Revising history

Revising history

I finished the four-book “Emperor” series by Conn Iggulden last week. It’s technically fantasy or alternate history, but a better description would be mild historical revisionism. I have to confess that I don’t quite understand the point of exploring a historical character, but modifying historical events in order to make the story flow more smoothly. The transformation of Julius Caesar’s sexual persona from the individual who inspired the following verse to a monkish ascetic uncommonly faithful to his best friend’s mother, who happens to be a whore, is simply bizarre.

“Look to your wives, ye citizens, a lecher bald we bring.
In Gaul adultery cost thee gold, here ’tis but borrowing.”

That being said, the book is an interesting exploration relationship between Caesar and Brutus, even if the greater part of it is clearly invented. Instead of the father-son relationship that Plutarch suggests, they are presented as having a David-and-Jonathan relationship, albeit one that obviously goes bad. It’s clear that Iggulden read the relevant historians and his revisionism is a conscious and deliberate choice; this won’t harm the story for those innocent of Roman history but may prove a minor irritation to those familiar with it.

But the battle scenes are gripping and the story is based on one of history’s great dramas, so the books will probably be worth reading for the average adventure fantasy fan.

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John ONeill

Hi Theo,

That does sound intriguing. I’m with you – the chief question that nags at me is, “Um… why?” But it sounds like the historical revisions were made for the same reason that most writers do things – in service of the story.

Is this a recent publication, or is it something older?


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