Modern Greek or Roman fiction not centered on military or leaders?
September 24, 2013 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Ancient Roman and Greek civilizations set my imagination ablaze, and while I've loved Homer's works right now I'm interested in works written in, say, the last century that take place in those times, or thereabouts.

The challenge seems to be finding books that aren't centered around soldiers on the march, military leaders, or high-level political intruige. Where are the books about merchants and sailors and slaves and pirates and farmers, etc? I wouldnt mind some military or politics as long as the book didn't center around it. And no issue with more mythic or fantastical elements.
posted by gregoryg to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I absolutely loved Ilium by Dan Simmons. It's an odd book but he makes it work in a really compelling way. There is a sequel also, but I didn't like it as well.
posted by something something at 7:02 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


You could do worse than Gene Wolfe's 'Soldier of the Mist' and its sequels.
posted by pipeski at 7:03 AM on September 24, 2013


How about the Marcus Didius Falco series of detective novels? I've only ever read The Silver Pigs as I'm not a huge detective novel person, but I do remember enjoying that one a lot.

And you might've come across this already yourself, but in case you haven't, there's a whole page of Fiction set in ancient Rome on Wikipedia; maybe there's something there you'd be interested in?
posted by DingoMutt at 7:05 AM on September 24, 2013


Gordianus the Finder is great fun for hard-boiled detective fiction set in the last days of the Republic.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:06 AM on September 24, 2013


Lindsey Davis, the author of the Falco series, has also written a couple of other Roman-themed books. Highly seconding her work, it's really fun! Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove also wrote a book that deals with a time-traveler in Rome, Household Gods, which definitely gets into the nitty-gritty life details.

Would you be at all open to non-fiction that's written for a broader audience on those topics?
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:12 AM on September 24, 2013


Came here to recommend/second Household Gods. It's got Turtledove's amazing attention to historical detail with a lot of wonderful human touches (which I assume come from Tarr).
posted by hanov3r at 7:19 AM on September 24, 2013


Yes, Lindsey Davis might be right up your alley. In particular, consider "The Course of Honour":
A tantalising half-sentence in Suetonius’ biography says that after his wife died, Vespasian ‘took up again with Caenis, his former mistress and one of Antonia’s freedwomen and secretaries, who remained his wife in all but name even when he became Emperor’....The book carries no formal dedication, but it is, in Veronica’s words, for all the girls in all the palaces who sleep on flea-ridden pallets on stone ledges in cold cells, and who live by the hope that one day they will rise to a better place. They will know who I mean.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:21 AM on September 24, 2013


I am reading Gillian Bradshaw's The Sand Reckoner . It's a YA novel about Archimedes which focuses a lot on common life.
posted by Wulfhere at 7:32 AM on September 24, 2013


How about the Marcus Didius Falco series of detective novels?
Gordianus the Finder is great fun for hard-boiled detective fiction set in the last days of the Republic.

Ancient Roman hard-boiled detective fiction? Was this written specifically for me and nobody bothered to inform me? Amazing!

Would you be at all open to non-fiction that's written for a broader audience on those topics?

Go ahead and make some suggestions! Most of the non-fiction I've read has either been very dry or has been military/political in nature.

And you might've come across this already yourself, but in case you haven't, there's a whole page of Fiction set in ancient Rome on Wikipedia

Definitely seen that, it's just hard to sort through all of it to get to the subject matter I'm interested in. I can only read about military campaigns and nobles vying for power so many times.

Forgot to mention: I'm definitely a little more attracted to adventure fiction here.

Great suggestions so far, everyone, keep them coming. Have most of these in my Amazon cart now!
posted by gregoryg at 7:47 AM on September 24, 2013


Tom Holt's The Walled Orchard (the omnibus edition that includes Goatsong--it's usually the only one you see) is one of my favorite books of all time. It's about Eupolis, a lost (but historical) comic playwright from the time of Aristophanes, and in addition to being extremely well-informed by the author's classics degree from Oxford, it is also hilarious. Very strongly recommended.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:57 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am conflicted about this book, but want to recommend it anyway on the chance that you enjoy it more than I did (disclaimer: this is my job, so I read things on a different level... which often means I can't just plain enjoy some solid, imaginative books. ugh.). Romanitas, by Sophia McDougall is alternative-universe fiction about present day, but one in which the Roman Empire never fell. It's truly a trilogy, but when I picked this up the first volume was the only one that was out. I enjoyed it - it's certainly imaginative, fresh, and has a lot of creative perspectives on a post-Industrial world with a Roman flavor - but I didn't love it, and since the second and third books weren't out, I kind of lost steam with the series, so I haven't read the follow-ups. I'd be so happy if they're good, though, because I adore this concept.

