Month: December 2017

The Plan for 2018

The Plan for 2018

Happy New Year!!!

Firstly a quick recap on my reading year in 2017 :

Classics read and blogged here on Chronolit : 55. Not as many as I had hoped perhaps, but this included finally reaching the end of both the Ancient Greeks and the Old Testament : both significant and exhausting goals, so got to be happy with that, right?

The Popsugar challenge was abandoned pretty early on as too random and distracting for my tastes, leaving me free to read more in genres I enjoy but have neglected, while the shared reading of the Wheel of Time series and the Oz books has been put on hold for the moment by the parent blogger.

I had confidently aimed for a total of 120 books in 2017, but it turns out that I only have 101 finished for Dec 31, and this included some graphic novels and audio plays. May and November were very low reading months, but in fairness I was working 3 jobs for much of the year.

So. on to 2018 and, of course, I am setting even bigger goals!

Firstly is the Classics and my aim is to read 60 books in 2018, which will bring me to the end of the 2nd century AD and the Roman authors finished. I will also aim for finishing the New Testament, with one chapter per weekday, and blog posts as I finish each of the 27 Books. These titles will get priority seating.

On the non-Classics front, I will be aiming for 12 Wodehouse comedies, 24 SF/Fantasy/Horror titles (including YA fantasy) and 12 Historical fiction/Biographies/Histories or Whodunnits through the year, for a total of 135.

Oh, and there is also another 37 titles on my Childhood memories TBR (to be revisited) list, which brings me to a grand total of 172, so that’s only 70% more than I managed in 2017. Easy, huh? Maybe 100 pages a day. Especially as I still have at least 2 jobs at last count, a week at the Commonwealth Games in Queensland and a walking adventure in Cornwall to pack in there as well. But easily reached targets are no challenge, right?

Thanks for keeping me company in 2017 and I wish you all a similarly successful and spectacular, safe and satisfying 2018!!!!



155.  The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar (58-50 BC)

155. The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar (58-50 BC)

Plot:  Caesar’s reports on his battles to subdue the Gaulish tribes, push back Germanic invaders  and reconnoitre the southeast coast of Britain.

My version is the Penguin Black Classic translated by S. A. Handford and revised by Jane Gardiner (ISBN 9780140444339)

My thoughts:

What could have been propaganda reads fairly honestly, even if written in the third person. Caesar’ success as a field General is largely based on his speedy decisions and quick marches to get into position before his enemies are aware, and yet in cases where his underlings make bad decisions, he writes it off as fortunes of war.

What is mindboggling is the sheer numbers of combatants involved. At one point, Caesar has the 53,000 survivors of a siege sold off as slaves to one bidder. On another occasion, the Gaulish supreme commander Vercingetorix raises 269,000 reinforcements from across all the Gaulish tribes. (Perhaps not too surprising as Caesar describes the Gaulish custom of torturing the last man to arrive at a muster)

Favourite lines/passages:

My favourite story is the two rival centurions Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, who had a history of acrimonious competition for promotion against each other. In battle with the Gauls, Pullo baits Vorenus into following him over the rampart into the heaviest part of the fighting with the enemy, which results in them each rescuing the other from overwhelming numbers and returning unhurt to their lines after killing many enemies (page 125)

Diversions and digressions:

Some siege terms which might come in handy later :

Fascines : bundles of sticks or brush used to fill in trenches, allow crossing of boggy ground, or make temporary barricades

Mantlets : light portable wicker shields large enough to cover 2-3 soldiers, light enough to be easily lifted and manoeuvred.

Redoubts : walled enclosures or earthworks surrounding a more permanent fort

Personal rating: Not as riveting throughout as I had hoped, but some impressive and historically valuable descriptions of battles and tactics. 5/10.

Also in that year:  And for a few pages at least, the known world briefly turns it’s attention to a soggy island in north west Europe.

The read in between:  Needful Things by Stephen King.  A curio shop opens in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, stocking various items, each of which is the very heart’s desire of someone in that town. And the price of these treasures is surprisingly affordable. But along with the ticketed price, the proprietor just wants each customer to play a small practical joke on a neighbour. What can be the harm in that? Like the villain, this one is a little long in the tooth but still compelling.

Next :  The poetry of Catullus.


