Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyThe Scottish author of Augustus has created another skillful and engrossing fictional memoir, even though the Roman emperor whose identity he assumes this time is a less promising historical figure--Tiberius's reputation has oscillated between that of a depraved monster and a prosaically punctilious administrator. Like Robert Graves, Massie sets out to rehabilitate his protagonist, but he stakes out distinctive ground beyond the Claudius novels by letting the narrator, a melancholy and reluctant autocrat, escape from ``the despotism of fact'' into a more impressionistic, reflective meditation on human nature, history and his own place in it. Without skimping on period detail or the Caesar's lurid political and sexual machinations, the text eschews extreme sensationalism or pedantry for an examination of the appalling solitude of power. In a voice suffused with regret but free of illusion, the aging emperor lucidly reviews his life, recognizing that his ascent to the imperial pinnacle paradoxically made him prey to abandonment, betrayal and loss. The testament of this compelling, almost tragic figure is delivered with an artistry that is itself a testament--to the enduring fascination the early Caesars exert on the literary imagination. ( Sept. )
Library Journal - Library JournalThis fictionalized autobiography of Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), depicted by Roman historians as a murderous despot, belongs to the rehabilitative ``not-quite-villain'' historical fiction subgenre; though a solid effort, it falls well short of such premier examples as John Gardner's Grendel (Knopf, 1971) and Richard Kluger's The Sheriff of Nottingham ( LJ 1/92). Tiberius is portrayed as wise and restrained, even reluctant--but conveniently unable to stop tortures and executions from being visited in his name. The plentiful sex, in the mix-and-match combinations for which Rome is famed, stays offstage but is suggestively summarized. Massie ( The Sins of the Father , LJ 7/92) confines his wit to the introduction, but his erudition is evident throughout in rich details about Roman politics and intrigue. A worthy but not critical addition to public libraries; academic libraries might consider acquiring it to round out traditional classics collections.-- Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., Pa.
Gilbert TaylorIn imitation of Robert Graves' wildly popular Claudius novels and Gore Vidal's "Julian", Massie's invented memoir contains the reflections of the Roman Empire's second princeps. Whereas the fictionalized Claudius and Julian are eminent protagonists in action and intrigue, this Tiberius is a rather contemplative fellow who is a far remove from the tyrant portrayed in Tacitus. The main tension in his story surrounds the fall of his confidant Sejanus, which is the focus of the second part of his memoirs. In the first part, Tiberius looks back on his first 40 years, bemoaning the loss of a fragile happiness that was destroyed by a divorce forced on him by the Emperor Augustus. Tiberius' loss accentuates his brooding disposition and convinces him that men are ruled by their weaknesses. In power by A.D. 14, ostensibly reluctantly, Tiberius runs the state amid conspiracies and syncophants, and Massie embellishes the few facts known about Tiberius' reign. This is not a very memorable or exciting effort, but it could piggyback on the possible popularity of Colleen McCullough's latest Roman soap opera (reviewed in this issue's Upfront section).
- Avalon Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1st Carroll & Graf ed
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