The cusps of the past are further explored in another of the prolific Haasse's historical sagas (In a Dark Wood Wandering, 1989; The Scarlet City, 1990)—a 1964 novel newly translated from the Dutch in which the clash of religions and codes of honor comes vividly to the fore in Christianized fifth-century Rome. Hadrian, haughty Prefect of Rome and a Christian zealot but acutely aware of the taint of his Egyptian heritage in higher circles of ethnically pure Romans, finds himself on the horns of a dilemma when forced to decide the fate of a man brought before him for conducting forbidden pagan practices. The man is familiar, although his name is not, but when he challenges Hadrian's authority during his hearing, the Prefect remembers him: he's the boy who defied Hadrian in Egypt years before, and yet whose brilliance subsequently elevated him to the status of court poet in Rome, until he transgressed and was exiled forever from the city—a sentence tantamount to death. But Claudius Claudianus survived, living unrecognized among the rabble in his beloved city for a decade and teaching them to read and write, until a bizarre sequence of events involving a dwarf, a prostitute, and an actor in search of former glory brought him back to Hadrian's attention. Torn between his sense of duty and an obligation to Claudius's grandfather, a wealthy Jewish landowner who gave the boy an education and opportunity while keeping his parentage a secret, Hadrian tells the prisoner of his origins and violates the Prefect's oath of office to spare his life, but the proud poet has other plans. Rich in psychological and historical detail, with both the characters and ancient Rome vibrantly alive: a subtle, quiet tale eloquently told.
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