Tag Archives: Rome

Book Review: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

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A few years ago, I was in a very bad emotional rut. It was horrible, and not much I did lightened the mood very often. Sooner rather than later, I was in the pits again. It was not a nice time.

It was in the middle of this awful time that I read The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas. The book was uplifting for me and helped me right my attitude. I skim read the entire novel in an evening; I reread it more thoroughly several times over the following days. It was, I think, something of a lifesaver for me at the time.

The Robe takes place in Ancient Rome, during the waning days of the reign of Emperor Tiberius. Hidden away on the island of Capri, Tiberius has slowly gone insane and paranoid. This is due in no small part to his harpy of a wife, Julia, the ambitious and evil Empress. Tiberius never loved her but was forced to marry her for political reasons. His debauched state on Capri is the result.

Meanwhile, in Rome, his stepson, Gaius, is holding a party with the Tribunes. One of these Tribunes, Marcellus Lucan Gallio, ends up insulting the prince after the other passes out from too much drink. In retribution, Gaius has Marcellus sent to Minoa to take command of the Legion there, in order to punish him for the insult.

Minoa is in Palestine, and it is a mess. Marcellus soon has it all cleaned up and squared away, but not long after this, the Legion is called on to keep order during a Jewish celebration. It’s the Passover – and not just any Passover. It is the Passover where Jesus eats the Last Supper with His disciples.

Marcellus ends up not only present for the trial, but ordered to carry out the crucifixion. Because the spectacle is so unpleasant, Marcellus’ second-in-command gets him stone drunk in order to help him get through it. This is something Marcellus’ faithful Greek servant, Demetrius, is unaware of – although he knows the Tribune would never get drunk on an occasion such as this on his own.

This is bad enough, but it gets worse. That night, at the banquet thrown in the Insula by Pontius Pilate, the soldiers begin mocking the deceased Jesus. In an effort to put down the ruckus, a more sober Marcellus puts on the Robe, which he won in a dice game at the foot of the cross.

Instead of fixing the mess, the decision makes everything worse. Marcellus is left in a sick, depressed state by the act. Only Demetrius’ watchful care ensures he does not kill himself. Trying to help him, Demetrius takes him back to Rome and his family. That, however, does not help matters. No one recognizes Marcellus and he barely talks to his family. So Demetrius changes tactics and takes Marcellus to Athens, watching him carefully to make sure he does not try to drown himself or some such thing.

Image result for the robe by lloyd c. douglas

All the while, Demetrius carries the Robe that Jesus wore to the cross with him, finding there is some inexplicable power in or attached to it. In order to repair the rents in the garment, he locates a Jewish tailor in Athens and keeps him in mind as he tries to cheer up Marcellus. When his efforts do not work, he resorts to bringing out the Robe.

Marcellus’ reaction to the very sight of the Robe is to threaten to sell Demetrius at the earliest opportunity. Because he is holding the Robe, Demetrius does not take offense at Marcellus’ harsh words. Whatever power clings to the Robe has a calming effect on him, which helps him to see that Marcellus does not really mean what he says. He is just so distressed and unhappy that he is lashing out at the bearer of the Robe: Demetrius. With his last attempt a failure, Demetrius puts the Robe back and goes out to find some kind of solace in the city.

Meanwhile, Marcellus decides he must end this ignominious existence. It is putting too much strain on him, his family, and poor Demetrius. He decides to commit suicide.

However, Demetrius took precautions against this idea, stealing both the daggers that Marcellus owned, the first and only items that he ever stole from his master since he was given to him. Marcellus goes to get one of the daggers out of his loyal slave’s pack – and finds the Robe set atop the bag.

Deciding he will “have it out with this Thing!”, Marcellus snatches a handful of the Robe…

And immediately, his mind is healed. He is no longer a sick, wasted, unhappy man. How it happened he cannot tell, but he somehow senses that he has been forgiven.

The Robe is a VERY good story, and I would definitely recommend it for Easter reading. It is good for the mind and the soul, as I can say from experience. The Robe helped me at a low point in my life, and for that reason I have a special respect for the book.

Here’s hoping it can do the same for you, readers, at some point. Though I hope you are not in Marcellus’ situation – or mine – I think that The Robe is one of those books you are better off having, at least as a just-in-case. And besides, it is a good story. If you cannot fill your home library with good stories, then do not bother building a home library!

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Happy Independence Day!!!

