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Literature / Outcast

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Rum, sodomy, and the lash* (*Rum and sodomy not guaranteed)
"I was not born to be drowned."

Outcast is a 1955 Young Adult Historical Fiction novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, the follow-up to her 1954 bestseller The Eagle of the Ninth.

An infant rescued from a Roman shipwreck is adopted by a British tribe beyond the frontier, but fifteen years later, they drive him back out again. Hoping for a warmer welcome from his “true” people in the Roman Empire, Beric is instead abducted by slavers and sold as a British barbarian in Rome. He makes an enemy of his master’s son, a friend of his daughter, and discovers a faint hope of refuge with an engineer from Britain – if first he can fight clear of the mines, the galleys, and the great storms.


Outcast contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Glaucus, the charming son of the Piso household, beloved of all but Beric and his sister Lucilla.
    He had seen behind the pleasant mask of Glaucus and for a moment made Glaucus see behind it too, and that was the thing of all others that Glaucus would never forgive.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The children of the Dumnonii take their cue from their elders after they publicly debate the question of whether he belongs to the Tribe.
    All his life he had played and fought and tumbled about with these boys, his pack-brothers; and neither he nor they had had any thought of his not being one of them. But that was all over, since two nights ago. He knew now what old Ffion had meant when he said: ‘If he can hold his own with the pack, after this night’s work, he will make a warrior worth the having.’ He understood perfectly what was happening. He had seen the hound-pack turn on a strange dog before now, or one that was hurt, or different from themselves in any way.
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  • Animal Motifs: The politics of a dog-pack represent Beric (figuring as an adopted wolf-cub)’s struggles with the Dumnonii, while the northward spring migrations of swallows and grey geese stand in for Beric’s homesickness for Britain.
  • Artistic License – Ships: While the Slave Galley was a familiar trope in fiction such as Ben-Hur (the novel, Outcast predates the film) and Kipling’s “The Finest Story in the World”, their use in the Roman navy is actually somewhat improbable. Her manoeuvres may be comparatively accurate, however – the novel is dedicated to Commander Sutcliff of the Royal Navy, "without whom the Alcestis of the Rhenus Fleet would never have been seaworthy."
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: First Lucilla, whom Beric briefly despises until discovering that she treats him like a human being; his fellow-slave Jason; and Justinius and his household, in whose kindness the jaded Beric can't entirely trust until Justinius treats not only Beric's injuries but his stray dog's.
    Beric: You have been kind to me, and I—would do anything, so that you should be happy.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Like his spiritual predecessor Placidus in The Eagle of the Ninth, handsome aristocrat Glaucus is a dick, while overweight Plain Jane Lucilla, grotesquely-proportioned Justinius, rat-like Rhodope, and enormous Cordaella are wise and kind.
  • Blackmail: Justinius (somewhat improbably) has some unspecified dirt on Glaucus which he leverages to pry Beric out of his clutches.
  • Blind Musician: Rhiada the harper occupies a respected position among the Dumnonii, which he uses to advocate for Beric.
    Rhiada: I do not see his people in his face, but I know a bold heart when I meet one.
  • Burial at Sea: The Alcestis buries Beric and Jason, in the sense of chucking them overboard when they die at the oar.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: While working on the Rhee Wall, Beric eventually meets Cornelius Chlorus, the Roman legate who indirectly got him and Jason worked and beaten half to death during the crossing to Britain. The Legate naturally enough does not recognise him.
  • Call-Back: Romney Marsh also appeared in 1952's Brother Dusty-Feet. Its appearance is probably a Shout-Out to Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill.
  • Canine Companion: Beric leaves his first beloved hound Gelert behind in his home village, but finding Canog, a mongrel like himself well-kicked about by life and in need of a good home, is what turns Beric back around in the middle of running away from Justinius. Gelert later reappears in the care of Rhiada the harper.
  • Canis Latinicus: At this point in her writing, Sutcliff appears to have known that Roman men usually had three names, but not that the family name was the middle one. Titus Drusus Justinius and Publius Lucius Piso have two first names and a cognomen, and accordingly Piso's children Lucilla and Glaucus aren't given a family name either. The error would crop up again with Tiberius Lucius Justinianus in her third Roman novel, The Silver Branch.
  • Carnegie Medal: Outcast was the only one not to be shortlisted of the six novels for children Sutcliff published in the years 1954 to 1959 (when she finally won for The Lantern Bearers.)
  • Continuity Nod: Though Outcast is not obviously a sequel to The Eagle of the Ninth, when Beric mentions that Isca Dumnoniorum was burned down in a tribal uprising before he was born, he's presumably referring to the revolt put down by its hero Marcus in the early chapters of that novel. The scene in which Beric is instantly drawn to a young soldier who offers to buy him – but can't afford it, is perhaps a passing nod to the unlikely master-slave friendship between Marcus and Esca.
  • Cool Ship: The Alcestis is, for her masters, a beautifully efficient machine; for her slaves, “a floating hell."
    She was a low-set forty-oar galley, carrying her oars in a single tier—the towering triremes of the south would be useless in the steep northern seas—and for the first time, as he watched the lean, swift lines of her and the perfect precision with which her oars rose and fell, a gleam of pleasure showed in the hard face under the eagle-crested helmet of the Legate.
  • Culture Clash: The Dumnonii aren’t fans of the Romans.
    The glory was departed now, before the shadow of the Eagles, and the great and powerful Druid-kind had almost ceased to be.
  • Dated History: The only quasi-historical event in Outcast, the supposed Roman founding of the Rhee Wall of Romney Marsh in south-east England, is no longer credited by historians.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Beric becomes boyhood best friends with Cathlan, at Cathlan's instigation, shortly after beating the hell out of Cathlan for bullying him about being Roman.
    ‘I’ll wager there would not be two better fighters than you and me in all the Dumnonii,’ said Cathlan, with deep satisfaction.
  • The Determinator: The Legate Cornelius Chlorus does not wait for time, tide, nor any man.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: This, the second of Sutcliff’s dozen novels and stories set in the Roman period, is the only one to take place partly in Rome itself. The rest focus almost exclusively on Roman Britain.
  • The Engineer: Justinius, the "Builder of Roads and Drainer of Marshes."
    ‘I believe your marshes and your roads are more to you than flesh and blood!’ said Publius Piso, almost fretfully.
    ‘Wife and son at the very least,’ said the bird-eyed man, with a laugh. ‘A marsh for a wife and a straight paved road for a son; your born engineer needs no other.’
  • The Exile: After a series of unfortunate events, Beric's father's enemies get Beric driven out of the village as a scapegoat, leaving him to return to his "own kind", the Romans. Unfortunately, they don't want him either.
    His own people, he thought, bitterly; but he had no people. He had thought of the Tribe as his own people, and the Tribe had cast him out; he had thought of the Romans as his own people, and the Romans had made him a slave; a thing to be bought and sold like a chariot pony but with less fellow feeling than most men had for their chariot ponies. He had no people, no belonging place.
  • Foundling: Infant Beric is orphaned in a Roman shipwreck, but adopted into a British tribe as a present for a grieving new mother, over the objections of the xenophobic Druid. This comes back to haunt them.
  • Fiery Redhead: Beric, "too dark and too red" for Lady Julia's blond litter team and too sullen for Publius Piso.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: As Beric rebuilds his life on the Rhee Wall, he eventually discovers that his memories of slavery no longer have the power to hurt him, though they will never leave him.
    Beric found himself remembering the Alcestis, her decks cleared for foul weather. The thought of her came to him without any of the old horror. Black beans, and sun-dazzle on heaving water, he remembered, scourge and heart-break-and yet something more; something that the groaning rabble of her rowing-benches had known, the night they fought to save her from the Barrier Sands. A floating hell, the Alcestis of the Rhenus Fleet, yes: but he knew suddenly that never a wind would rise in all his life that would not taste salt on his lips and blow back to him, with an odd tugging at his heartstrings, the buoyant lift of the galley, and the straining swing of the white-fir oars.
  • Going Native: Justinius, having spent his career in Britain and married and buried a British wife, means to retire there.
  • Great Escape: After Glaucus decides to send him to a protracted death in the salt-mines, Beric pries his chain out of the wall, crawls out the cellar window, files off his shackle in the overgrown sanctuary of Pan, and takes to the hills.
  • Greedy Jew: Aaron Ben Malachi, the obsequious Roman slave dealer, is hardly the worst slave-owner in the novel but certainly more concerned with his business than the humanity of his wares. Ben Malachi would remain the most prominent Jewish character in Sutcliff's body of work.
