The Ides of March-Valerio Massimo Manfredi

In Book Reviews, fiction, historical fiction on August 2, 2010 at 6:25 am

A Familiar Story Reworked

Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s novel, The Ides of March, deals with the events leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15 in 44 B.C.  The story’s ending is known when the reader picks up the book:  Caesar will die in the Senate, murdered by a small group of senators led by Cassius and Brutus.  Manfredi’s task was to construct a fictional telling of the days leading to March 15 and make it interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention until the end, an end they already know.  He accomplishes this and the result is a fine story that captivates the reader until the last page is finished.

Manfredi includes a tapestry of characters, interweaving people who actually existed then with fictional characters, some of whom are an amalgam of a number of people who existed at the time or inspired by actual people.  Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Brutus, Cassius, Calpurnia (Caesar’s wife), and Servilia (Caesar’s long time mistress and mother of Brutus) all play pivotal roles in the story, but synthesized with their roles are those of the fictional characters, who are just as important to the story.  Silius Salvidienus, Caesar’s adjutant; Antistius, Caesar’s doctor; and Publius Sextius, a front line centurion who has Caesar’s complete trust because of his valor on the battlefield in Gaul all play pivotal roles in the story.

The novel begins on the morning of March 8.  Caesar isn’t well and he feels what’s in the air around Rome:  conspiracy.  That he can’t identify why he feels this or who is directly involved doesn’t change the fact that Caesar knows.  He suffers from epilepsy, a closely guarded secret known by only his closest confidants.  But it isn’t his physical being that is the problem.  He is like all dictators:  he lives on borrowed time from those who seek to aggrandize their own positions at his expense.  Those nearest to Caesar know something is amiss in Rome also and worry about him.

The reader finds out that Caesar has sent one of his closest confidants, the centurion Publius Sextius, to find out information on what he suspects is being planned.  The bulk of the story involves this man, whose nickname is “The Cane” because of his skill in wielding his walking stick in combat.  His mission is a desperate one because he knows what is planned and the reader follows him on his race to Rome to stop the conspirators from carrying out their deadly attack. But The Cane is not alone; the conspirators have their own men racing toward Rome, trying to stop him from ever completing his task.  The Cane enlists help from others loyal to Caesar to get the message to Rome that “The Eagle is in danger.”  The efforts of both groups of men feverishly braving the winter weather of northern Italy to achieve their aims contrast sharply with the descriptions of the last days of Caesar and the meetings of the conspirators, both of which have a calm sense of resignation to them.  Caesar cannot stop what will happen, despite his immense  power, and the conspirators have long past the time when they could turn back by this point in March.

Manfredi’s story is well written and wonderfully captivating.  The death of Caesar is no surprise to readers, but how Manfredi describes the emotions of those who loved Caesar is poignant.  Even reading how one of the couriers of The Cane’s finds out about Caesar’s death is stirring:

Rufus entered and reported to the young decurion on duty.
“Message from the service.  Top priority and maximum urgency…”
The decurion rose to his feet.
The message is:  “The Eagle is in danger.”
The decurion regarded him darkly.
“The Eagle is dead,” he replied.

The Ides of March deals with events that have enthralled people for centuries.  Manfredi’s novel is full of interesting characters, reworked into a fiction that is riveting from beginning to end.  A must read!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: