.

So that all would be done fittingly, I hired three musicians to lead the procession. They played a mournful dirge, one blowing a horn and another a flute, while the third shook a bronze rattle. My neighbors in their stately houses on the Palatine heard them coming from a distance and either closed their shutters, irritated at the noise, or opened them, curious to have a look at the funeral party.

After the musicians came the hired mourners. I settled for four, the most I could afford considering the state of my finances, even though they worked cheaply. I suppose there was no shortage of women in Rome who could draw upon their own tragedies to produce tears for a woman they had never known. These four had worked together on previous occasions and performed with admirable professionalism. They shivered and wept, shuffled and staggered but never collided, pulled at their tangled hair, and took turns chanting the refrain of the playwright Naevius's famous epitaph: " 'If the death of any mortal saddens hearts immortal, the gods above must weep at this woman's death . . . .' "

Next came the mime. I had debated whether to hire one, but in the end it seemed proper. I had been told he came from Alexandria and was the best man in Rome for this sort of thing. He wore a mask with feminine features, a blond wig, and a blue tunica such as Cassandra wore. I myself had coached him on mimicking Cassandra's gait and mannerisms. For the most part his gestures were too broad and generic, but every so often, whether by accident or design, he struck an attitude that epitomized Cassandra to an uncanny degree and sent a shiver through me.

i0Funeral mimes are usually allowed a great deal of latitude to caricature and gently lampoon their subject, but I had forbidden this; it is one thing to sketch a loving parody of a deceased patriarch or a public figure, but too little was known about Cassandra's life to offer fodder for humor. Still, the mime could not offer a portrait of her without imitating the one thing that everyone would recall about her: her fits of prophecy. Every so often, he suddenly convulsed and spun about, then threw back his head and let out a strange, unnerving ululation. It was not an exact imitation of the real thing, only a suggestion-not even remotely as frightening or uncanny as the real Cassandra's episodes of possession by the god-but it was close enough to cause any bystanders who had ever seen Cassandra prophesy in the Forum or in a public market to nod and say to themselves, So that's who's lying upon that funeral bier. Directly after the mime came Cassandra herself, carried aloft and ensconced amid fresh flowers and evergreen boughs, her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes closed as if she slept. After Cassandra came the members of my household, marching in solemn procession for a woman none of them but myself had actually known.

We strode slowly past the great houses on the Palatine and then down into the region of the Subura, where the narrow streets teemed with life. Even in these impious days, when men scorn the gods and the gods scorn us in return, people pay their respects when a funeral passes by. They stopped squabbling or gossiping or bargaining, shut their mouths, and stood aside to let the dead and the mourning pass.

Often, as a funeral cortege makes its way through Rome, others join the retinue, inspired to pay their respects by following along behind the family and adding to the train. This invariably happens with the funerals of the famous and powerful, and often even with those of the humble, if they were well-known and well liked in the community. But on that day, no one joined us. Whenever I looked over my shoulder, I saw only a gap behind the last of our retinue, and then the crowd closing ranks behind us, turning their attention away from the passing spectacle and getting back to their business.

And yet, we were observed, and we were followed-as I soon would discover.

At length, we came to the Esquiline Gate. Passing through its portals, we stepped from the city of the living into the city of the dead. Sprawling over the gently sloping hillsides, as far as the eye could see, was the public necropolis of Rome. Here the unmarked graves of slaves and the modest tombs of common citizens were crowded close together. Ours was not the only funeral that day. Here and there, plumes of smoke from funeral pyres rose into the air, scenting the necropolis with the smells of burning wood and flesh.

A little way off the road, atop a small hill, the pyre for Cassandra had already been prepared. While her bier was being laid upon it and the keepers of the flame set about stoking the fire, I stepped into the Temple of Venus Libitina, where the registry of deaths is kept.

The clerk who attended me was officious and sullen from the moment he slammed his record book onto the counter that separated us. I told him I wanted to register a death. He opened the hinged wooden diptych with its inlaid wax tablets and took up his stylus.

"Citizen, slave, or foreigner?" he asked curtly.

"I'm not sure."

"Not sure?" He looked at me as if I had entered the temple with the specific intention of wasting his time.

"I didn't really know her. No one seems to have known her."

"Not part of your household?"

"No. I'm only attending to her funeral because-"

"A foreigner then, visiting the city?"

"I'm not sure."

He slammed shut his record book and brandished his stylus at me. "Then go away and don't come back until you are sure."

I reached across the counter and grabbed the front of his tunic in my fist. "She died four days ago, here in Rome, and you will enter her death into the registry."

The clerk blanched. "Certainly," he squeaked.

It was only as I gradually released him that I realized how hard I had been clutching his tunic. His face was red, and it took him a moment to catch his breath. He made a show of reasserting his dignity, straightening his tunic, and slicking back his hair. With great punctiliousness, he opened his register and pressed his stylus to the wax. "Name of the deceased?" he asked, his voice breaking. He coughed to clear his throat.

"I'm not sure," I said.

i0

His mouth twitched. He bit his tongue. He kept his eyes on the register. "Nevertheless, I have to put down something for a name."