My year in Books 2017

A couple of my favourite blogsters responded to this fun from Adam at Roof Beam Reader ( where you answer some random questions using titles of books read this year. Below is my effort which only features one classic title

  • In high school I was: The Devil’s Novice (Ellis Peters)
  • People might be surprised (by): The Innocence of Father Brown (G K Chesterton)
  • I will never be: The Virgin in the Ice (Ellis Peters … again)
  • My fantasy job is: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Frank L Baum)
  • At the end of a long day I need: Doctor Sleep (Stephen King)
  • I hate it when: Destination Unknown (Agatha Christie)
  • Wish I had:  The Pot of Gold (Plautus)
  • My family reunions are: The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean Auel)
  • At a party you’d find me with: Asterix and the Banquet (Goscinny and Uderzo)
  • I’ve never been to:  Desperation (Stephen King)
  • A happy day includes: Withering by Sea (Judith Rossell)
  • Motto I live by:  Skulduggery Pleasant (Derek Landy)
  • On my bucket list is: 1001 Walks to Take before You Die
  • In my next life, I want to have: Love among the Chickens (P G Wodehouse)


154. Selected Political Speeches by Cicero (between 66 and 44 BC)

154. Selected Political Speeches by Cicero (between 66 and 44 BC)

Plot:  Moving beyond his defendant’s role in the murder court, these speeches show Cicero employing his oratorical talents to win political points for himself or others. My copy is again a Penguin Black Classic translated and introduced by Michael Grant (ISBN 0140442146)

The first speech is in support of Cnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) being given sole conduct of the war against King Mithridates VI of Pontus (Anatolia). While Pompeius seems to have had an outstandingly successful military career in Spain and Gaul, as well as defeating the Third Slave uprising led by Spartacus and the effective eradication of rampant piracy throughout the Mediterranean, Cicero’s outrageous flattery style is so OTT as to cast him as the Hero of the Ages:

“not so much an envoy of Rome as some visitant from Heaven itself”  (page 54)

“surely some special design of the Gods must have brought him into being for the express purpose of successfully terminating all the wars of our time”  (page 55)

The second chapter is a set of four speeches revealing a conspiracy by Catilina, a former corrupt governor of Tunisia and unsuccessful runner for Consulship on several occasions, who now decided to grab power in Rome by more direct and violent methods, plotting mass assassinations including Cicero. Cicero’s spies discovered the plot, and Cicero calls him out in public in front of the Senate.

“The darkness of night no longer avails to conceal your traitorous consultations”   page 79

Although obviously preferring that Catilina be executed as in the good old days, Cicero publicly calls on him to leave Rome immediately so that “the city will be relieved of those copious pestilential dregs of the community who are your accomplices … a rabble of elderly down-and-outs, rustic debauchees, bankrupt country bumpkins…”.   Once Catalina leaves Rome, Cicero celebrates that “Rome has  … brought up and spewed forth this pestilential object from its system”.

This action has later repercussions on Cicero, as another of his enemies –  Clodius (who has suffered defeat and embarrassment from Cicero’s successful court orations) instigates Cicero’s exile for his role in executing the Catilinian ringleaders. Recalled to Rome by Pompeius after sixteen months, Cicero first defends a young man Marcus Caelius on charges of stealing from, and plotting to poison Clodius’ sister Clodia (a supposedly sexually rampant and completely immoral beauty who numbered the poet Catullus among her admirers), and then defending Clodius’ killer Milo after their gangs came to blows on the Appian Way.

These later speeches are more interesting not so much for the oratory (still with their liberal doses of irony, sarcasm and outrageous exaggeration and flattery) as for the background events : the failure of the Republic’s Senate and Assembly to control the mob violence and murders in Rome, the formation of the First Triumvirate and the shifting allegiances of key players around those three men. Cicero continued to support Pompeius, but once Crassus is killed in battle with the Parthians. Pompeius and Caesar would not stay friends for long.

The penultimate speech in this collection occurs after the Civil War between Pompeius and Caesar, and has Cicero praising the victor Caesar for his generosity in forgiving supporters of Pompeius (including Cicero himself) but also beseeching Caesar to continue to repair the economic and social life of Rome. It also seems that Caesar also had some warning or presentiment that his life was in danger from assassins at this time (46 BC), two years before his death.

The last speech in this book is known as the First Phillipic, the first of fourteen attacks by Cicero on Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony). This first one is apparently more moderate than subsequent ones, and in remarkably restrained style for Cicero, but nevertheless sealed his fate as an enemy of Antony – obviously Marc couldn’t take even mild criticism. Cicero would be killed by agents of the Second Triumvirate (Antony, Octavian and Lepidus), his head and hands cut off, and his tongue pierced with a hairpin by Fulvia, wife of Marc Antony and the widow of Clodius.

My thoughts:   Cicero is ranked by many as the ultimate orator, so I was expecting words and thoughts touching the sublime. Instead most of his speeches, particularly the politically motivated ones, are so completely exaggerated as to be laughable. Certainly he employs humour, wit and sarcasm throughout his speeches, but he is so lavish in praise of his clients that it becomes almost farcical. Of course, reading in translation from an ancient language would undoubtedly raise some vagaries, but this is stratospheres of level above what a modern day defending counsel would ever contemplate. It will be interesting to compare the style of his other works, particularly his other famous attacks on Marc Antony, and his personal letters.