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I AM THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

I am the flag of the United States of America.

My name is Old Glory.

I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings.

I stand watch in America’s halls of justice.

I fly majestically over institutions of learning.

I stand guard with power in the world.

Look up…and see me.

I stand for peace, honor, truth and justice.

I stand for freedom.

I am confident.

I am arrogant.

I am proud.

When I am flown with my fellow banners,

My head is a little higher,

My colors a little bit truer.

I bow to no one!

I am recognized all over the world.

I am worshipped – I am saluted.

I am loved – I am revered.

I am respected – and I am feared.

I have fought in every battle of every

war for more than 200 years.

I was flown at Valley Forge,

Gettysburg, Shiloh and Appomattox.

I was there at San Juan Hill,

The trenches of France,

In the Argonne Forest, Anzio, Rome

and the beaches of Normandy, Guam.

Okinawa, Korea and Khe San,

Saigon, Vietnam know me,

I was there.

I lead my troops,

I was dirty, battleworn and tired,

but my soldiers cheered me

And I was proud.

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In short, Happy Independence Day – and Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

Semper Fidelis!

The Mithril Guardian

 

Book Review: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

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I, Juan de Pareja is a historical novel a friend read some time ago and raved about for a while afterward. Recently, I saw the book on the library shelves and thought, I will read this. So I did.

Many people these days like to pick on the United States for a great many things. One of their prime delights is to attack the U.S. on account of slavery, which became illegal after the American Civil War. American slavery, just like most other forms of slavery, was certainly an abomination. This is a fact.

However, what people tend to forget – either through lack of knowledge or by willfully ignoring the facts – is that the U.S. did not start slavery. Slavery existed from the year dot. The Ancient Greeks owned slaves, who had no rights whatsoever under the law. The Ancient Romans had slaves, as did the Ancient Irish and Scandinavians. There is no country on Earth where slavery did not exist at one time or another in some (more or less severe) form.

America inherited the idea of slavery from Europe. By the era of the American Revolution, slavery was dying out in the Old World. Indenturing people as servants – as we saw in the post on Carry On, Mr. Bowditch – died out after slavery. And the fact is slavery still exists today. Asia has a vibrant slave trade, and while slavery is not sanctioned in first world countries, this does not mean there are not people who are held as slaves within these nations.

In the 1600s – when I, Juan de Pareja takes place – slavery was not yet obsolete in Europe. Juan de Pareja was a black slave, the son of a black woman and a white Spaniard who could not afford to buy her. Orphaned at five when his mother died, Juan remained in the house of his mother’s owners, Don Basilio and Doña Emilia Rodríguez.

After Don Basilio’s death, Juan lived with Doña Emilia in Seville until she died some years later. Long before these events, Doña Emilia taught him to read and write. Juan suffered no great torments in the Rodríguez household. According to all reports, he was relatively well-loved by the couple. But on his journey to Doña Emilia’s nephew Don Diego Velázquez, who had inherited him after her death, he was abused by a gypsy hired to take him to Velázquez’s home in Madrid.

Eventually, Juan de Pareja came to Velázquez’s house. Don Velázquez never mistreated Juan. He made the young slave his personal assistant. Juan’s duty was to grind the colors for Velázquez’s paint, to clean the used paint brushes, and to help in the alignment of the objects of the master’s paintings.   For years Juan stood behind Velázquez, watching him paint his masterpieces….

It was not long before the young black boy declared that he would like to paint. “Alas, I cannot teach you,” Don Velázquez replied. A law in Spain had declared that it was illegal for slaves to learn and practice the arts. If Don Velázquez had taken Juan as an apprentice, he would have broken the law and been subject to punishment.

So the years rolled by, and as time went on, the two men became close friends. Wherever Don Velázquez went, Juan followed. This was because of his slave status but, after their years of friendship, it is quite possible that Juan would have stayed with him anyway. On their first trip to Italy, while Velázquez was studying the art of the great painters there and making copies for the Spanish court, Juan started to practice painting covertly.

He carried on practicing secretly in Spain after their return, watching and learning as Don Velázquez continued his work. Eventually, he could bear the secrecy no longer. On an occasion when the King of Spain entered Velázquez’s studio, he found a painting that Juan had made and set out specifically for him to see. Once he had found it, Juan fell on his knees before the king and confessed what he had done, begging no retribution for his master (who had no idea that Juan had been painting behind his back), and saying that he was willing to endure whatever punishment may come from his disobedience to the law.