"Put down Cassandra, then." "Very well." He pressed the letters crisply into the hard wax. "Her place of origin?"

"I told you, 1 don't know."

He clicked his tongue. "But I have to put something. If she was a Roman citizen, I have to know her family name; and if she was married, her husband's name. If she was a foreigner, I have to know where she came from. If she was a slave—"

"Then write, 'Origin unknown.' "

He opened his mouth to speak then thought better of it. "Highly irregular," he muttered, as he wrote what I told him. "I don't suppose you know the date of her birth?"

I glowered at him.

"I see. 'Birthdate unknown,' then. And the date of her death? Four days ago, you said?"

"Yes. She died on the Nones of Sextilis."

"And the cause of her death?"

"Poison," I said, through gritted teeth. "She was poisoned."

"I see," he said, showing no emotion and hurriedly scribbling. "With a name like Cassandra," he said under his breath, "you might think she'd have seen it coming. And what is your name? I have to have it to complete the record."

I felt another impulse to strike him, but resisted. "Gordianus, called the Finder."

"Very well, then. There, I've written the entry just as you wished. 'Name of deceased: Cassandra. Family and status unknown. Birthdate unknown. Death by poison on the Nones of Sextilis, Year of Rome 706. Reported by Gordianus, called the Finder.' Does that satisfy you, citizen?"

I said nothing and walked away, toward the pillars that flanked the entrance. Behind me I heard him mutter, "Finder, eh? Perhaps he should find out who poisoned her . . . ."

I walked down the temple steps and back toward the funeral pyre, staring at the ground, seeing nothing. I felt the heat of the fire as I drew closer; and when I finally lifted my eyes, I beheld Cassandra amid the flames. Her bier had been tilted upright so that the funeral party could view the final moments of her physical existence. The musicians quickened their tempo from a mournful dirge to a shrill lament. The hired mourners dropped to their knees, pounded their fists against the earth, screamed and wailed.

A gust of wind suddenly whipped the flames higher. The roar of the fire was punctuated with loud cracking and popping and sizzling noises. While I watched, the flames gradually consumed her, frizzling her hair, withering and charring her flesh, turning everything black, destroying her beauty forever. The wind blew smoke in my eyes, stinging them, filling them with tears. I tried to look away—I wanted to look away-but I couldn't. Even this awful spectacle constituted one more moment, one final chance to look upon Cassandra.

I reached into my toga and pulled out a short baton made of leather. It had belonged to Cassandra; it was the only one of her possessions that still existed. I clutched it in my fist for a moment, then hurled it into the flames.

I felt Diana's presence beside me, then the touch of her hand on my arm. "Papa, look."

I finally tore my eyes from the funeral pyre. I looked blankly at my daughter's face. Her eyes—so beloved, so vibrantly alive—met mine, then turned elsewhere. I followed her gaze. We were no longer alone. Others had come to witness Cassandra's end. They must have arrived while I was in the temple or staring at the flames. The separate groups stood well away from the fire, scattered in a semicircle behind us. There were seven entourages in all. I looked at each in turn, hardly able to believe what I was seeing.

Seven of the wealthiest, most powerful, most remarkable women in Rome had come to the necropolis to see Cassandra burn. They had not joined in the public funeral procession, yet here they were, each woman seated in a litter surrounded by her own retinue of relatives, bodyguards, and litter bearers, not one of them acknowledging the presence of any of the others, all keeping their distance from ourselves and from each other, each gazing steadily straight ahead at the funeral pyre.

I took stock of them, looking from left to right.

First, there was Terentia, the pious, always proper wife of Cicero. With her husband off in Greece to side with Pompey in the civil war, Terentia was said to be hard-pressed to make ends meet, and in fact her litter was the most modest. The draperies that surrounded the box were no longer white but shabby gray, with tatters here and there. But her litter was also the largest, and squinting, 1 made out two other women in the litter with her. One was her daughter, Tullia, the apple of Cicero's eye. The other was farther back in the shadows, but from her distinctive clothing and headdress, I saw she was a Vestal Virgin. No doubt it was Fabia, Terentia's sister, who in younger days had very nearly met her end for breaking her sacred vow of chastity.

In the next litter I saw Antonia, the cousin and wife of Marc Antony, Caesar's right-hand man. While Caesar had been off fighting his enemies in Spain, Antony had been left in charge of Italy. Now both men had departed for northern Greece to do battle with Pompey. Antonia was said to be a very attractive woman. I had never formally met her and might not have recognized her except for the bronze lions' heads that surmounted the upright supports at each corner of her litter. The lion's head was Antony's symbol.

Her presence was all the more remarkable because of the woman whose litter was next in the semicircle. Anyone in Rome would have recognized that gaudy green box decorated with pink-and-gold tassels, for Cytheris, the actress, always made a show of her comings and goings. She was Antony's lover, and he had made no secret of that fact while he ruled Rome in Caesar's absence, traveling all over Italy with her. People called her his understudy-wife. Cytheris was famous for her beauty, though I myself had never seen her close enough to get a good look. Those who had seen her perform in mime shows for her former master, Volumnius the banker, said she was talented as well, able by the subtlest gestures and expressions to evoke a whole range of responses in her audience-lust not least among them. She and Antonia cast not a single glance in each other's direction, apparently oblivious of one another.

I looked to the next litter, which was draped in shades of deepest blue and black suitable for mourning, and recognized Fulvia, the twice-widowed. She had been married first to Clodius, the radical politician and rabble-rouser. After his murder four years ago on the Appian Way and the chaos that followed—the beginning of the end of the Republic, it seemed in retrospect—Fulvia had eventually remarried, joining her fortunes to Caesar's beloved young lieutenant, Gaius Curio. Only a few months ago, word had arrived from Africa of Curio's disastrous end; his head had become a trophy for King Juba. Some called Fulvia the unluckiest woman in Rome, but having met her, I knew her to possess an indomitable spirit. Seated with her in her litter was her mother, Sempronia, from whom Fulvia had inherited that spirit.

As I moved my eyes to the occupant of the next litter, the incongruities multiplied. There, reclining amid mounds of cushions in a typically voluptuous pose, was Fausta, the notoriously promiscuous daughter of the dictator Sulla. Thirty years after his death, the dictator's brief, blood-soaked reign still haunted Rome. (Some predicted that whoever triumphed in the current struggle, Caesar or Pompey, would follow Sulla's merciless example and line the Forum with the heads of his enemies.) Sulla's ghost haunted the Forum, but Sulla's daughter was said to haunt the more dissolute gatherings in the city. Fausta was still married, though in name only, to the banished gang leader Milo, the one political exile whom Caesar had pointedly excluded from the generous pardons he'd issued before leaving Rome. Milo's unforgivable crime had been the murder four years ago of his hated rival Clodius on the Appian Way. According to the court, it was Fausta's husband who had made a widow (for the first time) of Fulvia. Were the two women aware of one another's presence? If they were, they gave no more indication of it than did Antonia and Cytheris. At that moment Milo was very much on everyone's mind, for he had escaped from exile and was said to be raising an insurrection in the countryside. What did Fausta know about that? Why was she here at Cassandra's funeral?

Next to Fausta's litter, surrounded by the largest retinue of bodyguards, was a resplendent canopy with ivory poles and white draperies that shimmered with golden threads, hemmed with a purple stripe. It was the litter of great Caesar's wife, Calpurnia.

Now that Marc Antony had left Rome to fight alongside Caesar, many thought it was Calpurnia who functioned as the eyes and ears of her husband in his absence. Caesar had married her ten years ago, purely for political advantage some said, because in Calpurnia he had found a woman to match his own ambition. She was said to be an uncommonly hardheaded woman with no time for superstition. Why had she come to witness the funeral of a mad seeress?

One litter remained, a little farther off than all the others. When my eyes fell on it, my heart skipped a beat. Its occupant couldn't be seen, except for a finger that parted the closed drapes just enough for her to see out. But I knew that litter, with its red-and-white stripes, all too well. Eight years ago its occupant had been one of the most public women in Rome, notorious for her flamboyance and high spirits. Then she had dragged her estranged young lover into the courts and made the grave mistake of crossing Cicero. The result had been a disastrous public humiliation from which she had never recovered. Then her brother (some said lover) Clodius met his end on the Appian Way, and her spirit seemed to have been snuffed out altogether. She had retreated into a seclusion so complete that some thought she must be dead. She was the one woman in Rome-before Cassandra who had threatened to break my heart. What was Clodia—beautiful, enigmatic Clodia, once the most dangerous woman in Rome, now all but forgotten—doing there that day, lurking incognito amid the litters of the other women?

I gazed from litter to litter, my head spinning. To see these particular women all gathered in one place at one time was more than remarkable; it was astounding. And yet, there they all were, their various litters scattered before the burning pyre like the pavilions of contending armies arrayed on a field of battle. Terentia, Antonia, Cytheris, Fulvia, Fausta, Calpurnia, and Clodiathe funeral of Cassandra had brought them all together. Why had they come? To mourn Cassandra? To curse her? To gloat? The distance made it impossible to read the expressions on their faces.

Beside me, Diana crossed her arms and took on the hard, shrewd look so familiar to me from her mother. "It must have been one of them," she said. "You know it must have been one of those women who murdered her."

I felt a chill, despite the heat of the flames. I blinked at a sudden swirl of smoke and cinders and turned to look again at the burning pyre. The fire had consumed yet more of Cassandra, had taken another portion of her away from me, and I had missed it. I opened my eyes wide despite the burning smoke. I stared at the blackened remains upon the upright bier reduced now to a bed of glowing coals. The musicians played their shrill lament. The mourners raised their cry to heaven.

How long I stared at the flames, I don't know. But when I finally turned to look behind me again, all seven of the women with their litters and their entourages had vanished as if they had never been there.

Copyright 2002 by Steven Saylor

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First Chapter

Chapter One


The last time I saw Cassandra . . .

I was about to say: the last time I saw Cassandra was on the day of her death. But that would be untrue. The last time I saw her--gazed upon her face, ran my fingers over her golden hair, dared to touch her cold cheek--was on her funeral day.

It was I who made all the arrangements. There was no one else to do it. No one else came forward to claim her body.

