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ROMAN EMPIRE -THE HISTORY... > 3. HF - THE FIRST MAN IN ROME - THE SECOND YEAR (187 - 263) (09/20/10 - 09/26/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 14, 2010 08:35PM) (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

Welcome to the historical fiction discussion of THE FIRST MAN IN ROME
by Colleen McCullough.

This is the reading assignment for week three - (Sept 20th, 2010 to Sept 26th, 2010)
Week 3 - Sept 20 - 26: p 187 – 263 The Second Year
This is the third historical fiction group selected book.

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers if you are catching up.

This book was kicked off on September 6th; but we are now entering the third week of discussion

This discussion is being led by assisting moderator - Alisa. She has done an amazing job with the Supreme Court and civil rights threads and this is her first venture in moderating an historical fiction book and she is very excited to be doing this. Please support her in this effort.

We always enjoy the participation of all group members. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, but this is not available on Kindle or audible.

This thread opens up Monday, September 20th for discussion. Although, Alisa may open this thread up earlier due to her different time zone. This is a non spoiler thread.

Welcome,

~Bentley


TO ALWAYS SEE ALL WEEKS' THREADS SELECT VIEW ALL

The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome, #1) by Colleen McCullough by Colleen McCullough Colleen McCullough

Alisa is using the current version available to her as follows:

The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome, #1) by Colleen McCullough

Please feel free to research the complete Table of Contents and Syllabus on this thread:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/3...


message 2: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Metellus has been elected consul and has been given command of the war in Africa against Jugurtha. He asks Marius and Rufus to join his expedition to Africa, claiming that he has forgotten all about the harassment they subjected him to as a youth. Marius and Rufus agree to join him in making war against their friend and travel to Africa.

Before Marius leaves, however, Julia goes into labor with their first child. Gaius Julius Caesar, Julia's father, is present and is worried that Julia's noble blood will lead to complications with the birth. Indeed, there are complications with the birth and a great deal of bleeding but, in the end, the baby is delivered. Julia begins her recovery and Marius is able to see his son before he leaves for the African war.

Directly after Metellus leaves Rome with many of her legions, news reaches the city that the Germans are streaming over the Alps, threatening the city with invasion. Barbarians have invaded Rome in the past and it is the greatest fear of all Romans that someday it will happen again. With Marius gone, however, Rome is ill-equipped to defend herself. The renaming consul, Silanus, was intentionally left at home because he is believed to not have the talent necessary for war. Given the circumstances, though, he must arm new legions and lead them to battle the Germans.

The Caesar's other daughter, Julilla has been starving herself to force Sulla to acknowledge her. Sulla continues to ignore her and her condition becomes worse. She writes Sulla love letters, but Sulla does not return any affection. Eventually, worried about the health of her neighbor's daughter and not knowing anything about the relationship with Sulla, Clitumna comes to Julilla's aid. None of this works, however, and Julilla continues to get worse and worse.

After a long season of rain which forces everyone to be cooped up in their houses, Sulla asks Nicopolis to join him on a picnic in one of his favorite spots. She accompanies him and after spending the day basking in the sun, they come upon some mushrooms. Nicopolis, excited by the mushrooms and believing them to be safe, gathers them up and brings them home to eat. Everything seems fine until several days later when Nicopolis dies of kidney failure. On Sulla's trip with Metrobius in the previous year, he found a mushroom, the Destroyer, which looks like a non-poisonous mushroom. Realizing that this could help him get Nicopolis out of the way; he led her to eat the mushrooms.

After her death, Gaius Caesar, who had prepared Nicopolis's will, notifies Sulla that Nicopolis has left her significant savings to Sulla. He inherits enough money to qualify him to become a knight, the lower class of nobility. Clitumna becomes morbidly depressed after the death of Nicopolis and Sulla takes her to her villa outside of Rome. Once they arrive, he tells her to sneak out into the woods in the middle of the night in eight days for a surprise. He returns to Rome to plan a party. He invites Metrobius and many of his friends as well as Hercules Atlas, a notorious strongman known for his violent behavior when drunk. At the party, Sulla confronts Hercules, who grabs Sulla and drags him back to Hercules's house in the Subura.

