Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Ides of April

Author:  Mary Ray

Illustrator:  Gino d'Achille (cover)

Era:  62 A.D.

Published: 1974 (?)

Award:  None known

Age Range:  12 years old and up

Review:  ★★★★



Senator Caius Pomponius Afer is murdered in his bed and the household slaves are taken into custody to face the sentence of death if even one has perpetrated this crime.  Aulus, Pomponius' valet and the first slave to happen upon his master after the assassination, is suspected, but when he dies in prison, who will prove his innocence?  Yet the slave list has been neglected and so, no one is aware that two of the slaves are missing. Where is Assinius, the Senator's steward, who had not been seen days before the murder?  And Hylas, the Senator's Greek secretary is not in the party.

Hylas, as it turns out, escaped detection in the house and is working steadfastly to find out who committed the dastardly deed.  He is certain that it was not one of the servants, but who could have had the opportunity and motive to commit such a vile execution.  Enlisting the help of Pomponius' son-in-law, Camillus Rufus, the nobleman and slave investigate, and unearth devious plots that could possibly rock the foundations of Rome's political body and cost them their lives.


Genre:  Children's Historical Fiction

Background:  Publius Clodius Thrasea Paetus is one of the characters in the story, yet he is a real Roman historical figure.  By his actions in the Senate and in public life, he exemplified a man of honour and convictions, often going against the status quo in favour of principles.  Upon Nero's murder of his own mother and the Senate's obsequious behaviour towards the Emperor, Paetus walked out of the Senate meeting, refusing to be part of it.  His opposition to Nero continued and eventually his admirable ethics caught up with him.  Nero contrived charges against him, accusing him of neglecting his senatorial duties, and he was sentenced to death by his choice.  At his suburban villa, he elected to have the veins in his arms opened and died with serene dignity.

Setting:   Rome in the year 62 A.D.  

Point-of-View:  The story is told from the point of view of the slave, Hylas, yet switches part way through the story to the point-of-view of Camillus.  This substitution offers a unique perspective for the reader as they get to first see Roman life through the eyes of a slave and later see it through the eyes of a patrician.


Characters:


Patricians:

Caius Pomponius Afer:  A Roman senator

Camillus Rufus:  A military tribune married to Blandina

Domina Blandina:  Senator Pomponius' daugher and Camillus' wife.

Domina Faustina:  The step-mother of Senator Pomponius

Decianus Gallus:  The step-brother of Senator Pomponius

Galerius:  A friend of Camillus



The Household of Caius Pomponius:

Hylas:  The main character.  Senator Caius Pomponius' secretary

Assinus:  Senator Pomponius' steward

Aulus:  Senator Pomponius' valet

Nissa:  The mother of Hylas and Faustina's maid

Merope: Domina Blandina's maid


People of Rome:

Macrobius:  A prison governor

Varro:  A market porter

Matidia:  His aunt

Figulus:  A barber

Vibulanus:  A butcher

Dionysios:  Secretary for Correspondence from the Eastern Provinces in the Imperial Household


Historical Characters:

Thrasea Paetus:  A senator and former consul.  He lived during the time of three Emperors, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.

Seneca:  Tutor, and at this point, an advisor to Nero

Emperor Nero:  During his reign, he initially concentrated on trade and the enhancement of cultural life.  He is the Roman emperor who was accused setting fire to Rome.  He was also the first emperor to commit suicide.

The Remorse of Nero after the Murder of his Mother (1878)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Plot:


What does the central character want?


  • Hylas wants to find the murder of Pomponius to save his mother and the rest of the slaves.  Camillus wants to find the murderer to pay a debt to Hylas and to see justice served.


What keeps her from getting what she wants?


  • Hylas is being sought by the athorities, which makes his search for those responsible and the gathering of clues, more difficult. Camillus is impeded by family loyalty.  He struggles with truth and exposure of those close to him.


How does Hylas and Camillus finally get what they want?


  • Hylas gets what he wants through Camillus, and Camillus, with the help of Paetus, finally realizes that truth and justice is more important than personal consequence.  Through the process of the investigation, he begins to see the slaves as people instead of just a commodity.


Conflict:

  • Man vs. Man  Camillus is in conflict with his wife and the possible public exposure of their family.
  • Man vs. Society  Hylas' place as a slave in society makes it difficult for him to search for justice or the truth
  • Man vs. Himself  Camillus struggles with himself to determine if justice or personal wants are more important          

Representation of the Roman Senate
source Wikipedia

Themes:
  • Murder
  • Loyalty
  • Ethics
  • Duty
  • Bravery
  • Mutual Alliance
  • Family
  • Patrician vs. Slave



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