I call her Cassandra, but that was not her real name, of course. No parents would ever give a child such an accursed name, any more than they would name a baby Medea or Medusa or Cyclops. Nor would any master give such an ill-omened name to a slave. Others called her Cassandra because of the special gift they believed her to possess. Like the original Cassandra, the doomed princess of ancient Troy, it seemed that our Cassandra could foretell the future. Little good that accursed gift did either of the women who bore that name.

She called herself what others called her, Cassandra, saying she could no longer remember her real name or who her parents were or where she came from. Some thought the gods had given her glimpses of the future to compensate for robbing her of the past.

Someone else robbed her of the present. Someone snuffed out the flame that burned inside her and lit her with an inner glow such as I have seen in no other mortal. Someone murdered Cassandra.

As I said, it fell to me to make the funeral arrangements. No outraged friend or lover, no grieving parent or sibling came forward to claim her. The young man who had been her sole companion, the mute she called Rupa--bodyguard, servant, relative,lover?--vanished when she was murdered.

For three days her body rested on a bier in the foyer of my house on the Palatine Hill. The embalmers clothed her in white and surrounded her with pine branches to scent the air. Her killer had done nothing to destroy Cassandra's beauty; it was poison that killed her. Drained of color, Cassandra's smooth cheeks and tender lips took on a waxen, opalescent quality, as if she were carved from translucent white marble. The hair that framed her face looked like hammered gold, cold and hard to the touch.

By day, illuminated by sunbeams that poured through the atrium skylight, she looked no more alive than a white marble statue. But each night, while the rest of the household slept, I stole from my wife's bed and crept to the foyer to gaze at Cassandra's body. There were times--strange moments such as occur only in the middle of the night, when the mind is weary and flickering lamplight plays tricks on an old man's eyes-when it seemed hardly possible that the body on the bier could be truly dead. The lamplight infused Cassandra's face with a warm glow. Her hair shimmered with highlights of red and yellow. It seemed that at any moment she might open her eyes and part her lips to draw a quickening breath. Once I even dared to touch my lips to hers, but I drew back with a shudder, for they were as cold and unresponsive as the lips of a statue.

I placed a black wreath on my door. Such wreaths are a warning in one sense, alerting others to the presence of death in the household, but in another sense they issue an invitation: come, pay your final respects. But not a single visitor came to view Cassandra's body. Not even one of those compulsive gossips came to pester us, the type who make the rounds of the city looking for wreaths and knocking on doors of people they've never met, just to have a look at the latest corpse so they can deliver an opinion on the embalmers' handiwork. I alone mourned Cassandra.

Perhaps, I thought, death and funerals had become too commonplace in Rome for the passing of a single woman of unknown family, commonly thought to be as mad as-well, as mad as Cassandra-to excite any interest. The whole world was swept up in a civil war that dwarfed all other conflicts in the history of the world. Warriors were dying by the hundreds and thousands on land and on sea. Despairing wives were wasting into oblivion. Ruined debtors were found hanging from rafters. Greedy speculators were stabbed in their sleep. All was ruin, and the future promised only more death and suffering on a scale never known before by humankind. Beautiful Cassandra, who'd haunted the streets of Rome uttering shrill, crazy prophecies, was dead--and no one cared enough to come and see her body.

And yet, someone had cared enough to murder her.

When the period of mourning was done, I summoned the strongest of my household slaves to lift the bier onto their shoulders. The members of my household formed the funeral cortege, except for my wife, Bethesda, who had been ill for quite some time and was not well enough to go out that day. In her place my daughter, Diana, walked beside me, and beside her walked her husband, Davus. Behind us walked my son Eco and his wife, Menema, and their golden-headed twins, now old enough, at eleven, to understand the somber nature of the occasion. Hieronymus the Massilian, who had been residing in my house since his arrival in Rome the previous year, also came; he had suffered much in his life and had known the pain of being outcast, so I think he felt a natural bond of sympathy with Cassandra. My household slaves, few in number, followed, among them the brothers Androcles and Mopsus, who were not quite as old as Eco's children. For once, sensing the gravity of the occasion, they behaved themselves.

So that all would be done fittingly, I hired three musicians to lead the procession. They played a mournful dirge, one blowing a horn and another a flute, while the third shook a bronze rattle. My neighbors in their stately houses on the Palatine heard them coming from a distance and either closed their shutters, irritated at the noise, or opened them, curious to have a look at the funeral party.

After the musicians came the hired mourners. I settled for four, the most I could afford considering the state of my finances, even though they worked cheaply. I suppose there was no shortage of women in Rome who could draw upon their own tragedies to produce tears for a woman they had never known. These four had worked together on previous occasions and performed with admirable professionalism. They shivered and wept, shuffled and staggered but never collided, pulled at their tangled hair, and took turns chanting the refrain of the playwright Naevius's famous epitaph: " 'If the death of any mortal saddens hearts immortal, the gods above must weep at this woman's death . . . .' "

Next came the mime. I had debated whether to hire one, but in the end it seemed proper. I had been told he came from Alexandria and was the best man in Rome for this sort of thing. He wore a mask with feminine features, a blond wig, and a blue tunica such as Cassandra wore. I myself had coached him on mimicking Cassandra's gait and mannerisms. For the most part his gestures were too broad and generic, but every so often, whether by accident or design, he struck an attitude that epitomized Cassandra to an uncanny degree and sent a shiver through me.