  • Happily Adopted: Though his mother Guinear initially declines to accept him in lieu of her dead daughter, Beric grows up blissfully oblivious to the fact that anyone could consider him anything but a member of his tribe and family.
    Beric knew how he had come into Cunori’s household, but he knew it only as a story, not as anything that really touched him. In his world, the only world he knew, Cunori was his father and Guinear his mother, and Arthmail and Arthgal his brothers.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partner: Beric and Cathlan in boyhood, and later Beric and Jason (for a limited value of "life".)
    For two years he and Beric had pulled at the same oar, up and down the Rhenus and along the North Sea shores. They had laboured and eaten and slept together, like a yoke of oxen which, once joined, labour and graze and lie down linked together by their yoke-chains, until one of them dies. It was very seldom that they could speak to each other. That brief, wordless contact of hand against hand on the oar-loom had to do instead; and it had come to do well enough.
  • Hostile Weather: Beric’s life is altered by three great storms: the one that orphans him and washes him up among the Dumnonii, the one that kills Jason and leads to Beric’s return to Britain, and the "storm of the century" that threatens to destroy the Rhee Wall and the new life Beric has built.
  • Icy Grey Eyes: The otherwise Mediterranean-looking Justinius has grey eyes, described as cold.
    They were the cold quiet grey of northern seas; the eyes of a man who might be merciless at times, but would never be unjust.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Beric's beloved oar-mate, Jason.
    All that seemed left to Beric of decency and faith and kindness was bound up in what he felt for the Greek beside him, and every time Jason gave that little exhausted cough, Beric suffered the same stab of fear.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Cordaella with the voice “like a wood-pigeon," caretaker with her husband Servius of Justinius's farm.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: Justinius takes an interest in Beric because he resembles his dead wife. Beric proudly disabuses him of the notion that he might be their kid who died in absentia and tries to slink off, but Justinius asks him to stay on as an adopted son anyway.
  • Made a Slave: Beric is duped by a crew of slave-traders, sold to a merchant in Rome, and bought by a well-to-do Roman family. When he runs away from them, he's caught in the company of a robber band and sentenced to a Slave Galley.
  • Now What?: Beric’s future, after recovering from the trauma of slavery, is left open. He might follow in Justinius’s footsteps and join the Army, as Cornelius Chlorus suggests. He might not.
  • Old Retainer: Servius, a retired sergeant of Justinius’s and now the caretaker of his farm with his wife Cordaella.
  • One Last Job: Justinius is leaving Rome forever to complete the Rhee Wall in Britain and then retire there. His friends in Italy are appalled that he'll spend the rest of his life in such a forsaken backwater.
    Justinius: I have had the draining of this marsh from the outset; from the first survey, four years ago. It is the last marsh that I shall reclaim, and I had lief see the thing completed, before my time comes to take my wooden foil and bid good-bye to the Eagles.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Teenaged Lucilla is marrying a colleague of her father's. Rather than being trapped into Old Man Marrying a Child, she's satisfied with the arrangement and her fiancé is portrayed as a good man.
    Lucilla: I like Valarius. I have liked him ever since I can remember, and he likes me; and he is kind and just. And if you like the husband your father chooses for you, and he likes you——
  • Rage-Breaking Point: After Glaucus has subtly made his life miserable for several months, Beric spills wine while distracted by Justinius, Glaucus strikes him across the face, and Beric empties the winejar on Glaucus, which leads to Beric's appointment with the salt-mines. Aboard the Alcestis, Beric does his level best to murder Porcus the overseer after he finally kills Jason.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Beric's father Cunori hopes to soothe his wife Guinear's grief for her daughter by presenting her with Beric, freshly fished out of the sea.
    He had not thought about it very clearly, but he felt very clearly indeed that she had lost a child and it had lost its mother, and somehow it was right that they should be put together. It fitted, and he liked things to fit.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Beric puts himself on the wrong side of Glaucus by refusing to help him cheat his father Piso over a horse. After two years in the galleys Beric can’t understand what provoked that outburst of idiotic integrity.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: In the final quarter of the novel after he finds a safe haven, Beric is prone to nightmares, losing track of his surroundings, and a pervasive sense of alienation from other people. The book closes on his realisation that he's recovered from the traumas of his enslavement when he meets the Legate who commanded the fatal convoy and it's. . .not that big a deal.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill was Sutcliff's acknowledged inspiration for her Roman Britain material, and several touches are borrowed from it – Justinius's worship of Mithras, the Women's and Men's Sides of the Dumnonii, a reference to Rimini.
