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December 15, 2011 by Reader's Connection

AugustusWhy wasn´t the John Williams novel Augustus made into a miniseries? I, Claudius, by Robert Graves, was brought to life successfully on the small screen in 1977, and the more recent HBO series Rome indicated that there is still a market for TV stories about people who wear tunics. (All our copies of the first season of Rome are checked out at the moment, and there are a couple of requests, six years after the series ran.)

But adapting Augustus could be tricky, because it doesn’t have one central narrator. The story is told in the form of letters and journals and other writings by a variety of characters–friends of Gaius Octavius Caesar, family members, poets, scholars–and the reader of the hardback edition waits until page 265 for our title character to write a letter that almost concludes the novel.

Whatever the adaptation problems, it’s a wonderful read. Through the eyes of the many fascinating storytellers, we watch Octavius learn of the death of his great-uncle Julius; and we watch as–despite physical frailities and (by his own admission) a lack of some soldierly talents–he somehow manages to become Augustus.

Author Williams tells us in a note that some of the errors of fact in this book are deliberate. I have changed the order of several events; I have invented where the record is incomplete or uncertain; and I have given identities to a few characters whom history has failed to mention. So if you want to read a history, the library has those. If you want a multi-faceted fiction, with an Augustus who is (to me, anyway) surprisingly sympathetic, here you go.


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