It is clear that this stunt was arranged and as Sulla is paying Hercules, he slips some poison in his drink. Sulla leaves and finds a mule that he rides all night to Clitumna's villa. Once there, he finds Clitumna in the woods waiting for her surprise. He kisses her, breaks her neck, and then throws her body off a cliff, making the death look like a suicide. He then returns to Rome and stumbles back to his house where everyone believes Hercules has kidnapped him. In a day, news comes telling him of Clitumna's death and Gaius Caesar informs Sulla that he has inherited all of her wealth, enough to qualify him for a seat in the Senate. Sulla then asks Caesar if he may marry Julilla. Caesar, upset with the deceit that Julilla has maintained, tells Sulla that he will think about it.

The chapter ends with Caesar sending a letter to Marius telling him of the news. The Germans have defeated Silanus's army, though after the defeat, the Germans retreated to their homeland. Caesar is also appointed censor. The chapter ends with Sulla leaving Rome with Metrobius for a vacation.


message 3: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Can Sulla become any more contemptable? What on earth is he hoping to achieve? He seems to view most everything that happens to him as a way to rid himself of anyone who gets in his way of his hedonistic ways.


message 4: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Marius has changed his life for the better in the space of one short year. Married into the Caesar power structure, bearing a son, and asserting his military leadership capabilities; he seems to have all the components for a run at consul.


message 5: by Shannon (new)

Shannon | 75 comments For some reason, I didn't thnk that Sulla was done with his plans yet. However, I had been leaning in the other direction for the next victim.

I get the feeling that we are supposed to see Sulla and Marius as characters for comparison. We will, as the book progresses, be able to identify and contrast specific points of character departure and base those on their moral consciences. So far, Marius is a "new man", and Sulla can trace his family's roots back just liek the Ceasars; Marius lives a life based on merit, and Sulla just sulks; Marius found a away to marry which just accelerated his trajectory, Sulla just sulks; Marius most closely acts according to our set of virtues, and Sulla to those of a rabid alley cat in heat. I have the feeling that more comparisons will be forthcoming.

This is my prediction and hypothesis and not intended as a spoiler. I would be happy to be wrong since this is a fairly tired trope in literature.

I haven't finished this week's selection though; I was distracted be another book which is due today, but now I can focus on our reading.

I am really curious about what happens next to Julilla. It is interesting that the episode between Julilla and Sulla appear to be entirely Julilla's fault in the eyes of everyone involved. So, perhps another point of comparison here? The ethics and behavior of women versus men?


message 6: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Shannon, interesting comparisons, and agree that the good v. evil theme is persistent in the character development.

There were different standards of acceptable behavior for men and women and they were treated very differently. Within that faction we see that Julia and Julilla are treated very differently, as Julilla is the younger of the two and not truly considered a woman until she turns 18. She clearly has a mind of her own, but not recognized for it.

BTW, you can catch up and post as you go along. There is plenty of time still, and the threads stay open for people to post based on where they are in the book.


message 7: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3820 comments Mod
Sulla wanted to get rid of Stichus because he was in line for Clitumna's legacy ahead of Sulla, but I don't really know why he let Nicopolis eat the poisoned mushrooms. He was truly shocked to find out how large her fortune was, and he didn't plan in advance to kill her, like he did the others. I guess he was tired of her, and decided it was fate that put the mushrooms in front of her. At least Clitumna didn't suffer like Stichus and Nicopolis did. Sulla appears to be a true psychopath.


message 8: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Vicki I agree, it didn't appear that Sulla took Nicopolis to the forrest with the intent to kill her but rather viewed stumbling across the mushrooms as an opportunity to rid himself of her. It doesn't seem to be financially motivated, he truly seemed to have no clue about the extent of her holdings. It sort of creeped me out that Julius congratulated him on the inheritance. He had no idea Sulla killed her but still it seemed out of place. Is money that important?


message 9: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) In a classic demonstration of head of household responsibilities, Caesar lays down the law when he discovers what Julilla has been up to with her letter writing and starvation campaign. Is the way in which he handles the situation the classic patrician way? Do you think there was a class distinction as to how head of household ran their families? For Julius, is it about family control, pride, or money?