    • Beric's experience of adoption and rejection by the Dumnonii strongly echoes Mowgli's among the wolves and villagers in The Jungle Book, including a formal acceptance with the support of two sponsors (which also appears in Warrior Scarlet), a malicious enemy, a later rejection when age has reduced the influence of a key supporter, a final farewell to his mother, and being driven out by stoning. The phrases "mine to me" and "it is in my heart (or head or mind) that..." are also borrowed from it.
    • The outlines of Justinius's character – the soldier-engineer who's done his life’s work and buried his dead in Britain – owe something to "The Roman Centurion's Song", which includes the lines:
    Here where my dearest dead are laid—my wife—my wife and son; [...]
    Let me work here for Britain's sake—at any task you will—
    A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
    • The dog's name Gelert is taken from a Welsh legend about a faithful hound, though the story has no particular bearing on the novel. It also appears as a typical dog's name in The Gladiators by George Whyte-Melville, another early influence on Sutcliff.
  • Slave Galley: The Alcestis of the Rhenus Fleet.
  • Slave Liberation: Unbeknownst to Beric, Justinius bought him and manumitted him the day after they met in Rome. When they meet again, he gets Beric cleared of the conviction that sent him to the galleys with the help of a fake alibi from Lucilla and Hippias.
  • Starting a New Life: Beric goes through several false starts before it takes, each time assuming he's in it for the long haul: going to join the Eagles in Isca Dumnoniorum, enslavement in Rome, enslavement at sea, and finally becoming Justinius's adopted son.
  • Starving Artist: Beric’s oar-mate Jason was a spendthrift fresco painter enslaved for debt.
    ‘When you have set the last touch to the last bright feather of your flying bird, and you step back to look, and say to your own heart “I have made a thing, and it is beautiful”, that is a fine time,’ he had told Beric, on the only occasion on which he had ever spoken of himself: ‘The finest time in life, except perhaps the moment when you come to your untouched wall, and the flying bird is still in your heart.’
  • A Taste of the Lash: Jason gets whipped for malingering after he collapses at his oar. Then he gets tossed overboard, so Beric attacks the overseer. Then Beric gets flogged and tossed overboard.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Before he is twenty, Beric is shipwrecked and orphaned, made a scapegoat by his adoptive people, abducted and enslaved, abused by his master, arrested, sentenced to a short life in a Slave Galley, whipped into shock and thrown overboard before he’s quite dead.
  • Turbulent Priest: The vehement rejection of all things Roman from the Dumnonii's mad, embittered old Druid ultimately leads to Beric's exile.
    It was Merddyn who had sown the seeds of the mischief; Merddyn the Druid, dead these many years. Merddyn had foretold the wrath of the gods on the Clan for taking into itself one of the accursed breed that had torn apart their holy places and butchered their priesthood.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Rhiada the harper adopts Beric's dog Gelert and leaves the village after Beric's exile. Beric meets him again before the great storm and gives him the message that he had promised years before to his mother.
  • Welcome to the Big City: Isca Dumnoniorum, the recently-burned-down Roman border outpost Beric makes for, is the biggest town he's ever seen. He thinks the basilica is a private dwelling and gets suckered by a crew of Greek slave-traders.
    Beric stood there in bewilderment until he found somebody shouting curses at him, and he had to leap aside to save himself from being run down by a fast mule-carriage sweeping out of a side street.
    ‘Are you deaf?’ someone was demanding. ‘Or just tired of life?’
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Disaster breaks over Beric in successive waves; just when it seems that the worst is over and he can now settle into a new life (and plot)... something worse happens. The Dumnonii decide to accept Beric when he’s nine: they ostracize him at sixteen. Beric meets helpful friends in Isca Dumnoniorum: they enslave him. A kind young soldier wants to buy him: he can't afford it. Lucilla asks her father for Beric: Glaucus already asked for him. Beric meets Justinius: Glaucus decides to sell him to the mines. Rhodope shelters him on his escape: the Watch raids her farm and arrests him. The Alcestis sails for Britain: Beric and Jason are thrown overboard. Justinius's people shelter him: it's a case of mistaken identity. Beric rebuilds himself as he builds the Rhee Wall: the storm threatens to wash it away.