Sunday, November 29, 2020

#StayAtHome: Paul Waters' "The Republic of Vengeance"


When I purchased Paul Waters' The Republic of Vengeance at Uncle Edgar's (the back room of Uncle Hugo's SF bookstore, where mysteries and historical novels live), Elizabeth told me that some of the regulars, who are fans of novels set in classical antiquity didn't like the homosexuality in the novel. Apparently they didn't look at the last paragraph of the Historical Note at the back of the book:

"It should perhaps be noted that bisexuality was ubiquitous in the ancient world, and well attested in the sources. Such behavior was not, in itself, an object of censure, and this remained true until the end of the classical period when the Church, wielding its growing political power, began to impose its own uniform blueprint on human relations." 

This book in fact qualifies as a gay novel. Marcus, the Roman protagonist, is gay and a major arc in the novel is the development of his lifelong relationship with his Greek lover, the athlete Menexenos. But it is not a typical gay novel, as one of its abiding themes is a young man's quest for vengeance against the pirate who killed his father (and indeed a whole shipload of hostages, of which Marcus was the only survivor). This quest leads the young man into the Greek and eventually Roman war against Phillip the Fifth of Macedon, who has designs on the whole of Greece (and possibly the whole Mediterranean).

Rome is still a Republic, and during the course of the novel (albeit offscreen) Hannibal is finally defeated, while closer to center stage, Phillip and his pirate lover Dikaiarchos wreck chaos across the Greek peninsula. The last novel I read, David Anthony Durham's The Risen tells the story of the Spartacus slave revolt against Rome; it happens a bit after this novel, and I swear that there is way more explicit raunch, gay and straight, in Durham's novel than in Winters'. The latter is far more interested in Hellenistic philosophy than in gay sex, but Paul Winters tells a good story. 

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