Funeral mimes are usually allowed a great deal of latitude to caricature and gently lampoon their subject, but I had forbidden this; it is one thing to sketch a loving parody of a deceased patriarch or a public figure, but too little was known about Cassandra's life to offer fodder for humor. Still, the mime could not offer a portrait of her without imitating the one thing that everyone would recall about her: her fits of prophecy. Every so often, he suddenly convulsed and spun about, then threw back his head and let out a strange, unnerving ululation. It was not an exact imitation of the real thing, only a suggestion-not even remotely as frightening or uncanny as the real Cassandra's episodes of possession by the god-but it was close enough to cause any bystanders who had ever seen Cassandra prophesy in the Forum or in a public market to nod and say to themselves, So that's who's lying upon that funeral bier. Directly after the mime came Cassandra herself, carried aloft and ensconced amid fresh flowers and evergreen boughs, her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes closed as if she slept. After Cassandra came the members of my household, marching in solemn procession for a woman none of them but myself had actually known.

We strode slowly past the great houses on the Palatine and then down into the region of the Subura, where the narrow streets teemed with life. Even in these impious days, when men scorn the gods and the gods scorn us in return, people pay their respects when a funeral passes by. They stopped squabbling or gossiping or bargaining, shut their mouths, and stood aside to let the dead and the mourning pass.

Often, as a funeral cortege makes its way through Rome, others join the retinue, inspired to pay their respects by following along behind the family and adding to the train. This invariably happens with the funerals of the famous and powerful, and often even with those of the humble, if they were well-known and well liked in the community. But on that day, no one joined us. Whenever I looked over my shoulder, I saw only a gap behind the last of our retinue, and then the crowd closing ranks behind us, turning their attention away from the passing spectacle and getting back to their business.

And yet, we were observed, and we were followed-as I soon would discover.

At length, we came to the Esquiline Gate. Passing through its portals, we stepped from the city of the living into the city of the dead. Sprawling over the gently sloping hillsides, as far as the eye could see, was the public necropolis of Rome. Here the unmarked graves of slaves and the modest tombs of common citizens were crowded close together. Ours was not the only funeral that day. Here and there, plumes of smoke from funeral pyres rose into the air, scenting the necropolis with the smells of burning wood and flesh.

A little way off the road, atop a small hill, the pyre for Cassandra had already been prepared. While her bier was being laid upon it and the keepers of the flame set about stoking the fire, I stepped into the Temple of Venus Libitina, where the registry of deaths is kept.

The clerk who attended me was officious and sullen from the moment he slammed his record book onto the counter that separated us. I told him I wanted to register a death. He opened the hinged wooden diptych with its inlaid wax tablets and took up his stylus.

"Citizen, slave, or foreigner?" he asked curtly.

"I'm not sure."

"Not sure?" He looked at me as if I had entered the temple with the specific intention of wasting his time.

"I didn't really know her. No one seems to have known her."

"Not part of your household?"

"No. I'm only attending to her funeral because-"

"A foreigner then, visiting the city?"

"I'm not sure."

He slammed shut his record book and brandished his stylus at me. "Then go away and don't come back until you are sure."

I reached across the counter and grabbed the front of his tunic in my fist. "She died four days ago, here in Rome, and you will enter her death into the registry."

The clerk blanched. "Certainly," he squeaked.

It was only as I gradually released him that I realized how hard I had been clutching his tunic. His face was red, and it took him a moment to catch his breath. He made a show of reasserting his dignity, straightening his tunic, and slicking back his hair. With great punctiliousness, he opened his register and pressed his stylus to the wax. "Name of the deceased?" he asked, his voice breaking. He coughed to clear his throat.

"I'm not sure," I said.

His mouth twitched. He bit his tongue. He kept his eyes on the register. "Nevertheless, I have to put down something for a name."

"Put down Cassandra, then." "Very well." He pressed the letters crisply into the hard wax. "Her place of origin?"

"I told you, 1 don't know."

He clicked his tongue. "But I have to put something. If she was a Roman citizen, I have to know her family name; and if she was married, her husband's name. If she was a foreigner, I have to know where she came from. If she was a slave--"

"Then write, 'Origin unknown.' "

He opened his mouth to speak then thought better of it. "Highly irregular," he muttered, as he wrote what I told him. "I don't suppose you know the date of her birth?"

I glowered at him.

"I see. 'Birthdate unknown,' then. And the date of her death? Four days ago, you said?"

"Yes. She died on the Nones of Sextilis."

"And the cause of her death?"

"Poison," I said, through gritted teeth. "She was poisoned."

"I see," he said, showing no emotion and hurriedly scribbling. "With a name like Cassandra," he said under his breath, "you might think she'd have seen it coming. And what is your name? I have to have it to complete the record."

I felt another impulse to strike him, but resisted. "Gordianus, called the Finder."