Otherwise, I will wholeheartedly, unreservedly, and joyfully nth Davis' Falco series. The early ones are the best, and oh BOY are they good!
posted by AthenaPolias at 7:57 AM on September 24, 2013


Robert Harris's Pompeii is enjoyable, some political intrigue, but narrated by an ordinary citizen and quite exciting. Ruth Downie's series about a doctor in Roman Britain is (Medicus was the first) is pretty good, and well but not ostentatiously researched.
posted by Sybil Stockwell Oop at 8:00 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


You want Mary Renault. The Mask of Apollo is about an actor, and is delightful. Her series about Theseus begins with The King Must Die, in which Theseus is a nobody for much of the book (he only becomes king in The Bull from the Sea, if memory serves).
posted by coppermoss at 8:05 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Harris has written other novels set in Rome, like "Imperium", which is mostly about Cicero and the Cataline conspiracy, iirc
posted by thelonius at 8:59 AM on September 24, 2013


Memoires of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar, is beautiful. It takes the form of a long letter from the dying emperor to his heir, Marcus Aurelius. Though there are elements of political intrigue and military matters, these really are secondary to his meditations on love, loss, and mortality, and the heart of the novel is the romance between Hadrian and Antinous.

Anne Carson did a modern retelling of the Oresteia, which is a trilogy from the Classical period dealing with the multi-generational repercussions of the Agamemnon's crimes during the Trojan war.

David Malouf's Ransom is haunting. It deals with Priam's attempts to rescue the body of his son from the Greeks. In An Imaginary Life he imagines the urbane Roman Ovid's days in exile among the Pagans.
posted by kanewai at 8:59 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Came here to recommend Mary Renault and found coppermoss had beaten me to it, so will only add another title: The Last of the Wine. She's a wonderful writer, vivid, moving, and psychologically profound.
posted by zeri at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2013


Ancient Roman hard-boiled detective fiction? Was this written specifically for me and nobody bothered to inform me? Amazing!

If you are at all interested in Ancient Egypt, detective stories set in that culture exist as well. Lynda Robinson's Lord Meren series would be a good place to start.
posted by soelo at 9:14 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seconding Lindsey Davis and Mary Renault.

Also seconding Ruth Downie's Ruso series. Ruso is a doctor in the Roman legions. I know you said not military stuff, but the focus isn't on that. I read the first book as Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls but it has also apparently been published as Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls and just as Medicus.

There's also a series by Rosemary Rowe about a freed slave who solves mysteries. I found these a bit depressing.

In children's books, the Roman Mysteries.

You might or might not like Bulwer Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii. I loved it as a teenager but it is a teenage type of book.

The novelist Rebecca East also has a page listing books set in ancient Rome.
posted by sock of ages at 12:01 PM on September 24, 2013


I meant to include this link - The Detective & the Toga.
posted by sock of ages at 2:28 PM on September 24, 2013


This fellow writes a variety of Roman fiction, worth a look. StevenSaylor
I think the RomaSubRosa series with Gordanius the Finder might be what you are looking for.
posted by rudd135 at 5:07 PM on September 24, 2013


A book intended for children, but fully readable and fascinating for an adult: David Macaulay's excellent "City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction." YT video. There are small stories (in truth, very little story) around a ton of factual material, but wow, is it good. I mention it mostly as a quick way to get a sense of place and background for your reading, and it's definitely concerned with the everyday laborers of Rome!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:40 PM on September 24, 2013


Seconding "The Walled Orchard"... one of my favorite books of all time too. In fact I think I'll go read it again...
posted by The otter lady at 5:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gillian Bradshaw has been mentioned above as the author of The Sand-Reckoner but she has also written many historical novels, many set in the Roman Empire. The Beacon at Alexandria is one of my all-time favourites, and Render Unto Caesar was pretty good too. Sadly, many of her books are out of print now, but it's worth snapping up anything you can find. Well, except perhaps her Arthurian trilogy, which I never cared for.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:22 PM on September 24, 2013


A little off topic, but Robert Silverberg had a series of short stories set in a contemporary Rome that never fell, collected as Roma Eterna.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:36 PM on September 24, 2013


I know a few people have said Mary Renault. Just recommending her again. Her grasp and depiction of everyday manners, customs, superstitions, religious rituals, athletics, romantic relationships and family patterns is what make her 5th century B.C. Greece come alive. You will be absolutely soaked in the cultural milieu of ancient Greece and understand just how differently it was to live in a culture that placed virtue above all values, even love, family or personal wealth accumulation. Like any culture, most failed to achieve the ideal--but it's amazing to see how differently a society might be organized that what we deal with here in the Modern West. The writing is direct and plain while remaining enchanting and poetic.
posted by caveatz at 9:25 AM on September 26, 2013


« Older Should I stay, or should I go?   |   A running app that does (almost) all the work for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.