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EARLY AMERICAN DRAMA ed. by J. H. Richards includes a remarkable rediscovery: “The Gladiator” by Robert Montgomery Bird, which in 1831 introduced American audiences to the story of Spartacus—a tale of slavery and revolt that particularly resonated in the decades leading up to the Civil War. With actor Edwin Forrest playing Spartacus in over a thousand performances, “The Gladiator” became a sensation. Walt Whitman declared that the play was “calculated to make the heart of the masses well responsivley to all those noble manlier aspirations in behalf of mortal freedom!”

ROMULUS by Gore Vidal A play about the last emperor of the Roman Empire, set in 476 A.D., first produced on Broadway in 1962. Vidal adapted his play from a work by Friedrich Duerrenmatt, also included in this volume.

JULIAN by Gore Vidal Vidal’s novel of the last Pagan emperor became an international bestseller and set him on the path to becoming America’s foremost historical novelist.

CREATION: Restored Edition by Gore Vidal With passages cut from the original edition, Vidal’s novel imagines a man who knew Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius and Zoroaster. Read Steven’s review.

THE SCORPION GOD by William Golding Three short novels by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Lord of the Flies, including Envoy Extraordinary, set in Imperial Rom
ANTINOUS: A Romance of Ancient Rome by Adolf Hausrath aka George Taylor German novel from 1882 offers its own unique insights into the relationship of Hadrian and Antinous. EMPRESS OCTAVIA: A Romance of the Reign of Nero by Wilhelm Walloth German novel from 1900 recounts the remarkable life of the daughter of Claudius and Messalina, who was Nero’s stepsister and first wife.
THE SUPERNATURAL & WEIRD FICTION OF D.H. LAWRENCE includes the controversial novelette “The Man Who Died,” about the wanderings of Jesus after not dying on the cross... EMPEROR AND GALILEAN by Henrik Ibsen Ibsen’s epic 10-act play about Julian, the last Pagan emperor, is a “gargantuan masterpiece” (Booklist).
THAÏS by Anatole France The story of an Alexandrian courtesan and the ascetic holy man determined to convert her, by the Novel Prize winning author of Penguin Island. THE GARDEN OF PRIAPUS by Alfred Jarry A novel of the scandalous empress Messalina by the author of the absurdist classid Ubu Roi.
THE SONG OF BILITIS by Pierre Louys The lyrical Sapphic classic long banned in the U.S. APHRODITE by Pierre Louys First published in 1896, this heady novel depicting courtesan life in ancient Alexandria became the best-selling work by any living French writer.
THE TWILIGHT OF THE NYMPHS by Pierre Louys Seven erotic fables based on mythology. Also by Louys: MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN by Marguerite Yourcenar A meditation on life and death, seen through the eyes of one of Rome’s greatest emperors. One of the most acclaimed novels of the 20th century.
CLEOPATRA by Talbot Mundy One of the most vividly written of all Cleopatra novels, by an author who has become the stuff of legend. A STRUGGLE FOR ROME by Felix Dahn The colossal German classic set in the reign of Justinian and Theodora, translated at last into English.
CAESAR DIES by Talbot Mundy A tale of palace intrigue in the reign of the gladiator emperor Commodus, set amid the brutalities and debaucheries of Rome and Antioch. TROS OF SAMOTHRACE by Talbot Mundy The legendary adventures of the Druid warrior Tros and his duel of wits with Julius Caesar.
ANTONINA, OR THE FALL OF ROME by Wilkie Collins 408 A.D.: The Goths descend on Rome in this epic by the author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone. THE BOAT OF FATE by Keith Roberts Panoramic novel of the disintegrating Roman Empire follows a young adventurer from Rome to Hispania, Gaul, and Britannia.
THE EGYPTIAN by Mika Waltari The worldwide bestseller, with a foreward by Lynda S. Robinson. Also by Waltari: The Roman and The Etruscan. A GOD STROLLING IN THE COOL OF THE EVENING by Mario de Carvalho Prize-winning novel of moral conflict in the age of Marcus Aurelius, translated from the Portuguese.
THE CLASSICAL NOVELS by Mary Butts Two lyrical novels from the 1930s by a member of the Bloomsbury set, The Macedonian (about Alexander the Great) and Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra. THE DEATH OF VIRGIL by Hermann Broch In his final hours, the poet contemplates destroying his masterpiece, The Aeneid. “Extraordinary and profound” (Thomas Mann)
THE LEGATE’S DAUGHTER by Wallace Breem A disgraced centurion goes on a mission to rescue a kidnapped woman in North Africa. EAGLE IN THE SNOW by Wallace Breem General Maximus makes a last stand against barbarians on the Rhine. Introduction by Steven Pressfield.


If plays be fiction, then William Shakespeare set the standard as the great historical novelist of Rome. Closely following the accounts of Plutarch, the Bard gave us the great play of politics and conspiracy, Julius Caesar...the great play of love and warfare, Antony & Cleopatra...and the towering tragedy of the hero-traitor of the early Roman Republic, Coriolanus. Less historical is Titus Andronicus (famously filmed as Titus), the fictional tragedy of a Roman general inspired by Seneca’s bloody Thyestes, the rape of Philomel in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the death of Verginia in Livy. Click here to see the plays on DVD.

