The Last Days of Marcus Tullius Cicero by Jordan M. Poss, review by Steven G. Farrell, The Path Summer 2017
The Last Day of Marcus Tullius Cicero: A Story of Ancient Rome by Jordan M. Poss, 106 pages, 2016. $6.99. ISBN-13: 978-1537000763
Jordan M. Poss, author of the fine historical novel No Snakes In Iceland, has also published another readable piece a fiction based upon actual events. The Last Day of Marcus Tullius Cicero is a novella focused upon the closing hours and minutes of Cicero (106-43 B.C.E), the great Roman rhetorician who had made it on to the” hit list” of Marcus Antonius (Marc Anthony) shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar (March 15, 44 B.C.E). The stabbing of Caesar in the Roman Senate by twenty-three swords or knives had ushered in an epoch of upheaval and mayhem. Brutus and Crassus, the leaders of the rebellious Senators, were afraid that Julius Caesar was on the verge of declaring himself the Emperor thus putting an end to the four century run of the Republic. Romans had had a long tradition of despising the tyranny of a despotic kings since the last one had been deposed of. The new triumvirate of Antonius, Gaius Octavius (later the emperor Caesar Augustus) and Lepidus were fighting a civil war with Brutus and defenders of the Roman Republic as well as with any the Senators who had been involved in the assassination plot. Cicero had indeed been a witness to the unfolding murder but he hadn’t been in on the palace conspiracy; his noninvolvement being enough to sentence him to death. It didn’t help matter that Cicero, the self-described “Old Roman,” had long been a harsh and outspoken critic of Julius Caesar and his crony Antonius. Cicero’s acid tongue and blistering pen on parchment had earned him at least one exile sentencing to the wilderness of the expanding Roman holdings. Cicero was what was known as a “New Man,” or one who was the first in his family line to become prominent enough to win a seat in the Senate. Cicero, of course, is a well-known historical
figure as well as one of the demigods in the discipline of Rhetoric. Cicero was a famous man in the Roman world who had earned his spurs as a philosopher, orator, politician, political theorist and constitutionalist. Poss’ work is heavily influenced the Roman historian Plutarch. The author also has a read deeply in the letters, dialogues and treatises that were rediscovered during the 14th century Renaissance by Petrarch. The reader is quickly introduced into the character of Cicero: “He was a magnificent man even in old age, even as his body failed him. His oratorical postures are well known; even his silences are famous to this day-left elbow cocked on the arm of a chair, the chin at rest in the upturned palm, and the lips and great crest of his nose turning damning boredom upon the subject of his gaze” (p 1). The last day of Cicero is December 7th, 43 BCE, and is a sixty-two year old man who is too tired to try and outrace his impending doom at the hands of soldiers in the pay of the new order. It is his will that he die in his inland villa in south of the capital Rome, surrounded by his letters, books, notes, wax tablets and surplus writing materials. Poss give us a colorful depiction of Cicero library: “He nodded to the racks lining one wall of the room. Threescore books or more, a rich stock for a country villa, slotted neatly in their racks.” (p42) Poss’s story is recounted by Leonidas the leader of Cicero’s remaining loyal slaves and servants. Leonidas refuses to flee even when the “old Roman” writes out a manumission, granting him his free as well citizenship. Leonidas and his slave female lover and soon-to-be-wife, Clementea, are determined to see Cicero through to the end of his life over his protests. Even when the news of the butchery of Cicero’s brother, Quintas, reaches the villa, the loyalists intend to stand their ground. Leonidas has time to ponder “would they still copy his speeches?” (p43) Jordan M. Poss, a historian by trade and an instructor by profession, displays his in-depth knowledge of the Roman Era by incorporating such historical characters as Sulla and Cato into the story. Cato had committed suicide by ripping out his stomach not once but twice in protest to the dictatorship of Caesar and Leonidas is afraid that Cicero will follow his example. Cicero,
however, had no intention of taking that route out of life: “No, life is not merely drawing breath. I am a tired old man. Grouchy, dyspeptic: more often than not. My limbs ache. My hip bothers me–I have troubled dreams–I lived a long and good life for my country, and even when I stop drawing breath I will have some kind of life because of it” and “We do not know what fate has in store for us. Best to embrace our duties and endure.” (p47) “They killed him” (p98) are among the closing comments of Leonidas’s narrative as he finally flees with his love and the others as a squad of Roman legionnaires are poised to pounce upon the unguarded estate manor. Of course the great Cicero is murdered and, we learn through the Lives of Plutarch, that his head was chopped off and displayed in the Forum of Rome. To our dismay, we have also read the account of how the wife of Marcus Antonius added dishonor to the deed by sticking her hair pin into his mouth for his outspoken boldness directed at her Mafia-behaving husband. Jordan M. Poss has once again created a superlative yarn woven from the yarn of recorded history with his The Last Day of Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Reviews by Steven G. Farrell
No Snakes in Iceland by Jordan M. Poss, book review by Steven G. Farrell : The Path, Summer of 2017
No Snakes in Iceland, by Jordan M. Poss, 299 pages. $14.99 ISBN-13: 978-1523493333
No Snakes In Iceland (2016) is the first novel published by Jordan M. Posse and it is a superlative debut by a fine young writer. Mr. Posse, who is an Instructor of History at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina, has also published a novella on Cicero earlier in the year. The Last Day of Cicero and No Snakes in Iceland introduced a new and exciting author of historical fiction to the American reading public. Posse’s undergraduate and graduate career at Clemson University has trained him well for his calling, especially in the realm of ancient and medieval history. He is currently working upon another project that shall be focused upon the American Civil War, 1861 to 1865. Growing up in Rabun County, Georgia, this author grew up with old memories and oral traditions of the War between the State all around him. No Snakes in Iceland is set in the final outpost of the Viking conquests during the reign of Alfred the Great of England (871 to 899 A.D). It is a frozen wasteland of long houses, isolated farms and heavy snowfall. The Age of the Ax that had descended upon Rome in the 5th century was still in full bloom as sea outlaws from Scandinavia raided European civilizations from Norway, Denmark and Sweden. The Vikings were the Hells Angels and Cripes of their zeitgeist for several hundred years as they plundered and pillaged Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France, Sicily, Russia and any number of unfortunate places close to the sea coast or large rivers. The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings are both the off-springs of the Germanic race; and they would be at war with the native Celts of Ireland and Great Britain for centuries to come.