message 10: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3820 comments Mod
His lecture to her about the rights of the paterfamilias is right on target - they could do what they wanted to anyone in the family. He really loves her and wants what's best for her, but doesn't want the family disgraced.


message 11: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Family honor has a good deal to do with it, no question. On the other hand, he was willing to sell Julia into marraige which on the one hand seems oddly inconsistent, almost slavery like, on the other hand a prudent business move and upholding of family honor by virtue of having 'permission' bestoyed by the head of the family.


message 12: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3820 comments Mod
Still, I don't think he would have done it if he hadn't admired Marius, or if Julia had hated him. But I guess girls were brought up to expect to be given in marriage for the good of the family.


message 13: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) True, but it seemed to have more to do with Marius and their business relationship than it did whether or not Julia had any feelings for him. Remember that Julius was a bit surprised that Julia was willing at first. She seems a little too willing to me. She instantly falls in love with him at the dinner table? I'm not so sure, but maybe she is just bored and views him as her ticket out, or at least to the life suitable to a Senators daughter that she may think she is due.


message 14: by Ed (last edited Sep 21, 2010 08:19PM) (new)

Ed (ejhahn) Alisa wrote: "True, but it seemed to have more to do with Marius and their business relationship than it did whether or not Julia had any feelings for him. Remember that Julius was a bit surprised that Julia wa..."

Seems to me that given the way daughters were married off for political or economic advantage that any half-way decent suitor including Marius might look good to Julia.

It is also true, IMHO, that Patricians were not at all loathe to "mess around" if they weren't happy with their spouse. So marrying someone who one didn't know or care deeply for was not the end of the world.


message 15: by Ed (new)

Ed (ejhahn) Alisa wrote: "Is money that important?"

Yes! Without it, no one could run for office or even hold office because of the tremendous demands on the resources of the candidate or office holder.

Later, towards the end of the Republic, Crassus, the richest man in Rome, becomes co-consul with Pompeii and Julius Caesar, purely because he was rich and could afford to handle the social obligations for himself and his co-consuls.

Not totally unlike today, when it takes millions of dollars to just run for Governor or Senator.


message 16: by Alisa (last edited Sep 21, 2010 08:45PM) (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Ed wrote: "Alisa wrote: "Is money that important?"

Yes! Without it, no one could run for office or even hold office because of the tremendous demands on the resources of the candidate or office holder.

L..."


The thing I find curious about money is that you had to pay your way into the military as a soldier. Why, to pay for the resources you would surely need in battle? (weapons, armour, horses)



So far the only person to have really spent any money is Marius, for the right to marry Julia that is surely costing him a princely sum. And Sulla spends Nico's money on a blowout party. But so far they are obsessed with getting more of it without really needing it for anything. Although, they must pay the slaves something, even a small amount, but there seem to be no shortage of them in each household.


message 17: by Ed (new)

Ed (ejhahn) Alisa wrote: The thing I find curious about money is that you had to pay your way into the military as a soldier. Why, to pay for the resources you would surely need in battle? (weapons, armour, horses) "

The tradition in Rome was for the "citizens"(mostly landowners) to be required to defend Rome or be there to invade neighbors under whatever pretext.

"Citizens" were supposed to be able to afford the tools of war and, of course, once they had them they were usable in the next war or by their offspring. Horses did not become important until later when Rome invaded the East where cavalry was king.

Soldiers did not go unrewarded. They received a share of the spoils which theoretically helped reimburse them for their time and effort. Also, sometimes the senate would vote money from the treasury be paid to the soldiers.

The idea of the "Citizen Soldier" is a Roman one.


message 18: by Alisa (last edited Sep 22, 2010 11:34AM) (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Ah, I see the landowner as defender of the territory, that makes sense. The price of citizenship is defending the territory and land from which you enjoy the fruits of what it bears and how it allows you to live. Interesting.


message 19: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Ed, I just noticed your profile pic is along the Arno River in Florence. That has to be one of *the* most photographed rivers in the world, don't you think? Looks like it was a lovely day!


message 20: by Ed (new)

Ed (ejhahn) Alisa wrote: "Ed, I just noticed your profile pic is along the Arno River in Florence. That has to be one of *the* most photographed rivers in the world, don't you think? Looks like it was a lovely day!"

