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Ideological Time Twisting

John Arden: Vox Pop: Last Days of the Roman Republic; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; San Diego.

 

by E. Christian Kopff

The fact that John Arden has written a novel is important news for people who care about the health of the English language and its literature. As with his plays, the basic idea for the book is a good one, vigorously expressed in racy and idiomatic English; like most of his plays, the whole does not quite come off.

The story is set in the early years of the First Century, B.C., from about 91-81, a time for which the sources are scattered and confused, and which means, therefore, that an author, historian, or novelist, has considerable freedom to invent motives and adjust chronology. Arden takes full advantage of this necessary freedom. Roman domination of the Mediterranean, initially moral and restrained, was breaking down into the immoral rapacity of generals such as Marius and Sulla, the predecessors of Pompey and Julius Caesar, "the greatest brigand of them all," as Harvard's Ernst Badian has called him.

Ivory, the hero of Vox Pop, is a gimpy-legged theatrical agent and nostalgic ex-actor in Ephesus, a Greek city on the coast of Asia, modern Turkey. He becomes entangled with Irene, actress and secret agent of Mithradates of Pontus (A.KA. "Strychnine"). Mithradates rules a barbaric...

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