The Vikings weren’t a savory topic to digest for Edgar, the narrator of the tale. He is an Englishman who had lost his wife and child during an invasion by the Norsemen. To deal with his grief he had retreated to a monastery to work on his court chronicles and to try to find peace among the monks. Edgar’s harmony is destroyed when Eadwin, a priest who is highly regarded by even the Vikings, requests that Edgar go to Iceland to investigate the reports of a marauding ghost. Actually Edgar real mission is to ‘kill a ghost.” It is wondered out loud if the task would be too difficult for him by Odd, the messenger, asks the priest. It is the question Posse wants his readers to also ask. Will be the quest be too much for Edgar, or will Edgar’s hatred for the Vikings become too much for him to contend? Will he find that the Devil does physically exist and walk the earth among living folk? The cautious Edgar sails off to Iceland accompanied by the holy Sifrid and the obnoxious Leofric. The trio of wayfarers is guided by Odd, an Icelandic warrior and word shaper. Edgar, a poet himself, finds himself bonding with the stoical young man with the white blond hair and the ice blue eyes of his people. Edgar even allows Odd to examine and hold his sword, Mailrender. The author provides us with a glossary that explains some of the terminology used in the book: berserk, blood-money and broad-ax. We are also provided with some real golden time Norse like Dansk (Danish language) godi (priest-chief) and fjord (a long, narrow bay carved out of cliffs). Posse displays an intimate knowledge of the geography of the early settlements in the Icelandic colony as well as an astute understanding of the Icelandic Sagas, the oral tradition of the settlers. The Vikings Edgar encounters have such name is Thor, Skeggi, Hrolf, Gudrub, Thorkil and Regin. We’re also introduced to Viking noblewomen like the beautiful Aud and treacherous Asdis. My favorites among this Icelandic cast of characters was Nub the Bleeder and Erik Unborn. The most dreaded of these people of the frozen island is Sursa, the mighty giant who been transformed by sorcery into the ghost who walks the frozen ground, terrorizing the land. With his brute strength the ghost was rumored to have ripped cattle and horses into tiny pieces. With his bare hands he had snapped the neck of grown men. Now the mystery begins with
Edgar being the detective. Is Sursa a supernatural creature or is it all an elaborate hoax? An educated humanist such as Edgar requires hard evidence to be convinced in the walking dead. The English intellectual quickly witnesses Sursa attack upon the long house guarded by a squad a seasoned Viking bodyguard. He sees with his own naked eyes that the ghost is real enough. Poss reaches a peak of horror as Sursa races around the long house several times before leaping onto the roof and using his Samson-like strength to rip apart the ceiling to get at his terror-stricken victims below. Edgar, ever the doubting Thomas, even stabs the monster with his own sword to see that there is no effect whatsoever. Now the mystery must be solved: why has Sursa left his grave to spread mayhem throughout the tiny kingdom? Was the animated corpse now the tool of a witch and black magic? Or had he been murdered and was now seeking revenge for those he believed were responsible? What would the results of the discovery of Sursa’s beloved harp bring to the case? The author skillfully manipulates the spiritual and supernatural worlds with the grim realities of medieval realities. Jordan M. Poss’s book remind me a great deal of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which also heavily colored by the Icelandic Saga and the Myths of Celtic Britain. The author fuses these Nordic-Celtic threads together for a new saga that involves both races. Like Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins, Edgar must leave the comfort of the fireplace to wander far away to meet his destiny. There are mountain peaks to scale, icy rivers to cross, and barren wastelands to ramble through in the outback of a primitive place before our hero can return home to his hearth, books and lost dreams. I shall allow the reader to discover for themselves whether or not Edgar the Shaper is up to the task of solving this Nordic riddle. I will also grant the reader the pleasure of discovering if Edgar ever resolves his hatred for the Viking and, more importantly, if he comes to terms with the grief over the loss of his beloved wife (Aedre) and his darling daughter (Aefre).