"Very well, then. There, I've written the entry just as you wished. 'Name of deceased: Cassandra. Family and status unknown. Birthdate unknown. Death by poison on the Nones of Sextilis, Year of Rome 706. Reported by Gordianus, called the Finder.' Does that satisfy you, citizen?"

I said nothing and walked away, toward the pillars that flanked the entrance. Behind me I heard him mutter, "Finder, eh? Perhaps he should find out who poisoned her . . . ."

I walked down the temple steps and back toward the funeral pyre, staring at the ground, seeing nothing. I felt the heat of the fire as I drew closer; and when I finally lifted my eyes, I beheld Cassandra amid the flames. Her bier had been tilted upright so that the funeral party could view the final moments of her physical existence. The musicians quickened their tempo from a mournful dirge to a shrill lament. The hired mourners dropped to their knees, pounded their fists against the earth, screamed and wailed.

A gust of wind suddenly whipped the flames higher. The roar of the fire was punctuated with loud cracking and popping and sizzling noises. While I watched, the flames gradually consumed her, frizzling her hair, withering and charring her flesh, turning everything black, destroying her beauty forever. The wind blew smoke in my eyes, stinging them, filling them with tears. I tried to look away--I wanted to look away-but I couldn't. Even this awful spectacle constituted one more moment, one final chance to look upon Cassandra.

I reached into my toga and pulled out a short baton made of leather. It had belonged to Cassandra; it was the only one of her possessions that still existed. I clutched it in my fist for a moment, then hurled it into the flames.

I felt Diana's presence beside me, then the touch of her hand on my arm. "Papa, look."

I finally tore my eyes from the funeral pyre. I looked blankly at my daughter's face. Her eyes--so beloved, so vibrantly alive--met mine, then turned elsewhere. I followed her gaze. We were no longer alone. Others had come to witness Cassandra's end. They must have arrived while I was in the temple or staring at the flames. The separate groups stood well away from the fire, scattered in a semicircle behind us. There were seven entourages in all. I looked at each in turn, hardly able to believe what I was seeing.

Seven of the wealthiest, most powerful, most remarkable women in Rome had come to the necropolis to see Cassandra burn. They had not joined in the public funeral procession, yet here they were, each woman seated in a litter surrounded by her own retinue of relatives, bodyguards, and litter bearers, not one of them acknowledging the presence of any of the others, all keeping their distance from ourselves and from each other, each gazing steadily straight ahead at the funeral pyre.

I took stock of them, looking from left to right.

First, there was Terentia, the pious, always proper wife of Cicero. With her husband off in Greece to side with Pompey in the civil war, Terentia was said to be hard-pressed to make ends meet, and in fact her litter was the most modest. The draperies that surrounded the box were no longer white but shabby gray, with tatters here and there. But her litter was also the largest, and squinting, 1 made out two other women in the litter with her. One was her daughter, Tullia, the apple of Cicero's eye. The other was farther back in the shadows, but from her distinctive clothing and headdress, I saw she was a Vestal Virgin. No doubt it was Fabia, Terentia's sister, who in younger days had very nearly met her end for breaking her sacred vow of chastity.

In the next litter I saw Antonia, the cousin and wife of Marc Antony, Caesar's right-hand man. While Caesar had been off fighting his enemies in Spain, Antony had been left in charge of Italy. Now both men had departed for northern Greece to do battle with Pompey. Antonia was said to be a very attractive woman. I had never formally met her and might not have recognized her except for the bronze lions' heads that surmounted the upright supports at each corner of her litter. The lion's head was Antony's symbol.

Her presence was all the more remarkable because of the woman whose litter was next in the semicircle. Anyone in Rome would have recognized that gaudy green box decorated with pink-and-gold tassels, for Cytheris, the actress, always made a show of her comings and goings. She was Antony's lover, and he had made no secret of that fact while he ruled Rome in Caesar's absence, traveling all over Italy with her. People called her his understudy-wife. Cytheris was famous for her beauty, though I myself had never seen her close enough to get a good look. Those who had seen her perform in mime shows for her former master, Volumnius the banker, said she was talented as well, able by the subtlest gestures and expressions to evoke a whole range of responses in her audience-lust not least among them. She and Antonia cast not a single glance in each other's direction, apparently oblivious of one another.

I looked to the next litter, which was draped in shades of deepest blue and black suitable for mourning, and recognized Fulvia, the twice-widowed. She had been married first to Clodius, the radical politician and rabble-rouser. After his murder four years ago on the Appian Way and the chaos that followed--the beginning of the end of the Republic, it seemed in retrospect--Fulvia had eventually remarried, joining her fortunes to Caesar's beloved young lieutenant, Gaius Curio. Only a few months ago, word had arrived from Africa of Curio's disastrous end; his head had become a trophy for King Juba. Some called Fulvia the unluckiest woman in Rome, but having met her, I knew her to possess an indomitable spirit. Seated with her in her litter was her mother, Sempronia, from whom Fulvia had inherited that spirit.

