I read non-fiction much slower than fiction so I’m not surprised to find myself less than 100 pages into Livia, Empress of Rome two days later. While I’m enjoying the book, it can be at times slightly hard to follow. It’s not the author’s fault either since records of Roman women, even the ones that marry emperors, were not kept with any regularity. The story is told through the men in her life, which is interesting, but at times frustrating since a good deal of the time you’re left reading about a man whose role in Livia’s life was minimal but their meeting was the only way to mark the passage of time in her life.
Roman lifestyles, marriage in particular, are fascinating to read about and slightly disturbing. Women are used as pawns, not to say they didn’t have a say in who or when they married (most didn’t but in households where a marriage was based on love, some thought may have been given to the daughter’s wishes but it would have been unusual) but most of the time are traded easily as property which is how most if not all are thought of. For instance, Livia’s second marriage to Octavian (Emperor Augustus in later years) happens while she is pregnant with her second child from her first husband. Of course, out of courtesy, Octavian waits to marry her until after she gives birth. A few days after she has the baby, they marry and the child is returned to Livia’s first husband as was the custom when a man marries a woman pregnant with another’s child. Crazy.
What I’m enjoying most is not necessarily the information about Livia, she is an interesting person though, but the background on Roman life. Debauched is a good description this early on but not the only one that can be used. I’m sure I’ll have more when I get to the end of this one.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.
Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.
I’ve been on a fantasy bender lately so I thought a little non-fiction was in order. Today I’m starting Livia, Empress of Rome by Matthew Dennison.
Between Tiberius and the throne had stood at various moments five or possibly six candidates preferable to Augustus, as well as Augustus himself. All died unexpectedly, in each case in circumstances which remain in part unresolved. (page 2)
By Michelle Moran
After the deaths of Marc Antony and Cleopatra, Egypt’s new conqueror, Octavian, takes their three children, twins Alexander and Selene, and the youngest Ptolemy, to Rome as prisoners. Ptolemy dies on the journey causing Alexander and Selene to cling to each other even more knowing Octavian can order their deaths on a whim. After being paraded through the streets of Rome in chains, Alexander and Selene are sent to live with Octavia, Octavian’s sister who loves them as her own. While their life is by no means difficult — Octavia goes out of her way to make them feel at home — they still live in fear of death and desperately long for Egypt.
Told through Selene’s eyes, the story focuses on her brother and their small group of friends. While Alexander spends his time and money with Octavia’s son Marcellus at the Circus Maximus, Selene spends her time studying and attempting to make herself useful to Octavian hoping he will send her and her brother home. When their 15th birthday arrives and they are declared adults, Selene and Alexander’s lives take on a heightened urgency. Knowing a marriage will soon be in her future, Selene prepares for a difficult life, and Alexander attempts to live out his days happily instead of worrying about the future knowing he may not have one as the last living son of Marc Antony.
I enjoyed this book and the incredible detail Moran adds to the story. Selene is strong, stubborn, and unwilling to forget who and what she is — a princess of Egypt and daughter of Cleopatra. She questions Octavian’s orders, is outspoken to her guards, and always makes it known that she wants to return to Egypt. The years they spend in Rome are eventful and eye opening, even the smallest trip to the forum is interesting creating an incredible picture of Roman life.
I wanted to read this book because I loved The Heretic Queen so much. I don’t think I liked this book as much but it was still a great read. Moran has a way of describing events and details so well that you can picture everything clearly. She drops you right into the story. Selene is a captive princess in a foreign land and you feel her loss, fear, hope, and eagerness to learn and be useful. There were two small things that bothered me though. I did wonder about Selene’s maturity level at the beginning (she is 10 when Octavian invades Egypt) as she seems way too precocious for her age, and I didn’t like her eager acceptance of her chosen husband at the end. These two things didn’t deter from my reading, just made me wonder, but in the end had no impact on my liking the story any less.
Moran is fast becoming one of my new favorite authors. Now, I’m off to buy a copy of Nefertiti since my library doesn’t have it.