THE ROMAN by Mika Waltari


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This leviathan (more than 600 pages) is the legacy-memoir of Minutus or ""the insignificant one,"" first met here at fifteen when he leaves for Rome to receive his man-toga. By the time that he has gone to his death facing the lions in the arena, he will have survived the eras of Emperor Claudius and Nero, long his friend; he will have traveled from his native Antioch to Britain to Corinth and finally to Jerusalem; he will have tamed and taken a hare-priestess in Britain, cohabited for years with Claudia, the emperor's daughter out of wedlock, a Christian convert; married and divorced the savage Sabina; loved perhaps only Antonia, Nero's half sister. Actually Waltari's Roman is a fairly undemonstrative character in what was certainly one of the most unruly eras of all time; his emotional and sexual needs seem very minimal. As are his loyalties and beliefs--so that even though he witnesses his father and stepmother's conversion, follows very closely the life of Paul (Saul) of Tarsus, is privy to and part of the dreadful persecution of both Jews and Christians, he is only persuaded toward Christianity at the end of his life and not with any overweening fervor. Waltari and Minutus retain their faintly detached cynicism. Sic transit--an epoch for which the story is not much more than a convenience. What gives the novel its main interest is the initiated detail, the physical properties of life as it was lived (ass' milk for cosmetic baths; tubs of blood for pancakes). This is the third in the trilogy begun with The Egyptian and The Etruscan. Its readership will probably be somewhere between the two and notwithstanding O tempora, O mores, tastes have changed. In any case the publishers won't be fiddling.

Publisher: Putnam