As I moved my eyes to the occupant of the next litter, the incongruities multiplied. There, reclining amid mounds of cushions in a typically voluptuous pose, was Fausta, the notoriously promiscuous daughter of the dictator Sulla. Thirty years after his death, the dictator's brief, blood-soaked reign still haunted Rome. (Some predicted that whoever triumphed in the current struggle, Caesar or Pompey, would follow Sulla's merciless example and line the Forum with the heads of his enemies.) Sulla's ghost haunted the Forum, but Sulla's daughter was said to haunt the more dissolute gatherings in the city. Fausta was still married, though in name only, to the banished gang leader Milo, the one political exile whom Caesar had pointedly excluded from the generous pardons he'd issued before leaving Rome. Milo's unforgivable crime had been the murder four years ago of his hated rival Clodius on the Appian Way. According to the court, it was Fausta's husband who had made a widow (for the first time) of Fulvia. Were the two women aware of one another's presence? If they were, they gave no more indication of it than did Antonia and Cytheris. At that moment Milo was very much on everyone's mind, for he had escaped from exile and was said to be raising an insurrection in the countryside. What did Fausta know about that? Why was she here at Cassandra's funeral?

Next to Fausta's litter, surrounded by the largest retinue of bodyguards, was a resplendent canopy with ivory poles and white draperies that shimmered with golden threads, hemmed with a purple stripe. It was the litter of great Caesar's wife, Calpurnia.

Now that Marc Antony had left Rome to fight alongside Caesar, many thought it was Calpurnia who functioned as the eyes and ears of her husband in his absence. Caesar had married her ten years ago, purely for political advantage some said, because in Calpurnia he had found a woman to match his own ambition. She was said to be an uncommonly hardheaded woman with no time for superstition. Why had she come to witness the funeral of a mad seeress?

One litter remained, a little farther off than all the others. When my eyes fell on it, my heart skipped a beat. Its occupant couldn't be seen, except for a finger that parted the closed drapes just enough for her to see out. But I knew that litter, with its red-and-white stripes, all too well. Eight years ago its occupant had been one of the most public women in Rome, notorious for her flamboyance and high spirits. Then she had dragged her estranged young lover into the courts and made the grave mistake of crossing Cicero. The result had been a disastrous public humiliation from which she had never recovered. Then her brother (some said lover) Clodius met his end on the Appian Way, and her spirit seemed to have been snuffed out altogether. She had retreated into a seclusion so complete that some thought she must be dead. She was the one woman in Rome-before Cassandra who had threatened to break my heart. What was Clodia--beautiful, enigmatic Clodia, once the most dangerous woman in Rome, now all but forgotten--doing there that day, lurking incognito amid the litters of the other women?

I gazed from litter to litter, my head spinning. To see these particular women all gathered in one place at one time was more than remarkable; it was astounding. And yet, there they all were, their various litters scattered before the burning pyre like the pavilions of contending armies arrayed on a field of battle. Terentia, Antonia, Cytheris, Fulvia, Fausta, Calpurnia, and Clodiathe funeral of Cassandra had brought them all together. Why had they come? To mourn Cassandra? To curse her? To gloat? The distance made it impossible to read the expressions on their faces.

Beside me, Diana crossed her arms and took on the hard, shrewd look so familiar to me from her mother. "It must have been one of them," she said. "You know it must have been one of those women who murdered her."

I felt a chill, despite the heat of the flames. I blinked at a sudden swirl of smoke and cinders and turned to look again at the burning pyre. The fire had consumed yet more of Cassandra, had taken another portion of her away from me, and I had missed it. I opened my eyes wide despite the burning smoke. I stared at the blackened remains upon the upright bier reduced now to a bed of glowing coals. The musicians played their shrill lament. The mourners raised their cry to heaven.

How long I stared at the flames, I don't know. But when I finally turned to look behind me again, all seven of the women with their litters and their entourages had vanished as if they had never been there.


Copyright 2002 by Steven Saylor
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Recipe

Extraordinary acclaim for Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series

A MIST OF PROPHECIES
"It would be impossible to imagine a more stellar lineup of suspects in all imperial Rome."
--Kirkus Reviews

"One of the best mystery series being published today...A pitch-perfect work...gripping prose."
--Austin Chronicle

"A gritty depiction of the underbelly of the great city in its heyday. The secret history of Rome has never been so fascinating."--Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian (London)

"A chilling mystery."--Booklist

"Intriguing both as a mystery and as a historical novel...recommended."--Library Journal

"Outstanding...intelligent and compelling...Saylor shows once again why fans of ancient historicals regard him as the leader of the field."-Publishers Weekly

A MURDER ON THE APPIAN WAY
"Saylor puts such great detail and tumultuous life into his scenes that the sensation of rubbing elbows with ancients is quite uncanny."--The New York Times Book Review

"Saylor is skilled at spinning a tale out of unlikely historical sources...Literate, humane, and dramatic."--Boston Globe

LAST SEEN IN MASSILIA
"Stellar...Saylor presents a vivid tableau of an ancient city under siege and an empire riven by internecine strife. One of today's finest history mystery series."--Publishers Weekly

"Evoking the color and feel of an ancient time, Saylor has given us another entertaining story and crackling good mystery."--Tampa Tribune Times

RUBICON
"Saylor provides historically accurate portrayals while never losing grasp of a captivating plot. His mysteries evolve with intelligent turns and vivid imagination."--SeattleTimes

