When in Rome...

I've been ill for the last week so ended up finishing Claudius the God and then immediately followed it with a book that I often return to when I'm feeling unwell - The Raphael Affair the first in Iain Pears' Art crime series. I love this series, it's easy reading, with interesting asides on art (I love art, but am not particularly knowledgeable), and a real flavour of Roman life.

It's quite a contrast to Claudius the God which also gives you a flavour of Roman life, but what a different Rome. The sheer brutality of life in Ancient Rome is quite stunning, even for an Emperor who was considered to be reasonably sane, and fairly beneficent by the standards of the time, the amount of executions that he authorised including his nearest and dearest, is amazing.

A good proportion of the novel takes place in the Holy Land at the court of Herod Antipas or Herod Agrippa, and to some extent this does spoil the narrative flow, as it isn't as Rome-centred as was the previous Claudius novel. However it does provide some very interesting asides on the early days of Christianity - did you know, for instance, that Herod Antipas (before whom Christ was forced to appear)and his wife Herodias (notorious for getting her daughter to ask for John the Baptist's head) were exiled to Lyon, and ended their days in Spain. This did make me wonder if all those strange stories about Christ ending up in France with Mary Magdalene (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail etc.) wasn't actually some kind of folk memory derived from this - after all a Jewish royal couple did move to live in France shortly after Jesus' crucifixion. Also surprising was the fact that Pontius Pilate only shortly outlived Jesus' execution as he was forced to commit suicide shortly afterwards. All in all, although I didn't think it was as good as I, Claudius, it was nonetheless grisly but compelling.

In contrast to this The Raphael Affair was fun light reading - just perfect when you're feeling absolutely rotten and don't want to think too hard. It's interesting that both of these books are set in Rome, but what contrasting cities.


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