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Literature / Roma Sub Rosa

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A typical cover.
A series of historical novels written by Steven Saylor taking place in the last days of The Roman Republic and eventually covering the period of Julius Caesar. They start out as mysteries taking place in ancient Rome, featuring a gumsandal named Gordianus, who calls himself "Gordianus the Finder." Eventually they get more into political intrigue as well.

The books in reading order. Publication dates given in parentheses:

  • Seven Wonders (2012). A prequel focussing on a young Gordianus' journey to see the Seven Wonders of the World.
  • Raiders of the Nile (2014). A second prequel, set during the time Gordianus spends in Alexandria as a young man.
  • Wrath of the Furies (2015). Third prequel set in Alexandria.
  • Roman Blood (1991).
  • The House of the Vestals (1997). Short story collection.
  • A Gladiator Dies Only Once (2005). Short story collection.
  • Arms of Nemesis (1992).
  • Catilina's Riddle (1993).
  • The Venus Throw (1995).
  • A Murder on the Appian Way (1996).
  • Rubicon (1999).
  • Last Seen in Massilia (2000).
  • A Mist of Prophecies (2002).
  • The Judgment of Caesar (2004).
  • The Triumph of Caesar (2008).
  • The Throne of Caesar (2018).

The books contain examples of:

  • The All-Concealing "I": A key feature of Rubicon.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The Judgement of Caesar ends with Gordianus and Bethesda having a conversation in what appears to be the afterlife, after Gordianus seems to drown in the Nile while looking for her. In The Triumph of Caesar, he is unable to explain what happened and how he and Bethesda are still alive after being thought dead.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Meto's sexuality is never openly addressed in the books: however, he has a very close relationship with Caesar, which many gossips suggest is romantic and sexual in nature. Meto himself never makes any attempts to refute this, and he's never shown to have any interest in women.
  • Amoral Attorney: Gordianus becomes increasingly fed up with Cicero and the tactics he is willing to resort to.
  • Armchair Military: In The Judgment of Caesar, Pompey's wife, Cornelia, confides to Gordianus that her husband has suffered a complete mental breakdown after his defeat by Caesar at Pharsalus:
    He sits there at his worktable... poring over that stack of documents... Do you know what's in that pile? Provision lists for troops that no longer exist, advancement recommendations for officers who were left to rot in the Greek sun, logistical notes for battles that will never be fought.
  • Asshole Victim: Dio of Alexandria in The Venus Throw turns out to be a sexual sadist who abused Bethesda's mother to death.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Gordianus gets caught up in some major events, including the Catiline Conspiracy and the power struggle between Caesar and Pompey. A number of the trials that Cicero took part in as a lawyer have made for plotlines as well, with Gordianus either working for Cicero or his opponent.
    • Gordianus' son Meto is also credited with ghost-writing Caesar's memoirs.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Clodius and Clodia are accused with this, and from what we see, their relationship is indeed very close.
  • Call to Agriculture: Gordianus tries to do this in Catilina's Riddle after inheriting a country villa from his patron, Lucius Claudius. It doesn't work out, with dead bodies showing up on his property, shortly followed by Cicero entreating him to make friends with and spy on Catilina in the lead-up to the consular elections. By the next book, Gordianus has shifted his household back to Rome.
  • Character Filibuster: Catilina has one discussing Roman sexuality and its relationship to power in Catilina's Riddle.
  • Clear Their Name: When Meto is accused of trying to poison Caesar in The Judgement of Caesar, it's up to Gordianus to find out who the real killer is.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Gordianus has one with Hieronymus in The Triumph of Caesar while trying to solve his murder.
  • Detective Mole: In Rubicon, Pompey forces Gordianus to investigate a murder that was actually committed by him.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Clodia tends to have this effect on Gordianus.
  • Faking the Dead: At the beginning of Seven Wonders, Gordianus' teacher and travelling companion Antipater fakes his own death, ostensibly so that he can leave Rome for good and travel anonymously. It also allows him to proceed with a spying mission on behalf of King Mithridates of Pontus against Rome.
  • First-Person Perspective: Gordianus narrates all 16 books. At the end of The Throne of Caesar, it is revealed that the novels were dictated to his daughter Diana after various characters encouraged him to write his memoirs.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The outcome of historical trials depicted in the books. Whether the verdicts were right is another matter.
  • Happily Adopted: Gordianus' sons, Eco, Meto and Rupa.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Bethesda is more than happy to serve as Gordianus's mistress until he decides to free her and marry her.
  • Hermaphrodite: The plot twist in the Seven Wonders story 'The Widows of Halicarnassus'- the widow of a deceased young man turns out to be the young man who has decided to live as a woman and did so with his mother's help.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Cicero and his slave and later freedman, Tiro.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Antipater's cousin Bitto decided to become one after being widowed, known in Greek as a hetaira. Teenage Gordianus is quite smitten when he meets her on a visit to Halicarnassus.