CATILINA'S RIDDLE
"Engrossing...Saylor's understanding of the rich complexity of Roman life has a universal 20ring."
--San Francisco Chronicle

THE VENUS THROW
"Saylor rivals Robert Graves in his knack for making the classical world come alive. The puzzle is subtle, the characters vivid, the writing sublime-proof that the mystery can be a work of art."
--The Oregonian

DON'T MISS THESE OTHER MYSTERIES IN
STEVEN SAYLOR'S ROMA SUB ROSA SERIES

CATILINA'S RIDDLE
LAST SEEN IN MASSILIA
ROMAN BLOOD
ARMS OF NEMESIS
THE HOUSE OF THE VESTALS
THE VENUS THROW
A MURDER ON THE APPIAN WAY
RUBICON

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2004

    An accurate and intriguing story

    Steven Saylor's novel, A Mist of Prophecies, provides a new window into Roman life. He explores the ancient Roman world through the jealousies and struggles of women rather than the usual male power struggle. As in his other novels, the main character is Gordianus the Finder, an ancient Roman detective. In this intriguing historical fiction he is investigating the murder of a beautiful young seeress poisoned to death. Her funeral is expected to be empty but to Gordianus' surprise, seven of the wealthiest, most powerful women in Rome arrive to view the funeral pyre. Read this book to re-live the economic crisis during Caesar and Pompey's war or explore the lives and motives behind these remarkable women.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2002

    I'll Be Back for More!

    This was my first encounter with Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. I look forward to his next one, which I assume from heavy-handed hints at the end of the book, will take place in Egypt with Cleopatra among the cast of characters! Saylor's re-creation of ancient Rome is clearly well-researched; I greatly enjoyed his descriptions of the homes of the well-to-do. It helps if the reader has some knowledge of ancient history, but even if not, the story is so absorbing and his characterizations so intriguing that it may not matter. The author does occasionally slip into some banal dialogue, but in light of his vivid depiction of an ancient civilization, that slight lapse can be forgiven.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2002

    fascinating historical mystery

    In 48 BC Rome is engaged in a great civil war with both sides led by a powerful warrior. Though the battles take place in the outer province of Thessaly, Rome is being drained by the war as inflation is running rampant and people are going into debt with barely enough money to eat. <P>Gordianus the Finder finds himself besieged at every turn. He is worried about the debt to his banker, deeply concerned with his wife¿s mysterious and lingering illness, and frets over the end of his relationship with his adopted son Meto. When Cassandra, a mysterious woman who appear in Rome one day sprouting prophecy, dies in the Finder¿s arms saying she was poisoned, he takes it upon himself to bury her and find her killer. His quest takes him into some of the richest and most influential homes in Rome. <P> A MIST OF PROPHECIES takes us into the heart of Rome during a civil war that makes the inhabitants of the city wary, fearful, and uncertain of the future for themselves and for their glorious Empire. Stephen Saylor descriptions of the times are so detailed that the audience can picture the city in the mind¿s eye. Experience grants the hero the wisdom to search out the killer using his brains while not relying on brawn as he did in his youth. This is a fascinating work, as much a historical novel as it is a mystery. <P>Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    Another gift from Steven Saylor!!!

    To me the rise and fall of the Roman Empire is fascinating. If you love history as I do this book as all Mr. Saylor"s books Will delight you and keep your interest. I hope Steven Saylor continues writingso I can Enjoy reading is work.

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  • Posted January 18, 2012

    Realistic Character Depiction

    In the tenth novel in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series, the Roman world is in the grips of a civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, and everyone except the wealthiest citizens suffer from food shortages and the effects of rampant inflation.
    The novel opens when a woman known as Cassandra falls dead in the arms of Gordianus the Finder, gasping that she was poisoned. Known as a seeress like her Trojan namesake, this Cassandra’s personal history is unknown. While Gordianus organizes and pays for her funeral, he is surprised to see that the only people outside his family who attend her cremation are seven prominent women of Rome. Gordianus sets out to visit the seven women to find Cassandra’s murderer.
    The story flashes back and forth between Gordianus’s investigation of Cassandra’s death as he interviews the seven Roman women who must have some connection to the dead woman, and his own relationship with Cassandra. As these two story lines are woven together, we learn the truth about Cassandra, as well as a side to Gordianus’s character that has not been shown before.
    Saylor’s meticulous knowledge of ancient Rome allows him to depict the daily life of the main characters in a way that makes them as real as my next door neighbors. As the novel builds toward the climax, the threads of intrigue come together in events that are far beyond the imaginings of the Finder and his family.
    The novel begins with a considerable amount of back story in Roman politics, and I found the Roman names of the cast of characters to be confusing. Since the story begins with Cassandra’s funeral, the chronology at the beginning of the book was no help. It begins some forty years before and leads up to the events in the story.
    I enjoyed Saylor’s previous book, “Last Seen in Massilia,” so much, that I hope the weaknesses in “A Mist of Prophecies” are a glitch and he will be back to his delightfully readable and fascinating historical fiction soon.

    Reviewed by Kathleen Heady, author of “The Gate House” for Suspense Magazine

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2012

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