Other Shakespeare plays set in the Ancient World:
Troilus & Cressida, about two lovers caught in the intrigues of the Trojan War.
Timon of Athens, the tale of a Greek misanthrope, inspired by Plutarch’s Life of Alicibiades and Lucian’s Timon.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, inspired by the ancient Greek novel Apollonius, King of Tyre; a story of shipwreck and mistaken identity that reaches a joyful climax at the Seventh Wonder of the World, the Temple of Diana at Ephesus.
Cymbeline, set in Rome and Britain during the reign of Augustus.
The Comedy of Errors, a tangled tale of twins inspired by The Brothers Menaechmus by the Roman playwright Plautus
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set in the enchanted woods outside the Athens of Theseus, with motifs from Ovid and The Golden Ass of Apuleius; forerunner of all subsequent fantasies set in the Classical World.

I, CLAUDIUS and CLAUDIUS THE GOD by Robert Graves Two landmarks in historical fiction by one of the most erudite authors of the last century. I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God, relate the mind-blowing scandals of Rome’s first imperial family. Both books were adapted to create the popular BBC series starring Derek Jacobi as the bookish, stuttering imperial who finds himself ruler of the world.

Less famous are Graves’s other novels of the ancient world. King Jesus paints a boldly iconoclastic life of the Jewish prophet and the true purpose of his mission. Homer’s Daughter presents an equally revisionist view of the creator of the Odyssey — not blind Homer, but a young princess. Hercules My Shipmate recounts the adventures of the Arognauts. Count Belisarius is the story of the great Byzantine general who served Justinian and Theodora.

THREE BLASTS FROM THE ANCIENT PAST For generations, three novels have been unparalleled in shaping perceptions of ancient Rome. Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur set the standard with its panoramic storytelling. Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii incorporated stunning archaeological discoveries into a ripping yarn. Quo Vadis, by Nobel winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, delivers a powerful portrayal of Nero’s court seen through the eyes of Petronius the Arbiter.

NOVELS OF ANCIENT GREECE by Mary Renault Renault was one of the finest historical novelists of the last century. The King Must Die and its sequel, The Bull From the Sea, tell the mythic tale of Theseus, who mastered the Labyrinth of Crete and became king of Athens. The Last of the Wine takes place during the disastrous war between Athens and Sparta. The Mask of Apollo draws on the world of Greek theater. The Praise Singer tells the tale of the lyric poet Simonides and the early flowering of Greek culture.

Renault’s most enduring legacy is her trilogy about Alexander the Great: Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games. Renault also wrote a companion nonfiction work, The Nature of Alexander.

Readers fascinated by Renault’s fiction will appreciate two fine biographies: David Sweetman’s Mary Renault, and The Masks of Mary Renault: A Literary Biography by Caroline Zilboorg of Cambridge.

The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder Classic novel about the last days of Julius Caesar; introduction by Kurt Vonnegut. The omnibus volume The Cabala & The Woman of Andros combines Wilder’s first novel — a fantasy based on his stay at the American Academy in Rome (the modern characters are stand-ins for the Olympian gods) — together with Wilder’s poignant adaptation of a comedy by the Roman playwright Terence. (The original play is included in the Loeb edition of Terence, Volume I.)
A VICTOR OF SALAMIS by William Stern Davis
A tale of the days of Xerxes, Leonidas and Themistocles, first published in 1907. “The novel reproduces Greek life, and the events of the Persian invasion brilliantly.” (Boston Budget) • “A really moving narrative, with figures of flesh and blood in it, and a broader vitality that touches the reader’s imagination. The thing is astonishingly human...and as unaffectedly dramatic as though he had drawn his material from the modern world.” (New York Tribune) • By the same author: A Friend of Caesar: A Tale of the Fall of the Roman RepublicA Day in Old AthensA Day in Old Rome

CLODIA by Robert DeMaria A novel of the poet Catullus and his lover Clodia (celebrated in his poems as the elusive Lesbia). First published in 1965. THRESHOLD OF FIRE by Hella S. Haasse In 5th-century Rome, a Christian prefect must decide the fate of an unrepentant pagan.
SPARTACUS by Howard Fast The basis for both Kubrick’s classic movie and the remake. Steven used the slave revolt as background in Arms of Nemesis. SPARTACUS by Lewis Grassic Gibbon Powerful novel of the massive slave revolt and its charismatic leader, first published in 1933.
THE CORN KING AND THE SPRING QUEEN by Naomi Mitchison In the 3rd century B.C., a Scythian witch embarks on a quest to Sparta and Egypt. A towering classic first published in 1931. SALAMMBO by Gustave Flaubert Intoxicating novel of ancient Carthage by the author of Madame Bovary, as shocking today as when it was first published in 1862.


The great lyric poetess of Lesbos has been the subject of numerous novels from many points of view. In The Laughter of Aphrodite, first published in 1965, best-selling classicist Peter Green recreates the memoirs of Sappho at middle age. In Peggy Ullman Bell’s Psappha, the poetess, in exile, takes an African queen as a lover and returns to Lesbos to write and teach. In Ellen Frye’s The Other Sappho, Lykaina, a “wolf woman” of Sparta, sails to Lesbos to learn the lyric arts from the celebrated poet. In Sappho: The Tenth Muse, veteran author Nancy Freedman takes a more traditional view of the poet’s life and times.

The latest twist on Sappho’s tale comes from Fear of Flying author Erica Jong, whose novel
Sappho’s Leap takes a post-modern view of the poet.

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