Was Juan de Pareja punished? You must read the book to learn his fate! Those of you well-versed in the lore of great art probably already know what became of him. But I will spoil no more of the novel for anyone else. Elizabeth Borton de Treviño writes exquisitely, and she describes seventeenth century Spain with great care. Her historical novel is enlightening as she weaves a warm, heartfelt story out of the snippets of recorded fact. A book for all ages, I, Juan de Pareja is certain to touch the heart of any reader out there.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Gentle Infidel by Lawrence Schoonover

The Gentle Infidel is a historical novel set in the 1400s, the fifteenth century. It starts out with a Jew named Joseph visiting his friend Nicolo da Montelupo, a Christian Venetian merchant living in Scutari. Just across the strait from Constantinople, Nicolo lives in the territory of the Turkish Empire because its taxes are lower than the Greek taxes. But, because he is a Christian, he cannot have a brightly colored house, as the other inhabitants of Scutari do. His mansion must be painted gray, like all Christian houses in the Ottoman Empire.

Joseph has come to Nicolo looking for unset jewels to present to the emperor’s vizier. Nicolo shows him his collection of jewels – all splendid specimens. When Joseph agrees to pay 100,000 ducats for the gems, Nicolo suggests a diamond would not do for the centerpiece stone. He then calls in his son Michael, asking him to bring in the best and most beautiful of the collection. It is an emerald from India, said to be cursed, and Joseph agrees to pay 50,000 ducats for that one stone. All told, this venture will cost him 150,000 ducats. Ah, the price one has to pay for dealing with an Italian – even one who is a good friend!

The next day, however, Joseph cryptically warns Nicolo to take his son and sail back to Venice as soon as possible – that very day, even. But Nicolo does not heed his friend’s warning, not fast enough…

So when Michael is conscripted into the janissaries, the elite corps of the emperor’s bodyguards which is formed of the sons of Christians who are indoctrinated as Moslems, he is taken completely by surprise. Like any good father, Nicolo fights to get his son back. He even manages to get a meeting with the emperor, Murad II, himself. But, between his physical problems and the heat of the day, Nicolo’s body fails him. He dies of a stroke in the emperor’s palace in Adrianople – and Michael remains in the janissary camp.

The rest of the story focuses on Michael’s journey. Over the years he grows and becomes strong. Told by the masters of the camp that his father lied to him when he said Michael would be in the janissary camp for a few weeks on holiday, over time the younger Da Montelupo develops a contempt for his father and anyone related to him due to his perceived abandonment.

This makes him somewhat nervous when he is sent to investigate a suspected smuggler in Constantinople, one Filippo Bernardi. You see, Signore Bernardi was a friend of Michael’s father. Michael barely remembers him, but he recalls enough. And someone that close to his father might want to make him a Christian again….

But Michael takes the assignment all the same. It would be cowardice not to do so. He visits Bernardi’s home, and as he feared, both Bernardi and his daughter, Angela, recognize him. Angela and Michael were friends as children, and before he was conscripted, Michael gave her his toy dagger. Nicolo recognized the seed of romance in the gesture and, currently eyeing a Turkish courtier’s third wife, Michael does not wish this childhood idea to grow and bear fruit.

Angela, however, forgets the requisite behavior demanded of infidel women before the young janissary several times during Michael’s stay in her father’s house. This is especially true when Bernardi mentions Nicolo da Montelupo. Michael angrily cuts the old merchant off and states that his father lied to him and abandoned him, having never come to see him since he was taken into the janissaries. Horrified by the lie her friend has believed for so long, Angela breaks silence and tells him the truth: his father died a week after Michael went into the janissary corps. His last thoughts were of his son, not himself.

Michael is so taken aback by the news that he breaks his wineglass by gripping it too hard. Despite his training as a Moslem, Michael is known as a “gentle infidel.” He lets Bernardi off with a warning to stop smuggling, and then goes back to Adrianople – where he gets into trouble.

The Gentle Infidel is not a novel for children. All the same, it is an extremely informative story about the late Middle Ages in the Middle East. In it you will find romance, danger, intrigue… Also, in this modern era where much is misunderstood, this novel will enlighten readers about this important epoch in history. Lawrence Schoonover, the author of the book and another historical novel called The Burnished Blade, gave up his successful career in advertising to write both books.

Until next time, readers.

The Mithril Guardian