I'm sure it is photographed a lot. I suspect it's in the same league with the Tiber, the Danube, the Mississippi, the Thames, the Nile, the Amazon, etc.

It was a very cold day in Florence. I think it was Christmas Eve, 2002 or 2003. I fell in love with Florence and would move there to live in a New York minute if I got the opportunity.


message 21: by Karol (new)

Karol We digress, but Ed and Alisa, I've wanted to go to Florence since the late 1970's - my prom date was an Italian exchange student from Florence. I've never forgotten the passion on his face as he described Florence's beauty.

Getting back to the book, I do find Sulla to be perhaps the most contemptible character I've encountered. The way he killed Stichus made me ill - and actually, I had to take a break from the novel for awhile. Sounds like his evil didn't exactly stop there.

It does have me wondering (again) how much of this is fiction vs. fact. Do we know historically that Sulla was a murderer? Or is this just the author's conjecture?


message 22: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Yes, without placing spoilers here, according to historical accounts Sulla was not a nice person and in this regard the author seems to have gotten his character correct (vices and virtues).


message 23: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) We have seen no shortage of Sulla's vices, that's for sure. Hopefully before the book is done we will see some of his virtues. We must be learning about him for a reason. His taste for violence is quite unpalatable, IMHO. I do wonder what his goals are and what he is hoping to achieve with his plotting? So far it seems to have more to do with greed - he's tired of being poor and rubbing out anyone who stands in his way of accumulating some wealth. Beyond hedonism he seems to have no purpose.


message 24: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Why did the German army retreat after their defeat of Silanus's army? It seems to puzzle even the Romans.


message 25: by Jodi (new)

Jodi | 17 comments Vicki wrote: "Sulla wanted to get rid of Stichus because he was in line for Clitumna's legacy ahead of Sulla, but I don't really know why he let Nicopolis eat the poisoned mushrooms. He was truly shocked to fin..."

I think the song that Nicopolis was singing to tease him about a murderer getting rid of a rival made Sulla uncomfortable, like she knew he'd murdered Stichus.

Murdering a rival or political opponent isn't uncommon in Roman history, actually it was more commonplace. There seem to be a lot of deaths that were suspect but no one could be blamed. So in Sulla's mind maybe he can justify it because he feels he needs to take his rightful place.


message 26: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) It seems odd that after three deaths in one house that Julius didn't seem to raise an eyebrow. I have been wondering about that, and if the sudden unexplained deaths of rivals wasn't uncommon then that would explain the relative lack of suspicion.


message 27: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3820 comments Mod
Well, Clitumna's "suicide" was understandable, and they didn't have tox screens in those days, not that they suspected poisoning for the other 2. Maybe sudden deaths were fairly common. It is rather surprising that the mushrooms weren't suspected, since doctors did know about them.


message 28: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) True, they knew quite a bit about mushrooms and the book goes on about it. Still, maybe they turned a blind eye to the circumstances surrounding her death since she was not a person of note or, more accurately, a mistress to a pauper. There would not have been anything significant about it to warrant inquiry in anyone's mind.


message 29: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Marge wrote: "Sulla is certainly a twisted yet fascinating character. He murders for gain, but I can't help enjoying the parts of the novel that pertain to him. He doesn't seem to worry much about being caught..."

I suspect because of his upbringing or I should say relative lack of direction as a child that he had to be crafty and think on his feet to survive. He is very opportunistic, don't you think? He does a good job of coming up with a plan and when it comes to execution seems to react quickly to whatever is going on around him. The mushroom incident is a prime example. He also play Metrobius like a puppet, who seems all too willing to go along with whatever Sulla cooks up.


message 30: by Ed (new)

Ed (ejhahn) Alisa wrote: "Why did the German army retreat after their defeat of Silanus's army? It seems to puzzle even the Romans."

Perhaps they had other things to worry about. Like internecine feuds w/in the group. They were also, perhaps, running low on food since they traveled with their families.