Favourite lines/passages:

Firstly something we can all appreciate

“… For there is no other occupation on earth which is so appropriate to every time and every age and every place. Reading stimulates the young and diverts the old, increases one’s satisfaction when things are going well, and they are going badly, provides refuge and solace. It is a delight in the home, can be fitted in with public life; throughout the night, on journeys, in the country. It is a companion which never lets me down.”    Page 156

And for the sheer bitchiness, Cicero’s ‘praise’ of Clodia

“I never imagined I should have to engage in quarrels with women. Much less with a woman who has always been widely regarded as having no enemies, since she so readily offers intimacy in all directions”   page 184

“ every sort of pornographic rumour fits in perfectly with that lady’s reputation”  page 208

Personal rating:   Fun to read, hard to take seriously, yet interesting for the background events and personalities involved. 6.

The read in between:  The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton : ingenious short stories solved by a unusually bland detective and written in almost surreal style. Not my cup of tea, but ticks off my first read of Martin Edwards’ published list The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

Next :  The Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar.

153. Murder trials (speeches) by Cicero, (c.80-43 BC)

153. Murder trials (speeches) by Cicero, (c.80-43 BC)

Plot:  Speeches for the defense made by Cicero in the Roman courts, defending accusations of murder. The Penguin edition is translated by Michael Grant (ISBN 9780140442885)

My thoughts: Cicero, even at the beginning of his career as a public speaker, gives such strong voice to his arguments. Although we don’t get to hear the prosecution’s argument directly in each case; Cicero takes each argument and tears them apart quite convincingly. There is also a lot of documented evidence for the nature of Roman political life and legal practice in his speeches.

The first case, In defence of Sextus Roscius, (80 BC), the young Cicero successfully defends a man whose father has been murdered by the very men who are prosecuting him in order to retain the extensive estates owned by the dead man, put on sale after the victim is posthumously put on the proscribed list of state enemies. Cicero paints the villains, a father and son related to the victim and both gladiators, and their highly placed conspirator, as ruthless assassins and opportunists who are not satisfied with their ill-gotten possessions, that they must secure their position by having the innocent and genuine owner of lands worth six million sesterii, condemned and executed.

The second trial (66 BC) has Cicero, now a praetor, defending Aulus Cluentius Habitus, against the charge of killing his stepfather Oppianicus. Most of Cicero’s speech is actually directed against the prejudice which his client carries from a famous earlier case where Oppianicus supposedly hired men to poison Cluentius, and after they were caught and found guilty, Oppianicus’ subsequent trial as the instigator of the plot became notorious for attempts to bribe the judges. Cicero convincingly swings the argument to suggest that only Oppianicus himself could have the means or motive to offer bribes. (It was later suggested that Cicero deliberately and knowingly misled the judges throughout this case.) He then paints such a repulsive picture of the defendant’s mother Sassia who Cicero insists is behind the whole plot to have her son Cluentius discredited and executed, that would easily match the worst excesses of any Greek tragedy.

The third trial presented is the defense of Gaius Rabirius, accused of executing a political radical and rebel Saturninus and his followers, thirty seven years after the fact, is just as much a defense of the state’s ability to act outside the law in times of emergency – such as internment without trial, as it is the defense of one man. Still a topical issue today, perhaps most recently with Guantanamo Bay. In this hearing, Cicero comes against Julius Caesar as one of the judges, and their relationship over the years is chequered to say the least.

The last case is presented, not in a court, but in private in Julius Caesar’s own home, defending King Deiotarus on a charge of plotting to assassinate Caesar himself. Cicero flatters Caesar to the heavens, and as always diverts suspicion of the alleged crime, painting it instead as a vindictive accusation against an innocent defendant by a despicable prosecutor and relative.

A disturbing aspect to these trials is the ability of the defendant to call his slaves as witnesses, where it was normal practice to torture them sufficiently before questioning to ensure they would tell the truth.

Favourite lines/passages:

There are crackingly good lines on almost every page. Here are a few from the first case:

“I would rather be crushed by the weight of the duty I am trying to perform than be accused of disloyalty or irresolution..”          page 36

“On the other hand you have my client, whom they have left with no possession in the world except utter ruin”               page 37

“Nature itself cries out against any suspicions of such horror”       page 62

Personal rating: 5/10

Kimmy’s rating : O tempora, O mores!  (How times have changed, and customs with them!)
Also in that year:
Since 150 BC:

Rome’s influence continues to grow as they indulge simultaneously in a Third Punic War against Carthage (149-146 BC) and a fourth Macedonian war (149-148 BC), razing the former and absorbing the latter as a province. They also control most of Greece and Spain, and create provinces in Africa and Gaul. Internally the Romans put down several slave uprisings, the third led by Spartacus, and establish a silk trade with China.

In the last years of the Roman Republic, Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Grassus and Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) form a triumvirate rulership in 60 BC. More on this later.

In other news, the Nazca culture is developing in Peru.

Next :  More Cicero. This time his Political Speeches.