  • Historical Domain Character: Gordianus encounters just about every prominent figure in the late Republic.
  • I Have No Son!: Gordianus disowns Meto at the end of Last Seen in Massilia for his duplicity as a double-agent for Caesar. They eventually reconcile in The Judgement of Caesar.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: The Throne of Caesar ends with Gordianus deciding to write his memoirs, (starting with Roman Blood).
  • Named Like My Name: Several times in The Throne of Caesar, Gordianus' friend and poet Helvius Cinna is mistaken for praetor Lucius Cornelius Cinna. This confusion is used to cover up Cinna's killing by a group of women avenging his daughter Sappho, who pretend to mistake him for the praetor and then tear him to pieces during Caesar's funeral.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In The Venus Throw, Gordianus completely fails to follow up on a promising lead Clodia paid him to look into because he'd rather investigate his Broken Pedestal of Dio. Then he accuses her of using Bethesda to fake her own poisoning and pulls out of the case, leading to the collapse of the prosecution and the acquittal of Caelius.
  • Not Me This Time:
    • At the end of The Venus Throw, Caelius did everything he was accused of except for murdering Dio — though not for lack of trying.
    • In A Murder on the Appian Way, apparently after the initial fight broke out, Milo allowed his men to kill Clodius's remaining bodyguards and the hapless proprietor of the inn where they took refuge, presided over the torture and murder of more people at the villa while searching for him, and also meant to kill Gordianus and Eco before Cicero talked him out of it, to stop them from reporting the unfavorable results of their investigation... but he didn't murder Clodius himself - or even intend to. Just what he intended to do if he succeeded in taking Clodius alive is another question altogether.
  • On the Rebound: A dark version is invoked by Catullus in The Venus Throw. He uses his private knowledge to help Cicero and Caelius write a speech to publicly humiliate Clodia, in the hopes that she'll come back to him once any remaining feelings for Caelius are destroyed and she's gone through a severe Break the Haughty.
  • One-Steve Limit: A historical aversion is a plot point in A Murder on the Appian Way, as Publius Clodius Pulcher and his son have exactly the same name.
  • Parental Abandonment: Eco suffers this in the first book.
  • The Powerof Language: Cicero's skills as an orator amaze Gordianus the first time he hears them, but he eventually becomes disgusted with Cicero's self-importance, his willingness to twist the truth to his own ends (even if he believes them good ends) and his unshakeable faith that "the power of words" can solve any problem, even the worsening political chaos into which the Republic is sinking.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Gordianus in The Triumph of Caesar, following on from The Judgement of Caesar.
  • Right Through His Pants: In "The House of the Vestals", and elaborated on in Catilina's Riddle. The murderer's effort to have Fabia and Catilina dramatically caught in flagrante delicto was stymied when they had sex with their clothes on.
  • The Scapegoat: Used in the historical sense in Last Seen in Massilia. Hieronymus is the scapegoat for besieged Massilia- this means he lives in relative luxury, but will be executed as a Human Sacrifice to the gods.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The fake ghost in the short story "Styx and Stones". The people behind it had discovered a secret cache of bricks from Babylon's walls in the abandoned temple of Ishtar, but couldn't sell them openly because the temple grounds were common property, making it theft. So the innkeeper's wife, who was an actress, disguised herself as the ghost, using secret tunnels to make it look as if she had disappeared.
  • The Speechless: Eco, whose speechlessness is caused by a childhood fever that also claimed his biological father's life. At the end of Arms of Nemesis, he falls ill again, and his voice returns when he recovers.
    • Gordianus' third adopted son Rupa is also mute.
  • Stalking is Love: Catullus seems to think so.
  • Shown Their Work: The books in general are very well-researched and accurate in their portrayal of everyday Roman life, and the first book's mystery is taken directly from one of Cicero's first major cases.
  • Taking Up the Mantle: Gordianus' father was also called Gordianus the Finder, and taught his son everything he knew about his profession. In turn, Eco, the eldest adopted son of Gordianus the younger, also establishes a career as a "Finder".
  • Tsundere: Bethesda, with emphasis on the tsun.
  • Those Two Boys: Mopsus and Androcles, the two young slave boys Gordianus rescues from Clodius' country estate.
  • Threesome Subtext: Between Marc Antony, Fulvia, and Gaius Curio in A Murder on the Appian Way - the recently widowed Fulvia declares her intentions to marry Antony's boyhood lover Curio, at Antony's suggestion, stating that the two of them have always loved Antony, and Antony loves them.
  • The Watson: Eco fills this role for the first couple of books, coming along with Gordianus on investigations and acting as a sounding board for his ideas. When he grows up, he follows in his dad's footsteps and becomes a private investigator himself.
    • His daughter Diana wants to be this to Gordianus, but he's reluctant to get her involved in his often-dangerous investigations. In The Triumph of Caesar he finally agrees to let her help out.
  • Women's Mysteries The Venus Throw was all about this.