Maybe they just wanted to prove a point. (Grin)


message 31: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Ed wrote: "Alisa wrote: "Why did the German army retreat after their defeat of Silanus's army? It seems to puzzle even the Romans."

Perhaps they had other things to worry about. Like internecine feuds w/in..."


Ed, very true. Odd to think about an army traveling with their family and feuds within the group. It is outside how I think about battle and army regardless of the time period so pushes my thinking on the topic. You raise some good points.

The Romans seem to have a military strategy even though a bit rudimentary in that in seems to have less of a long term cohesive view and is more closely aligned with the power struggles of the individual characters - a battle for who controls what rather than a strategic approach to geography, although there must have been some of that too. I find it peculiar that other factions marching on the Roman Republic at the time would not have a similar intent.


message 32: by Shannon (new)

Shannon | 75 comments I understood the German retreat to be a lack of cultural undertanding between the Germans and the Romans. Where the Romans would have finished and pushed for an all out victory, the Germans had gotten what they wanted: they'd scared the Romans.

Earlier, in the first section that we read, Spaniards' fighting is described. "Spaniards never deployed for battle in the traditional way, cared nothing for the universally accepted tenent that it was better to gamble everything you had on the off chance of wining a decisive battle than to incur the horrific costs of a prologed war . . .They never gave battle. Instead, they fought by ambush, raid, assassination, and devestation of all enemy property." (52-53)

I quite enjoyed reading that passage it reminded me of similar passages by conventional generals when fighting guerilla forces.


message 33: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Excellent citations once again Shannon. And it also reminds me of the general fighting style of some of today's terrorist organizations.


message 34: by Ed (new)

Ed (ejhahn) Shannon wrote: "I understood the German retreat to be a lack of cultural undertanding between the Germans and the Romans. Where the Romans would have finished and pushed for an all out victory, the Germans had go..."

That was what I meant when I said the Germans had made the point they wanted to.

The so-called barbarians were mostly interested in being left alone unless they saw a chance for loot. Rome kept trying to expand across the Rhine because that's just what they did. They did the same thing in Britain by pushing into Scotland which was also ultimately unsuccessful.

The Spanish operated the same way you describe in the Peninsular War (1808-1814) giving the world the term Guerilla(sp?)warfare.


message 35: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Great points all, very enlightening. I do recall that earlier discussion in the book that Shannon posted, helpful to reflect on that.


message 36: by Shannon (new)

Shannon | 75 comments The discussions of war are one of the themes that I am following with relish in this book. Many of the socio-political discourses in the plot are very similar to what we struggle with today. Warfare is one; money, honor, and law are others.


message 37: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I'm still thinking about the part where Sulla broke Clitumna's neck. I think it was well written.


message 38: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) It had that kind of thriller murder mystery quality to it, didn't it? She is bringing out the evil in him quite clearly.


message 39: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3820 comments Mod
The plot was very well planned and ruthlessly executed. I think these are fundamental aspects of Sulla's personality, and that we'll see more instances. He's also able to take advantage of happenstance, as with Nicopolis and the mushrooms.


message 40: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I totally agree, Vicki, he seems to be a true villain!


message 41: by Ed (new)

Ed (ejhahn) Bryan wrote: "I totally agree, Vicki, he seems to be a true villain!"

I agree also, he is the most unabashedly evil man in the whole series. However, for Roman nobility, I believe homosexual behavior could get you killed. This in spite of the Roman admiration for the Greeks. So some of his acts can be, if not forgiven, put into context.

As a lifelong student of Roman History, I think many of Rome's leaders through the centuries were as bad or worse than Sulla.


message 42: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3820 comments Mod
As far as homosexual activity was concerned, I don't think it would get you killed, but it would ruin your reputation if you were the passive partner. Being the active one, especially with your own slaves, was not really that big a deal.


message 43: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (mstaz) Vicki that would make sense, particularly given the way that slavery is treated in this book - de rigeur. Sulla's encounters with Metrobius are somewhat known and no one seems horribly disturbed by it. The description of what goes on at some of his parties as well leads me to believe that homosexual activity is part of that to no one's shock or dismay.


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